The Duckbill Workshop in Delhi

We’ve been battling with a question for many years now: why are there so few  Indian writers writing really good books for children and young adults?   

Perhaps one of the reasons is that when one writes for adults, one writes for one’s self, but many people see writing for children as writing for others. What tone do they like? How much knowledge do they have? What subjects are suitable for them? Sometimes, even—sadly—how much can they comprehend?

So while there are wonderful people with fantastic stories to tell, they do not always translate into books we will all love to read. And Anushka and I have always believed that there has to be away of demystifying the process of writing for children and young adults.

One of the first things that Duckbill did, therefore, along with trying to make ourselves legal, get our logo, and sign up a few books, was to start planning the Duckbill Workshops, which we hope to do in many cities across the country.

The Delhi Duckbill Workshop was hosted by the generous and lovely people of the German Book Office on 28 to 30 June 2012. We started off with sixteen people, who had been given a long(ish) reading list. The idea was to give a background and framework to children’s books—age groups, genres, conventions—and do lots and lots of writing exercises. So Anushka and I talked some, but listened much more.

And what wonderful things there were to listen to! Whether a workshop works or not, is really determined by the participants—and there we really lucked out.  We hadn’t really expected such an incredibly talented bunch of people. The youngest participant was straight out of college, the oldest (barring us) was a published author. The wildly original ideas and the hilarious and deeply interesting characters that emerged out of short intense bursts of writing were truly amazing.

The participants were also a very generous and supportive group—so they shared ideas and critiqued one another’s writing generously. And everyone worked very, very hard. In fact, we lost a couple of participants as I think we worked them a bit too hard!

I think the idea of writing for short periods and then reading out what one had written to a bunch of strangers was initially a shocker on the first day. But everyone got comfortable with it pretty quickly. An amazing volume of work happened, and on the last session of the last day, there was a general sense of a party finishing!

For Anushka and me, the rewards have been great. We met a bunch of talented writers, and sometimes as a publisher reading lots of manuscripts every day, one loses faith about the amount of talent that is out there. We hope that we will be able to publish some of them sooner or later—or at least, that many of them will write a book soon.

Over the next few weeks, we will be publishing some of the stories from the workshop on this blog. Our thanks to all the participants who have generously allowed us to do this. 

The next workshop is in Bombay, from 25 to 27 August.



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