Parinita Shetty, the author of the soon to-be-published The Monster Hunters in conversation with Lubaina Bandukwala, writer/editor of odd things, including children’s books.
LB: All of twenty-three and you already have a book published. How does that feel?
PS: Ask me when it’s out. Until I actually have a copy of the book in my hand, I’m going to keep believing it’s some sort of elaborate practical joke concocted by those platypuses.
Honestly, it was such an accidental book (I wrote the story to apply for the Duckbill workshop in Mumbai) that I’m finding it all a little surreal. During those moments I actually believe it’s happening, I emit sudden squeals of excitement and my mom shoots me those how-did-I-land-up-with-this-mad-daughter looks of hers.
LB: Apparently you always wanted to be a children’s writer? Why?
PS: I think writing books for children is just much more fun than writing them for grown ups. You have the liberty to be as crazy as you like. I feel less restricted coming up with characters for children’s books. Also, don’t be fooled–I’m really a ten-year-old in a twenty-three-year-old body.
LB: The book is about two children taking off on a hunt for monsters. Did you as a child look for monsters? Did you find any?
PS: Abhay and Nitya are far braver than I ever was. I was one of those kids who ran from the bedroom door to the bed and jumped on it before any monster could grab my feet. For added measure, I would also hide my face under the sheet with the misguided belief that if I couldn’t see the monster/ghost/serial killer, it couldn’t see me.
I do remember pretending to be a part of Scooby Doo’s gang with a neighbour. I convinced her that the building opposite my bedroom window was haunted because I’d spotted strange white shapes moving at the windows. We spied on the building every single day for more than a week (singing the Scooby Doo theme song very loudly while we were at it) until my mom told me it was a cancer research institute with doctors in white lab coats who were definitely not dead.
LB: Did you have English teachers who fired your imagination like Mrs Khan in the book?
PS: We didn’t really have any fun English assignments so I had to rely on books (mostly Enid Blytons) for my doses of imagination. My English teachers seemed to like me though, even the one who caught me reading a library book in a History class. I was so guilt-ridden that the book remained untouched in my bag for a week and was returned half-read. In the fifth grade, a teacher decided to give me some random prize for “Best in English” or something to that effect. A classmate found me, asked how much I’d scored in the last exam and then demanded to know why she hadn’t been awarded that prize even though her English marks were higher than mine. I was thoroughly alarmed.
LB: Who’s your favourite character in the book? Why?
PS: None of my favourites are main characters, which is something that happens even with other books I read. I’d love to hang out with Abhay’s parents and younger sister Zara because they’re all a little eccentric. His older sister Gauri is a little too normal for my liking. I also like Tanmay’s melodramatic grandmother because I think such people are highly entertaining.
LB: You know I’d never read your book in a public place – I’d look so silly giggling to myself on a bus or say a train! The situations are not just funny, they are very unique – the whole Neil Armstrong debate, for example. I’m sure they came from real life – any stories about the stories in your book?
PS: I’m glad you thought it was funny! I’ve read it so many times now that all the jokes are quite lost on me. Some of the situations and conversations have been picked up from real life while most just hopped into my head of their own accord. The whole did-man-land-on-the-moon debate was born out of a documentary I watched on the Discovery Channel years ago (I’m firmly on Team Hoax!). Poor Abhay and Nitya’s frequent disasters were inspired by the sheer number of accidents I seem to be able to have on a daily basis. I’m sure a lot worse would have happened to me had I been in their place!
LB: You are already at work on your next book. What kind of topics do you like to write about?
PS: I love writing fantasy as much as I love reading it. There, I can make up the most ridiculous characters and situations and I’m not required to stick to any rules. I also prefer writing stories with a lot of funny bits in them. At least people tell me they’re funny. Usually, people seem to find me funny when I’m not trying to be while my actual jokes always have only one person laughing – me!
LB: Rapid fire:
What would I find under your bed?
PS: All the mess I don’t want visitors who drop in on a moment’s notice to see.
LB: A typical monster colour?
PS: Bright purple with a lime green tongue and garish orange nails. If scaring doesn’t work for them, there’s always the option of blinding potential victims with their razzmatazz.
LB: Your idea of a neat room?
PS: Being able to tiptoe my way to the door without stepping on anything. I’m a dreadfully untidy person. Rooms that are too neat tend to freak me out a bit.
LB: Your secret friend – a monster/a fairy-princess/a handsome prince/other?
PS: A cowardly wolf who insists Little Red Riding Hood was a bully, the grandmother was evil and the three little pigs were merely spreading propaganda. He makes me feel better about my own lack of bravery.
LB: Your favourite writing outfit…
PS: I always write in my pyjamas. I’d wear them in public if people promised not to laugh at me.
Coming up soon, Lubaina’s interview with Pooja Pottenkulam, the illustrator for The Monster Hunters.