Vinita Zutshi: Turning Up the Heat at Jumpstart

Jumpstart 2014

Vinita Zutshi is an author who participated in Jumpstart 2014, in Delhi.

The aptly named Jumpstart kept up its reputation by turning it up a notch yet again this year. “Let’s play” was the theme, and we came wondering what would be playing for us. Loads, we discovered. The speakers’ jolts of lightning had us sparking through the two-day festival. (Okay, it’s a conference, but it’s festive enough to merit using the word ‘festival’. Stop quibbling and play!)

Nury Vittachi was electric, yet managed to keep us in stitches. In various sessions, he emphasised the need for layered stories. He pointed out how almost all fairy tales and modern bestsellers have protagonists with “dead mothers”. The question “Why is this?” was one many of us hadn’t thought to ask before.

“To tell kids that one day your mama will be gone, but you’ll still be alright,” explained Nury, making it seem suddenly obvious. It looked like many stories that emerged from this edition of Jumpstart would feature “dead moms”!

He delighted authors by putting to rest the quandary of writing entertaining stories or educational ones. A good story must have both elements – a lot of one, and bit of the other – to have a good chance of being published, Nury said.

Sophie Benini Pietromarchi shared her belief that play renews us, giving us a fresh perspective of things we know. Her idea of a child’s treasure box – with the child and how he experiences his world itself being the treasure – showed how simplicity creates winning ideas. It’s important to play, to walk that thin edge between the fantastic and the real, that children live in, to successfully write and illustrate for them, was Sophie’s message.

Asha Nehemiah’s world is populated by curly moustaches, hair oil recipes, umbrellas and other mundane things she believes hold the greatest possibility for inventiveness and magic. “Flip it to reveal how it can be wild and wacky,” Asha said, saying she does this the way children play – in unexpected ways. The two magic words she uses to write rollicking stories? “What if…”

EK Shaji of Jodogyan showed us how children solved a simple math sum, often wrongly. This was priceless, because it showed us how to forge a path to children’s minds. “But you must connect with their lives as well; find a purpose close to their hearts, so that activity and learning are integrated,” he urged.

“Stories are a powerful medium to legitimise children’s experiences, to validate their lives,” said Sujata Noronha, as she showed us the many ways in which the Bookworm Trust used stories and books with children from underserved communities.

Anshumani Ruddra put us in a game and made us play it, clarifying what it means to write and play and gamebook. But what’s a game? “A series of interesting choices” (Sid Meier) was a good working definition.

The Crusaders of Chaos and the Knights of Order battled it out till the latter won by default – the Crusaders had overreached themselves! True to form, the Knights greeted the result with controlled applause.

The takeaways? Good writing and good dialogue win – whether you’re writing a book or a game. But you need to remember that a page is still a page, not a screen, so it’ll be a less immersive experience. And always – write what you know. If you’re trying to write a game, you must be a consumer of games to know what will work and what will tank.

Padmini Ray Murray spoke convincingly of why books are here to stay, and how transmedia, rather than threatening books, offers great ways to extend the story and the engagement that a book offers. She suggested authors approach publishers with their pitches accompanied by a sound transmedia and marketing strategy, to get maximum mileage from the plot and characters.

Jiggy George said one of the issues plaguing licensing was that creators wanted to create the entire universe that populated their characters. We’ll enjoy ourselves (and profit) more if we just poured our heart into what we’re good at, and partner with the best people for the rest of it to maximise and extend brand value.

Imagine JK Rowling doing set design in the Harry Potter movies, or Tolkien directing The Lord of the Rings franchise!

The Writing Masterclass was a different kind of play as Nury deconstructed a bunch of plot lines showing us the primal story underpinning them. Opening lines, story structures for children of different age groups, the importance of layering, and the difference between kids and adult books were some of the major themes he covered as we learned, laughed and worked our way through two scintillating sessions with the frequently hysterics-inducing Nury. (“Funny! Stories must be funny!”)

The innovative First Pages and First Look had experts giving authors and illustrators invaluable anonymous feedback on their work.

At the end of two hectic, thoroughly enjoyable days, it was curtains for Jumpstart 2014 at Delhi. On the sidelines of the business end of “Let’s play”, new friendships were forged and partnerships born.

As we said our goodbyes, everyone was raring to start a fresh project, or modify an existing one. We were well and truly Jumpstarted!

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