How is writing a series different from writing a standalone book? How much of it is planned in advance?
Arundhati Venkatesh is the author of the Petu Pumpkin series, a mini-series within the hOle books. The first two books in the series were published in 2014-15 and the third book Petu Pumpkin: Cheater Peter will be published in August 2018.
This is our first post in a series on series.
When writing the first Petu Pumpkin book, Tiffin Thief, I hadn’t planned a series. I didn’t even see it as a published book. It was an exercise to see what it’s like to write a chapter book. I enjoyed the challenge of writing picture books (and still do), where one has only a few hundred words to tell an engaging story. Would I be able to write something running into thousands of words, without boring myself and the reader? Fresh out of the Duckbill writing workshop, and excited by the feedback my writing had received, I was itching to try. Alas, it was Christmas break and the then five-year-old was home. And hungry every half hour.
‘Why don’t you write a story about a boy who eats all the time?’ I suggested, hoping to keep him out of the way for the time it took me to complete a thought.
‘Why don’t you write a story about a boy who keeps eating?’ the five-year-old-going-on-fifteen shot back.
‘I will,’ I said.
And I did. I managed to write six thousand words. Six thousand words of non-stop excitement. It was fun to flesh out characters, think up madcap antics for them to get up to, and, in the process, relive my own childhood. That Sayoni and Anushka loved it made it more satisfying. So yes, Petu Pumpkin is loosely inspired by my perpetually-eating-extremely-skinny son. And erm, his mum (and erm, her tum).
Petu Pumpkin: Tiffin Thief was accepted, and slated for the following year. But the characters wouldn’t leave me! The next Petu Pumpkin book was brewing: Tooth Troubles. When both Petu Pumpkin books were done and dusted, the title for something new popped into my head: Bookasura. All these books came out a year or two later; I hadn’t been published while I was writing them. On hindsight, it was easier to be true to myself.
With the third book in the Petu series, which is yet to be published, I was writing Petu and co. after a gap. I read the earlier books, and began thinking of the next till I got obsessed. What made a difference was living with the characters until I cared enough for them. It helped tremendously to have Anushka, Sayoni and Ayushi acting as gatekeepers.
The key, of course, is to write when one has something to say, a story to tell, not because the previous books in the series did well.