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Varied Voices 2020 2: Being a Storyteller

24 January 2020 Share

Rashmi Sirdeshpande talk about her writing process for the Varied Voices blog.


When I introduce myself on a school visit, I always say that I tell stories, some true and some completely made up. That’s what I am - a storyteller. At some level, I believe we are all storytellers. When we see or hear something that’s really funny or interesting, we can’t wait to share it with someone, whether that’s one special someone or the whole world. This is what I do when I write. I have something I’m bursting to share and the way I do that is through my books. 


Cover: Never Show a T-Rex a Book, Puffin, April 2020

Thanks to the Penguin Random House WriteNow programme and my superstar agent, Lydia Silver, I’ve started my writing career with an even split between fiction and non-fiction. It’s pure LUXURY. On the one hand, I get to write stories as silly as NEVER SHOW A T-REX A BOOK (illustrated by Diane Ewen and out with Puffin Books in April). Ok, yes, it’s a love-letter to libraries but really, it’s a funny story packed with chaos. On the other hand, I get to write books like How To Be Extraordinary with its 15 true stories of people who persevered against all the odds. Illustrated by Annabel Tempest, it’s a world away from T-Rex.


Cover: How To Be Extraordinary, Puffin 2019


Cover: How To Change the World, Puffin 2020 

The next book in that series, HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD, is out in May 2020. Where the last book was about individuals, this one’s about teamwork and movements. It was a TOUGH book to write (and Annabel will tell you it was a tough book to illustrate too but she’s done an amazing job!). How do you take topics like the abolition of slavery and make them accessible to children without being reductive? Stories like the campaign to save the whales or to eradicate Polio, and the fight for the right to marry whoever we love? 

How do you capture years and years of suffering and struggle and how do you convey the amazing achievements of these people without sounding like we don’t have more work to do? I’ve found that the answer is to go back to that idea of the ‘story’. I think about the story that needs to be written. Whose story is this? What did they believe and why? What kind of world did they grow up in? What did they decide to do? What obstacles did they face? What did they achieve and where do we go from here? You see, even when I’m writing non-fiction, I’m first and foremost a storyteller. Just like the illustrator. And however silly or serious the story, it’s still a story. 

Story is the thing that pulls a reader in. Story shares what needs to be shared and gives space to the reader to do the rest. It’s not just a transfer of words and pictures - it’s a transfer of feelings. There are stories I’ve loved where I can’t remember the details but I’ll never forget how they made me feel. Stories move us. They make us laugh. They spark something inside us. That’s the power of stories and I hope I can keep on telling them until the end of my days. 

Biography


Author photo by Charlotte Knee

Rashmi is a lawyer turned writer and a 2018 Penguin Random House WriteNow mentee who loves taking big ideas and making them fun and accessible for children. When she’s not playing with words, you’ll find her on her yoga mat, twisting herself into all sorts of shapes. Find out more at www.rashmisirdeshpande.com and follow her on Twitter at @RashmiWriting.