Bali Rai tells us about a Punjabi tale from his childhood, which later inspired his writing.
Many things inspired my novel, Rani & Sukh. The first major inspirations were stories of star-crossed lovers – tales repeated to me by my mother. This was back in the 1970s, when every Punjabi household I knew had the same painting on their walls. It depicted two lovers, struggling through a dark and desolate landscape, leaning on each other for support, and fleeing certain death at the hands of each other’s families. The woman was called Sohni, and the man, Mehiwal, and theirs was a forbidden love. The tale is a classic in Punjabi folklore, and there are others too – Heer Ranja being particularly popular. These tales were full of melodrama, passion and intrigue. They were tragic too, and they fascinated me. There were heroes and villains, rich and poor, fairytale-like incidents, tragedy, and drama galore.
At the same time I was equally fascinated by Bollywood movies. We didn’t have anything to watch them on, however, so my first taste of the films that would later help to inspire Rani & Sukh came at the homes of uncles and aunts who hardly ever watched anything else. Down the street a young couple that knew my parents would take my sister and me to the local cinema too. It was there that I first saw classics such as Suhaag and Sholay – films that encompassed the entire range of human emotions in three and a half hours. Oh, and about fifty songs too . . .
Like the folk tales, there was passion and intrigue. There were family feuds, love and hatred, long-lost siblings and absent parents – in fact any emotion or family situation that you can think of. I loved them and I even sang along to some of the songs too, much to the annoyance of my sister who would hit me with things whenever I opened my mouth. There was one line from a song in the film Sholay – a tale of outlaw buddies, evil men and beautiful women made to dance on glass – which I sang over and over again:
‘… yeh dorsetay hum nahe toren geh…’
At least that’s what it sounded like to me.
But eventually I grew up and neither Bollywood nor my mother’s Punjabi tales felt cool anymore. They weren’t The Clash or Bob Marley – they weren’t even Eastenders. I was far too trendy for them. But in my heart something remained . . . Then, one day in 1986, I walked into my English Lit classroom and was given a play called Romeo & Juliet, written by some dead old white bloke called Shakespeare. I had never experienced his work before that point, and immediately assumed that it would be boring. Yet, as my amazing teacher, Nigel Gossage, explained the story and it unfolded, I was taken back to the tales my mother told me, and to the films that I had watched as a child. The similarities between Sohni Mehiwal and Romeo & Juliet were striking. Within two scenes, I was hooked to the play, and to Shakespeare in general. And I realised just how wonderful and important those old Punjabi stories were. So important, that somewhere in my head a little nugget of an idea formed. One that would go on to become a novel.
And Rani & Sukh came from that. It’s a tale of star-crossed lovers and blood feuds, family honour and passion, played out in the present day and in the Punjab of the 1960’s – the land of my parents. It is a love story and at the same time full of action. It has killing and emotional blackmail, illicit affairs and murderous villains. A true mash-up of Shakespeare, Bollywood and Punjabi folk tales. I’m not sure my mum realises just how important those story-telling sessions were. I guess I should go thank her!
Bali Rai has written nine young adult novels for Random House Children’s Publishers, as well as the Soccer Squad series for younger readers. His first, (Un)arranged Marriage, created a huge amount of interest and won many awards including the Angus Book Award and the Leicester Book of the Year. It was also shortlisted for the prestigious Branford Boase first novel award. Rani & Sukh and The Whisper were both shortlisted for the Booktrust Teenage Prize.
Madhvi Ramani shares a terrifying tale from her childhood!
My mother told me many stories, but the one that stuck with me is slightly disturbing and enigmatic. It goes like this…
Once upon a time, there were two sparrows. One was called Chucki and the other was called Chucko.
Now, Chucki was diligent, while Chucko was lazy.
One day, Chucki said to Chucko, ‘I’m going to fetch some water from the well. The kicharee* is cooking on the stove. Turn it off when it’s done.’
‘Sure,’ said Chucko, but as soon as Chucki went out, Chucko went to sleep and forgot all about the kicharee.
An hour later, Chucko was woken up by a mouth-watering smell. His stomach rumbled. He went into the kitchen and lifted the lid off the pot. The kicharee was done! He turned off the stove.
Chucko knew that he ought to wait for Chucki to return before he ate, but maybe he could just have a taste . . .
Mmmm, delicious! He had a little bit more. And then some more . . . until he had eaten the whole lot! Chucko put the lid back on the empty pot, and yawned. He was sleepy after such a big meal, so he went to lie down again.
Before long, Chucko was woken up once more. This time, by Chucki, returning home with the water.
When Chucki took the lid off the pot, she said, ‘Chucko! What happened to the kicharee?’
‘I don’t know. I turned it off in time. The cat must have crept in while I was sleeping and eaten it all,’ lied Chucko.
Chucki thought about this. She had noticed that the lid was on the pot. Why would the cat replace the lid after stealing their food? Chucki suspected that Chucko was lying, but she did not say anything. Instead, she waited until Chucko went to sleep again, thinking that he had gotten away with his lie.
Then, Chucki took a knife and cut open Chucko’s stomach. It was filled with kicharee, and Chucki’s suspicions had been proved right!
Like all good stories, I’ve thought about this one in different ways throughout the years. As a child, the rhythm and the sounds were pleasurable (chucko, chucki, kicharee), especially as told in Gujarati. Then, there is the moral, which seems to be ‘don’t be a lazy liar.’
Later, however, the question of whether what Chucki did was right occurred to me. How could she have taken such a decisive action without being one-hundred per cent sure that Chucko had lied? What if she had been wrong? And even if Chucko had eaten the kicharee, wasn’t Chucki overreacting? And where did this story come from? Did some Gujarati housewife, harbouring thoughts of killing her lazy husband, make it up? And what happens afterwards? Does Chucki live a happy life, or is she lonely without Chucko? Does she regret what she did?
*Kicharee is a Gujarati dish, consisting of rice and lentils.
Crystal Chan shares a story from China which had a special resonance for her growing up as a mixed-heritage child in the United States
Ai ya! That Chinese expression – which was often used by my dad – can denote confusion, amazement, discontent, irritation, surprise and even incredulity. The expression also features prominently in my favourite childhood folktale, The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahy. In the story, seven brothers use their seven different supernatural powers to defeat the emperor, who is determined to kill them. However, since the brothers look alike, talk alike and walk alike, they keep exchanging places with each other and using their individual powers to thwart the emperor’s plans. (My favourite brother was the one whose legs could grow as tall as the depth of the ocean and so could not be drowned.)
I grew up half Chinese, half White in a small town in the 1980s, and I didn’t have images of people who looked like me, not on TV or in movies or even on billboards. Back then, there weren’t many children’s stories featuring Chinese people (much less half-Chinese people!), and so as a child it was liberating to cry out Ai ya! with my parents as they read me the story and to have this small mirror reflecting back to me some aspect of my own Chinese heritage. Although, as much as I wished, I had to swim each time I went into the ocean.
Crystal Chan’s debut novel Bird is published by Tamarind on 30 January 2014.
Tamarind author, Narinder Dhami, takes us to India for an awesome animal story from her childhood . . .
When I was a little girl, for some reason I was obsessed with elephants. I was given a toy elephant on wheels when I was four. ‘Mimi’, as I called her, was an Indian ceremonial elephant with a tasselled head-dress, and I used to push her around the garden. For the next couple of years Mimi featured in almost every photo that my parents took of me!
I loved stories and books from a very early age, and of course, elephants featured in many of the traditional tales which my Indian father loved to tell to me and my sisters. These tales opened up a whole new world for me and later I discovered that these collections of ancient stories were called the Panchatantra, the Hitopradesha and the Jataka. I loved stories such as ‘The Mice and the Elephant’, ‘The Elephants and the Hares’, ‘The Noble Elephant’ and ‘The King’s White Elephant’. But my favourite was ‘The Elephant and the Dog’, from the Jataka, and it goes like this:
Once upon a time there was an elephant which lived in the king’s stables. The king was very fond of the elephant, and so the elephant was pampered and well-treated and only ever ate the best food.
Near the king’s palace lived a skinny, starving dog, and he began sneaking into the stables and finishing up the elephant’s food. For a while, the elephant didn’t notice, but soon he and the dog became great friends. They shared the food and the dog would curl up next to the elephant to sleep.
One day a farmer, who was visiting the palace, took a liking to the dog and asked the elephant-keeper if he could buy him. Now, the elephant-keeper didn’t much like the dog hanging around the stables so he agreed. The farmer paid the elephant-keeper and took the dog back to the country with him.
The elephant missed the dog very much. He was so upset that he wouldn’t eat his food, now that the dog was no longer there to share it with him. The elephant could not sleep either, without his friend by his side. He used to love to bathe in the river, squirting water over himself with his trunk, but now he wouldn’t leave the stables, no matter how much the elephant-keeper tried to coax him out.
Eventually the king found out why the elephant was so sad, and he sent his men all over the country to look for the dog and bring him home.
When the dog arrived, he and the elephant were thrilled to be reunited. And from then on the dog lived in the stables with the elephant, and they were friends to the end of their days.
I don’t know quite why this story appealed to me so much, but maybe it was because I had already realised the importance of true friendship, even though I was only a young child.
That’s what I like to think, anyway!
British World Champion and Tamarind author, Christine Ohuruogu, has been recognized for her achievements by receiving the Sunday Times and Sky Sports ‘Sportswoman of the Year’ award! We couldn’t be happier for Christine who, in winning this award, has joined a prestigious list of inspirational, elite sportswomen.
Christine is the only British female athlete to have won two world titles, she’s an Olympic gold medal winner and on top of all that, she doesn’t let her success get in the way of her determination. She’s still trying to run faster!
Of course, we at Tamarind also know Christine for her brilliant Camp Gold series.
The series follows Maxine, an enthusiastic young athlete who attends Camp Gold and discovers her natural talent for running. Although not strictly autobiographical, the books give us a little insight into a young girl’s passion for competitive sport and the kind of determination it takes to get to where Christine is today. Maxine is a brilliant, strong female character and we can’t help but see a little of Christine in her.
Christine is a true inspiration to the next generation and – fortunately for us – has passed on a little of her wisdom through her books.
Big congratulations from all of us at Tamarind Books, Christine!
Our intern Joe considers the European fairytale tradition . . .
Jacob and Wilhem Grimm didn’t live in a vacuum. They were politically aware academics collecting stories (often from the upper and middle classes) in the brief decades between The Enlightenment and German unification. They lived in a unique place and time within the evolution of European society. And yet, the stories they collected have been retold and beloved at least in part because they cover subjects of such authentic humanity as to make the tales seem timeless.
In Blackberry Blue, and other fairy tales, Jamila Gavin offers six brand-new stories inspired by the tales of the Grimms as well as Hans Christian Anderson, but updates this tradition to reflect our ethnically diverse population. On the surface of it, this collection is for girls and boys who have ever fallen down and noticed the ‘flesh-coloured’ sticking plaster doesn’t quite match or wondered why Father Christmas doesn’t look like their father but, as we learn in Gavin’s tales, appearances deceive. With stunningly beautiful (truly stunning) illustrations, these tales speak to the same authentically human power as what we have from the Grimms because Gavin, like Europe itself, has invited a wider audience to join.
In the 45 years between their first and final editions, the Grimms added and edited and altered their collection. Society was changing, the Grimms were changing, and so their stories changed. They were not the first to tell most of their stories and, two centuries on, we continue to add to and edit and alter the pantheon of European faery tales. With Blackberry Blue, Gavin gives us the next incarnation of this long and ever-evolving tradition.
Are you a Foundation, Key Stage 1 or Key Stage 2 teacher? Are you struggling to engage your students with creative writing? Then our joint event with theatre and education company MakeBelieve Arts is for you!
Literature Alive is being held at the Random House offices in London from 1pm-3.30pm on Friday 29th November.
The fantastic MakeBelieve Arts will be providing you with creative strategies to use in the classroom. AND we’ll be bringing our founder Verna Wilkins. Verna is one inspirational lady who has extensive experience speaking at to educators. She recently spoke to Early Years Education students in Birmingham. One student said, ‘She held my attention from start to finish, which is a hard thing to do, and left me wanting more.’
Literature Alive certainly promises to be an exciting and inspiring afternoon.
To find out more and to book your place, click here.
This month, speaking at an event entitled, ‘Free at Last’ at the Southbank Centre, the journalist Gary Younge invited the audience to consider the nature of history. Since moving to the States from Stevenage, Younge has extensively researched and written about the African-American civil rights movement, and in conversation with fellow journalist, Hannah Pool, he shed light on some of its forgotten heroes.
The title of Younge’s talk refers to the final line of Martin Luther King’s seminal ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, which concluded, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”. In the year that marks the 50th anniversary of the speech, it’s right that much consideration has been given to the importance of King, and Younge talked extensively about interviewing King’s friends and advisors who gave their first-hand accounts of how the speech came to be. But Younge also used his talk to highlight people like Claudette Colvin who was the first person to resist racial segregation on the buses in Montgomery, Alabama, a whole nine months before Rosa Parks, but who then became pregnant out of wedlock, and Bayard Rustin, a leading activist for civil rights who was openly gay. Both are examples of people who had pivotal roles in the civil rights movement but who have been all but written out of the history books because their personal lives didn’t conform to the traditional Christian values which were central to the movement.
As Black History Month draws to a close, it seems an appropriate moment to contemplate the nature of history and history makers. Using E. H. Carr’s quote, ‘History means interpretation’, Younge underlined that the ‘facts’ of history are made by ordinary people with their various biases and agendas. The fact that history is not independent of the people who decide what does and what does not enter the historical record means that often, the things left out are as interesting and important as the things left in.
In just a few days, Nina begins her next globetrotting adventure!
Blessed with a travelling spice shed and her new best friend, Lee, Nina is on a mission to solve a very tricky riddle. Her first stop is Aunt Nishi’s garden shed, a secret teleportation machine that promises to help the young explorers with their quest.
WELCOME TO BEIJING, CHINA reads the message on the travelling spice shed and soon Nina is exploring the sights of China, including the Forbidden City, a kung-fu school and the terracotta army. Along the way, she learns all about Chinese customs and traditions. But she mustn’t forget the mystery of the riddle, which desperately needs solving.
Perfect for both boys and girls, Nina’s second magical adventure explores an exciting new country and culture. Featuring fascinating facts about China, a mini guide to chopstick etiquette and an introduction to the Chinese zodiac, Nina and the Kung-Fu Adventure is both fun and educational.
Nina and the Kung-Fu Adventure is published on 3 October 2013. For further adventures with Nina, check out Nina and the Travelling Spice Shed.
Candy Gourlay is a Filipino author based in London. Her debut novel Tall Story won the Crystal Kite Prize for Europe and the National Book Award in the Philippines. It was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for 13 prizes including the Blue Peter, the Waterstones Prize and the Branford Boase. Her second novel, Shine (published by David Fickling Books), is out on September 5th.
Can you sum up your new novel, Shine, in a few words?
Shine is set on an island where it never stops raining. It’s about Rosa, who suffers from a disfiguring condition that means she must stay hidden from the gaze of superstitious islanders. Her only social life is the internet, where she meets a strange boy named Ansel95. She yearns to see the ghost of her dead mother. Every day she lights a candle in the window – on the island it is said that this is a sure way of summoning the spirits. Then one day, there is a knock. Her mother is on the doorstep.
What inspired you to write Shine?
One of my favourite scary stories when I was growing up was the story of the Monkey’s Paw by William Wymark Jacobs – it is now in the public domain and you can read it here . In the story, a man makes a wish and it is granted in the most unexpected way. He tries to rectify the problem by wishing again . . . and only when he hears the knock on the door does he realize that no good can come out of yearning for something you cannot have. I retell the story in Shine and there is a motif of doors and unexpected things behind them.
In my travels, I met a medium who told me that ghosts were souls trapped in a moment that they had to relive over and over again – and the only way to free them from such bondage was to help them realize that they were dead. I thought about this – and I couldn’t help thinking that this sort of entrapment happened to the living as well. People who were unable to let go, who were unable to move forward with their lives because they clung to something. They were as good as ghosts.
Growing up in the Philippines, all our books were imported from America and featured pink-skinned people who lived in places that didn’t at all resemble the edgy corner of Manila where my family lived. Don’t get me wrong, I loved those books, but the fact that they were populated by only one type of person embedded the idea in my DNA that books were the preserve of only one hue of character. Besides, I had also never met any authors with the same background. So even though I was always writing, I never really believed that a book with people who looked like me would stand a chance of publication.
To what extent do you think that UK children’s books feature a diverse range of characters?
It is improving all the time – and rather than dwell on the lack of diverse characters, I would rather celebrate the exciting work that publishers like Tamarind are doing, telling stories that reflect the multiple heritages that make this world such an exciting place. And I salute author colleagues whose casting couches send characters of all hues on adventures for the sake of the adventure without reference to the colour of their skin. Paraphrasing my friend Sarwat Chadda (author of the Ash Mistry books), ‘A kid should be allowed to have a badass adventure even if he or she’s got brown skin!’
What was your favourite book when you were a child?
I had a LOT of favourite books but if I really had to choose it would be The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop. It’s a kind of trickster story – about five Chinese brothers, each of whom had a power which they use to great and hilarious effect. The Five Chinese Brothers at one point fell out of favour, critics pointed at how the illustrations portrayed the Chinese brothers as look-alike, inscrutable, yellow-skinned and slant-eyed. They called it racism. I dunno about racism. I just thought it was a GREAT story.
Why is it important for children to have books with central characters that look like them and share their experiences?
I was in my forties when I finally allowed myself to have a go at realizing my dream of writing a book. Before that, I didn’t believe I could ever become an author because I had never seen anyone like me in a book or writing a book. I really believe that I would have given myself permission to write much sooner if I had seen myself in books when I was a child.
The Newbery winning author Richard Peck said: ‘If a child does not ﬁnd himself between the pages of a book, he will go looking for himself in all the wrong places.’ I know that there are many children like me out there, looking but not ﬁnding themselves. My hope is that Tall Story – and all the books I write in the future – will act as a mirror. And that young readers, looking into the mirror and seeing themselves, will like what they see.
What for you would be important in terms of reflecting your heritage in a book?
Permission is important here – that a child of any colour will give permission to himself and others to become the heroes of just about any story. If they can do this with books, think of what they can achieve in every other thing that they seek to do!
Have you got any plans for a third book?
I am currently working on a book with a historical aspect to it – but told from the point of view of a people who have not previously told their own story. It’s challenging and very, very exciting. Watch this space!
Candy’s new book, Shine, comes out on 5 September 2013. You can order it here: