Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Asha and the spirit Bird

photo courtesy:amazon.co.uk
Magic, mysticism packaged into a cracking read.

Of late, I have developed a keen interest in children's literature after realising the potential at Onjali Rauf's talk at the Crossroads festival in leicester in autumn last year.

So when I looked for other diverse titles, Costa children's book of the year was announced. Bilan's book Asha and the Spirit Bird came into the spotlight. I enjoye reading it how Bilan's book worked at so many levels. I passed it on to my daughter to see if she was as excited as I was.

She gave back the nearly 300-page book within two days of bedtime reading. I was secretly glad. I was reared on Enid Blytons that offered a mirror to the idyllic English life. I was happy my daughter could read something that will give a glimpse into her own cultural background.

The gist:

Asha lives in the foot of the Himalayas wtih her mother while her father is working out of town. However, they havent heard from their father for a while and her mother is struggling to pay the bills. One day when the menacing debt collector makes an appearance, Asha decides to get on the journey with her trusted friend Jeevan.

What I liked:

  • The opening lines gets straight down to action. The opening scene of the novel where Asha has to make a tough decision decides the course of the book.
  • It has the element of exotic with its Indian setting, food and hint of magic realism and yet it is balanced by reason.  
  • The story is realistic. Children getting caught into child labour is a reality. Harsh living conditions is a fact.
  • Asha is bound by traditions yet she is not blinded by it. For me, that element really worked. It shows how religion can be a good thing rather than all the mumbo jumbo usually associated with it.
This is a story that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. I loved how the different themes layer the story and look forward to more by Bilan!

Good read. Recommended.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

The Almost Mothers - Laura Basley

Celebrating motherhood in its myriad hues.

I first came across Laura Besley's words through a six word challenge called the shortstorysept on Twitter. During the week-long competition, I found myself looking forward to her tweets. I loved how she could make even an "Oh" work in her favour.

When I got down to reviewing this collection, her comfortable grip on the craft quickly came to fore.  As title suggests, The Almost Mothers is a compilation of her pieces on the wonderous, maddening journey called motherhood.  The collection explores its complexity, coloured in emotions and filled with perspective.


Laura Besley writes short (and very short) fiction in the precious moments that her children are asleep. Her fiction has appeared online (Fictive Dream, Spelk, Ellipsis Zine) as well as in print (Flash:The International Short Story magazine) and in various anthologies (Adverbally Challenged, Another Hongkong, Story Cities). The Almost Mothers is her first collection. 

What works:

The Killer First Piece : 
The last line of the very first piece "Mothers Anonymous" felt like being hit in the face and I found myself enjoying it. For me, it set the tone for rest of the collection with punchy pieces clothed in great writing.

Packed with emotion: 
The piece that gave the book its title, "The Almost Mothers" is heartbreaking about a mother's thoughts about her son. "Breaking the Seal" on the hand, tilts the view from the other side. Pain cuts through the cleverly crafted pieces of "That Face" and "The Unmothers" and yet the humour in "Super Mum" and "Hooked" show off Besley's versatility.

Unusual structures:
I also loved how different formats (recipes/contracts/reports) in  "How to Grow Your Baby", "Motherhood Contract", "Down to Earth" were effectively used.
Title extends the life of the story: 
Besley's titles offer as much insight as the pieces themselves. The titles "Mothers Anonymous" "Near and Far" "All the Children" take on a whole new meaning once you get to the end. I found myself going back to the beginning after making the connection, enjoying them even more.

In a Nutshell:

All pieces are centred around the theme and yet each piece can be seen as a standalone. An enjoyable collection indeed.

You can easily dip in and out but.... it is hard. The lingering aftereffect forces you to go back for more.

(Disclaimer: I received a copy in return for an honest review)


Cure for a Crime - Roopa Farooki

A  compelling read for parents and kids alike.

I remember watching Roopa Farooki deliver the keynote address at the short story festival to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Asianwriter way back in 2017. I loved her speech so much that a printout is now pinned to my board, a ready reckoner when the writerly confidence hits a nosedive.

Out of her six literary novels, I have read "Flying man" and enjoyed it, only realising later that it was a true story that had been crafted into literary fiction.

I have been following her articles and admire them for her candour and style. And now writing literary novels published in twenty countries, instead staying put in her comfort zone, she went to a medical school and recently emerged as a qualified junior doctor. What an awe inspiring achievement considering she managed this with four children. If that was not enough, her new children's book was announced early this year, a product of her scribblings during rotations. This woman never stops, I thought.

The Gist:

Tulip and Ali live with their medic mother. But life changed ever since their mother's boyfriend Brian Sturgeon moved in. She is now tired all the time and they suspect Brian of drugging her. They are determined to find out what he is up to and find allies in their grandmother Nan-Nan and school friends, Zac and Jay.

What I liked:
  • The story gets into action straightaway. There is no preamble about setting and laying out the story. Farooki is aware of her readers and their short attention spans.
  • Yet another plus is the acknowledgement in the beginning of the book. My "nearly-10"-year-old daughter read it and was intrigued enough to read the first chapter. She was immediately hooked.
  • The twins are familiar with the hospital environnment, medical basics thanks to their mother. I liked the way it works at various levels. On one hand there is a cracking good story that keeps its readers guessing on the other hand there is a bit of education about simple, basic first aid and also scrubbing in (somethign that is in vogue now!). Mini Medix blog is a novel technique without sounding preachy.  
  • The voice of the children is brilliant. That was one of the reasons, my daughter got hooked right away. The story also reflects contemporary life in its entirety - children of working mothers and dealing with cancer as a child. I felt it was very nicely handled.

  • Plot is paced well, there are twists and turns and although young children are good at inferring (as I learnt from my 10-year-old) Farooki is good at staying one step ahead them.

Overall, a very good read. I enjoyed and passed it on to my daughter wondering if she was old enough to enjoy it. She gave me the book back within few days of bedtime reading.  I now know the reason for her grogginess in the morning.

I wished I had something like this growing up. My daughter and I will be looking forward to more about their twins and their adventures!

Monday, 24 February 2020

Foray into Flash fiction

In June 2019, I got the chance to attend a flash fiction festival in Bristol. Since I was part of the middleway mentoring project, this festival was recommended by my course coordinator.

I was intrigued by the concept - writing 250 or 500 words story. I was amazed to see how many practictioners of flash fiction had turned up. The workshops were amazing, they were well suited to novices like me and also to well versed practitioners who were very subtle about their successes.

Ad hoc fiction also has an ebook where a longlist is published each week and a public vote decides the winner.
Each week there is a prompt word and all pieces must contain the word to be considered. I did a piece on the word "Chill". I was very happy to be included in the longlist for the week of September 25.


A piece that I am really proud and that which won me the first prize in a writing contest.

The task was to write a story based on a painting and this came out naturally without much thinking. I had a great time writing this.



Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Fiction piece for Valentine's Day

Way back in February, the Curious Reader had a call out for posts on Valentine's Day. This was my piece that made it online on their website.


Sunday, 7 April 2019

Zizzle Literary magazine - Review

If the first issue has set the bar, the second one meets it head on.

Wow, Zizzle is here," is how my daughter reacted when she saw this issue. Upon being asked what appealed to her, a quick answer shot through. "It has children in it".

A girl of strong opinions, this 8-year-old reader loves to ponder over stories she has read and articulate her thoughts about it.

The Magazine:

Zizzle is a literary magazine that targets confident readers and grown up minds, still young at heart. The stories are clever  - the messages are subtle, without being preachy or obvious.The stories are clearly marked so that the reader is aware of its readability. We found it very convenient especially when my daughter was making her choices.

What works:
  • My daughter and I enjoyed reading the stories. However, we found that going through the inspiration before reading the actual story made it an enjoyable experience. It was fascinating to see how the writer's idea blooms out to form a complete piece. A great tool to illustrate the mechanics of creative writing or just to understand good stories better.
  • The quotes that shine in between the pages are a great device. My favourite line is: 
Between the pages of a book is a wonderful place to be. 

The anonymous quote truly encapsulated my passion for reading.
  • The first story Child of the first spark portrays the pressures of being a today's child and what a child wants. The Gift of Everness and Nuclear Missiles are Coming Our Way are also well written stories with a strong underlining message. It was an absolute pleasure picking these miniature delights to read at bedtime.
  • My daughter however has her own favourites. It was hands down No-school day. Her reason? She could see herself as the girl in the story and "the girl uses her imagination even if there was no school."
  • Janita Peperkamp's illustrations are beautifully done and they enhance the stories. It breathes life into the book. Her piece on how she approaches a painting offers great insight into her working style. 

Who will like them more:

My daughter loved most of the stories. But I could see that older readers who can understand metaphor and inference will enjoy it even more. These stories have depth and layers - a nod to the high writing quality and the standard of the writers.

In a Nutshell:

I can easily visualise zizzle in a book club discussion. Stories short enough to be read out and then students or a group of friends sharing their views about the story.

A masterclass on what makes good stories. A great collection that shows how they are done.