I am thrilled to welcome Shirin Shamsi to Cynsations today!
Congratulations on winning the South Asia Book Award! How has winning the award changed or affected your creative life? What hasn’t changed?
Thank you Suma. It truly is an honor that means so much to me. I feel it may have temporarily quieted my constant nemesis – the ever-present imposter syndrome.
It is very gratifying to know that The Moon from Dehradun, illustrated by Tarun Lak (Atheneum, 2022) has resonated with so many readers. No doubt about it, winning the award has given me a positive boost, especially since I have had numerous rejections of my work out on submission. It inspires me to keep on going more than ever, in my calling to write stories for children.
What hasn’t changed is the fact that writing is hard work, and every new manuscript requires the same amount of work and dedication. The blank page is as daunting as always. But yes, it does bring the hope that perhaps more children will be exposed to my book.
What do you love most about the creative life/being an author? Why?
I really feel this is the best job in the world, and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I love children, and to be writing for them is so very special and important.
I absolutely love my work – every part of it. From the moment I get an idea, which often happens at 2:00 a.m.; to jotting notes, and extensive research, to the actual drafting and editing. There’s such a feeling of joy to be writing stories for the most important people in the world. I do not take this responsibility lightly. It is purposeful and important work. I feel blessed to be doing what I love.
And even though rejections are disappointing, I don’t even mind waiting on submissions because that frees me to be creative without deadlines. I love to begin the day with writing, reading, sketching (yes, I have taken up drawing lessons in the hope to one day illustrate my work).
When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?
Watching the sunrise is a good start to my writing day. I gather my thoughts and reflect on my goals as I write morning pages, which are three handwritten pages of stream-of-consciousness writing. I highly recommend this exercise that I learned from The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron (Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1992). It helps declutter my thoughts in preparation for a creative morning.
I begin writing in my living room, which is from where I view the sunrise. By afternoon, I move to the kitchen table or my family room. I move wherever the sun is. I need sunshine – for my mood and creativity.
Morning is my most creative time, where I get my ideas written down. Afternoons are more for editing, critiquing or viewing webinars.
When you look back on your writing journey, what are the changes that stand out?
My journey to publication is probably the longest, and quite a snail-paced story. The changes that stand out to me with hindsight are that I truly did not believe I could do it. And that held me back for years.
I first began writing when my youngest was three. I didn’t really have the time or resources. Writing was way down on my list of priorities. I am more focused now. My children are grown. I have more free time.
I remember when I first voiced my dream of becoming a writer. I think when I look back perhaps it was always meant to be. I began writing in a diary at the age of seven. When I was fifteen, my English teacher submitted my folder, containing essays, poetry and short stories, to an exhibition. Books and writing were very important to my family. My father was a writer and educator. I remember when I was nineteen someone asked me what I was going to do with my life. She said, ‘Why don’t you become a writer?” I felt she had opened a possibility I dared not even consider, as it was impossible. I was not good enough. The dream lay dormant for many years, until I became a mother and felt compelled to write stories my children could see themselves in.
My writing journey has been a long one, paved with disappointment and rejection. I take the view that hard work and perseverance are the certain ways to achieve one’s goal. Once I began working hard, focusing on achieving my goal, that’s when things began moving forward.
How did connecting with young readers through your books affect how you approached writing subsequent stories?
It was my children who inspired me to write. They still inspire me, though they are grown now, and doing wonderful work out in the world.
Initially, I began creating stories for my children. I laminated them with pictures. It was important to me that they saw themselves in stories. One story I wrote for them, what is now Zahra’s Blessing (Barefoot Books, 2022), was published twenty-five years after the original draft.
It’s all about representation, empowerment, inspiring curiosity, kindness and empathy. Children’s books are so crucial to a child’s introduction to the world.
In 2022 I was fortunate enough to visit schools in Pakistan. It was such a rewarding experience to read The Moon from Dehradun to children there. A friend took my book to a remote village where many homes and the school had been destroyed by flooding. She translated the story to the children and the story resonated with them deeply. She told me they were visibly moved as they had recently experienced loss and displacement. One of the best rewards of writing is seeing the impact of one’s books. That experience touched me deeply
Born and raised in the UK, Shirin Shamsi moved to the United States and settled in Illinois, where she raised her six children- three human and three feline. Shirin is represented by Saba Sulaiman of Talcott Notch Literary. Her publications include the Moon From Dehradun: A story of Partition; Zahra’s Blessing: A Ramadan Story; Laila and the Sands of Time . She has co-authored books two inter-faith books with Callie Lovvorn and Melissa Stoller. Planting Friendship : Peace, Salaam, Shalom. Building Bridges: Peace, Salaam, Shalom. You may learn more about Shirin at her website: www.ShirinShamsi.com
Suma Subramaniam’s interests in writing for children are centered around STEM/STEAM related topics as well as India and Indian heritage. When she’s not recruiting by day or writing by night, she’s volunteering for We Need Diverse Books and SCBWI or blogging about children’s books.
Her picture books include, Namaste is a Greeting, illustrated by Sandhya Prabhat (Candlewick, 2022), She Sang for India: How M.S. Subbulakshmi Used her Voice for Change, illustrated by Shreya Gupta (FSG Books, 2022), and The Runaway Dosa, illustrated by Parvati Pillai (Little Bee Books, 2023). Suma is also the contributing author of The Hero Next Door middle-grade anthology (Penguin Random House, 2019) and What is Hope? poetry anthology (Pomelo Books, 2023) .
Her poems have been published in Poetry Foundation’s first Young People’s Poetry Edition of Poetry Magazine. She lives in Seattle with her family and a dog who watches baking shows. Learn more at https://sumasubramaniam.com.