Author Interview: Veera Hiranandani on Companion Books & Embracing “Kid Brain”

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By Mitu Malhotra

Today we welcome Veera Hiranandani to Cynsations as she discusses her new historical middle grade book Amil and the After (Penguin Random House, 2024) which is a companion to her Newbery honor winning The Night Diary (Penguin Random House, 2018).

I first met Veera Hiranandani at the Maplewood South Orange Book Festival when she signed my copy of The Night Diary. It was momentous for me to discover a book written for children that highlighted the Partition of India.

My own childhood was filled with partition stories from my grandparents and parents—about how they navigated new borders, fled their ancestral homes as violence spiked and arrived in Delhi as refugees in 1947.

Amil and the After feels like an organic continuation of The Night Diary; the choice of this book coming from the boy Amil’s perspective makes the story come a full circle as it traces their family’s refugee journey. And the illustrations by Prashant Miranda add a wonderful layer to Amil’s characterization.

Did you plan to write a sequel when you drafted the first book? Tell us about writing this second stand-alone book, how difficult or easy was the process when penning with the same characters but in a new place?

Thank you! I didn’t know I’d write a companion book to the The Night Diary, but then about a year after it was published, a busy year filled with school visits and events where I talked about the characters often, I started to miss them. I truly believe my characters exist in some parallel universe.

Also, students kept saying they were interested in hearing more of the story through Amil’s point of view. That gave me even more motivation and I started drafting. I didn’t want to continue the story exactly the way it had been–in Nisha’s point of view in a diary format in order to keep it fresh, so I decided on a close third-person in Amil’s point of view. I liked moving the narrative “lens” back a little bit.

It also worked better for his drawings to be featured and illustrator Prashant Miranda did such a wonderful job with them.

Illustration from Amil and the After by Prashant Miranda (used with permission).

Both your books are set in1947-1948, what were the challenges of writing about that turbulent time period in Indian history? What research did you do for depictions of place and setting with regards to the circumstances after Independence?

I did a lot of research over many years. I had a good base from The Night Diary which entailed personal interviews with my dad, other relatives, and family friends who went through Partition.

I read and listened to oral histories from the and The Partition Museum website and tried to focus on the way each person described their home and the way they travelled over the border from either direction, into India or into Pakistan. I watched old newsreels and read newspaper articles, as well as non-fiction and fiction based on Partition.

For Amil and The After, I wanted to explore the perspective of Sindhi-Hindus. Many of them came to Mumbai (then called Bombay), like my father’s family. I read stories by Manto who lived and loved Bombay, but left for Pakistan after Partition because it was too dangerous. During this research I discovered the poet, Popati Hiranandani (no relation). She wrote poetry about the partition and having to leave Sindh for Bombay. The Sindhi historians and authors, Saaz Aggarwal and Nandita Bhavnani were also helpful in this regard.

For writers it is challenging to achieve age appropriate language and syntax, especially for middle grade readers, yet it seems effortless in your prose. During your writing and revision process, were there any mentor texts that you used to guide your style? Are there any resources that you would recommend to writers of historical fiction for children?

I appreciate that! Though it’s definitely not effortless, but I do think voice is something that develops over time as you write, read, and absorb material. I’ve always gravitated towards a simpler writing style that conveys a lot going on underneath. Two of my favorite modern adult writers are Jhumpa Lahiri and Mohsin Hamid who seem to do this effortlessly.

Children’s authors I love for the similar reasons are Rita Williams-Garcia, Erin Entrada Kelly, Renee Watson, and Padma Venkatraman. They are voice-forward with direct language, yet it’s so rich. They all have very different styles, but there’s a rhythm and economy in the prose that I love.

One of the major writing decisions for an author is to choose the point of view for the narration. The Night Diary is an epistolary novel written in first person whereas Amil and the After is in close third person which sometimes zooms out to share political and historical details. Could you tell us what prompted your choice in this matter?

When I started to figure out the book, I tried some beginnings with Nisha continuing the diary format and I thought maybe somehow, I’d alternate the point of view or have her help Amil write his own diary. But it felt clunky and forced. So, I decided to really depart from the POV.

I think third-person works really well for historical fiction—a way to zoom out a bit, yet still see the world through a particular character.

There are some very vivid sensorial details and metaphors in these books, my favorite one is from The Night Diary when Nisha drinks rain water after two days of being thirsty and the rain drops are “Liquid diamonds.” How did you develop metaphors and similes accessible for the intended age group, especially for an audience who is not familiar with the setting of this story?

Once I get the voice, I sort of become the main character in my mind. I remember very vividly what it was like to be that age. You still see the world with a little bit of magic in it even if you’re going through hard times. I have diaries I kept then and it’s not hard for me to slip into that younger perspective in my writing. I try to see the story with my “kid brain.” It’s not totally conscious, but I think that’s what I do.

Illustration from Amil and the After by Prashant Miranda (used with permission).

You have done an amazing job of stating the most tragic events in a simple language for young readers without hiding the truth. What was your process in writing these traumatic scenes for the novels, like the massacre on the train in The Night Diary and the account of the stabbing of family members of a school teacher in Amil and the After?

It’s a balancing act and emotionally draining for me. But there’s no way to learn about Partition without understanding some of the violence that happened. I take pains to show it in a more subtle way. I try not to describe any violence too graphically, nor do I focus on the most violent stories of Partition and write it with a protective eye. For example, the violence on the train in The Night Diary is a scene where most people survive. As some know, there were trains going over the borders which were attacked and everyone on them were killed. They were called “ghost trains.” That’s not a scene I would have chosen to write.

My own mother read The Night Diary in one sitting, she was a seven-year-old during the partition and recalls similar events to those that you have narrated. Have you heard back from readers about the inter-generational conversations that your books may be generating? Do you have a favorite anecdote to share?

I love hearing that. I’ve heard many stories like that, including my own editor who read the story with her mother (who was a child of a partition survivor), and her daughter. Sometimes parents have reached out to me telling me about how they weren’t able to talk about it as a family until they read my book—somehow the vehicle of a fictional story for young readers made it easier.

During your writing journey did you use freewriting exercises or journaling to develop Amil and Nisha as respective protagonists? Or for the secondary characters? Do you have a favorite character development cheat sheet?

I wish I did have a cheat sheet! I write notes in a notebook or on my phone notes app whenever I get an idea, either about the character or the story. I also use a technique called mind-mapping. It’s a visual, circular brainstorming method that helps you get out all your thoughts about a topic (or character) on one piece of paper.

Veera’s attic studio writing space

How do you balance the time you spend on your daily writing practice with the other demands of being an author in terms of marketing and promotion for a new book? What would be your one piece of advice to beginning writers?

Buckle your seatbelt! It’s a bumpy ride. All writers have ups and downs and struggles to balance everything they want to do, whether it’s a day-job, parenting, other life responsibilities, and then of course marketing and promoting your books.

As far as promotion, I’m still trying to figure out what works best, what’s worth putting the energy into. Social media can work well for those are inventive with it, or have a big following already, but for me, it’s more of a placeholder. I want to have a presence, but I don’t know if it actually helps sell books. When a book comes out, I usually focus on it for about three-months and do all I can do–school visits, book festivals, interviews, social media–and then I move on to what the heart of it all is—making time for my writing. You don’t need loads of time, just a dedicated hour or two most days.

What long term goals have you set for yourself moving forward with your literary art? Can you tell us about any forthcoming books?

I always dreamed of authoring picture books and I finally have my first two coming out this fall (2024) and next spring (2025).

The first is called The Greatest, inspired by my grandfather on my mother’s side, illustrated by Vesper Stamper (Random House Studio, Sept. 3, 2024). And the second is called Many Things at Once, which is more about my own mixed background, illustrated by Nadia Alam.

Cynsations Notes

Veera Hiranandani is the author of the Newbery Honor–winning The Night Diary and the recently released companion novel, Amil and The After. She earned her MFA in creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College.

She’s also the author of The Whole Story of Half a Girl, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book and a South Asia Book Award finalist, and How to Find What You’re Not Looking For, winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award and the New York Historical Society Children’s History Book Prize.

A former editor at Simon & Schuster, she now teaches in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA Program at The Vermont College of Fine Arts. Find out more at

Mitu Malhotra holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the 2021 winner of the Katherine Paterson Prize for Literature for Young Adults and Children. Her short story Toxins is part of ELA curriculum.

In previous avatars, she was a textile and fashion designer. When she is not writing, Mitu paints, sews, and builds miniature dollhouses out of recycled materials. More on Follow her on Instagram @mituart or Bluesky @mitumalhotra.