Frankly Speaking with Venita Coelho
Venita Coelho was a part of the television industry for over 15 years till one day she left it all and ran away from everything television. Now Venita lives a beachy life in Goa and writes some really fun books for kids. We got a chance to interview her and ask her a few bookie-questions.
1. As a kid, what were your reading habits?
I read any and everything I could lay my hands on. I sneaked my father’s books, raided the neighbours bookshelves, lived in the school library. I read at the table, in the loo (for hours), standing up, sitting down, lying down. I read all my elder sister’s text books and explained some rather interesting bits of biology to her. And I learnt that if you read you learn all kinds of interesting things that you can use to trip your teachers up with. You can travel out of yourself and visit other worlds. You can live several lives packed into one. Every book is an adventure. So just open a book and dive in!
2. What inspiration do you look for while writing? Can you briefly explain the process of converting an idea into a full-fledged story?
The idea has to amuse and intrigue me. A writer comes up with many ideas. They float through your head all the time. But only some ideas stick. These are the ones that you return to again and again, puzzling at them. And as you puzzle bits and pieces of the story fall into place. If you want to get really technical, I do a plot graph and then a step outline. The plot graph is literally a graph drawn on nice checked paper. It helps me make sure my story plays out correctly and builds to a nice climax. Step outline is when I write each chapter as one sentence. So I can glance down one sheet of paper and see my whole story. That really helps with plugging the gaps. Then it’s down to writing. Mostly I am a ‘three draft’ writer. The first draft is my ‘get it out of the system’ draft. I write forward, don’t re-read, never correct. My second draft is the ‘real hard work’ draft. I take the book apart and put it back together in better shape. And the third draft is a ‘light polish’. Here I have a wonderful time just fiddling with stuff for the fun of it.
3. Two of your books written for children are animal centric. Is this a conscious decision?
Yes. Until recently I lived with five dogs and two cats. Not to mention two stubborn frogs who wouldn’t vacate the loo, a colony of bats in the porch and the odd snake who would wander in from the rain. As someone said ‘the more I know people, the better I like dogs’. Teaching our kids to be more inclusive and compassionate begins with teaching them to treat animals better. And hey! Someone has to be on the side of all those who can’t speak. So ‘Tiger by the Tail’ told the story of why our tigers are vanishing from this world. And ‘Dead as A Dodo’ is about Sam, the last dodo left alive, but it’s also about how we as a species are causing the last and greatest extinction. One in four mammals is at the risk of disappearing forever! And, just to make people think, I created some really amazing animals spies trained to fight right back. Bagha ( Agent No. 002) is a Royal Bengal tiger. Kela ( Agent No. 013) is a monkey. And Agent No. 11.3 is Rana, who is one of only two people in the world who knows Junglespeak and can talk to animals. Together they form the Animal Intelligence Agency and head out on missions. I strongly believe in the motto of the Animal Intelligence Agency that features in the books – ‘Save the animals! Save the world!’
4. You must be facing a lot of mind-numbing challenges while writing, specially for kids. What is the biggest challenge that you’ve faced till now?
Not at all. Kids writing is the most fun thing I ever do. I sit there putting in silly jokes and chortling to myself and having an absolute blast. I struggle with all my other kinds of writing. But hand me something to write for kids – and I’m off and running. Let me tell you a secret. Writing is actually loads easier than everyone makes it out to be. You just have to learn to love reading enough and writing will follow. The more you read the more you actually are learning about how different people write. Along with hours of fun you are getting a writing education.
5. How do you think writing for the television is different from writing a novel?
A novel has a beginning a middle and an end. Television is structured to never end. A successful soap is one that runs for at least three years. That is 120 hours worth of writing. Writing a soap is the equivalent of writing two novels a month – and keeping the wheels of story spinning endlessly at the same time. After that writing a novel is like taking a vacation. Novels are loads easier. Mostly because they come without a channel asking for six re-writes as well.
6. Kids are always attracted to visuals. Can we say that the little readers today can judge a book by its cover?
Everybody judges a book by it’s cover. It won’t get taken off the shelf unless it looks exciting enough. And strangely the one little bit of the book that does most to sell it? the spine. That is all you see when it’s on a shelf. But yes, making a book look really fun visually is very important for kids.
For more interesting interview of famous people for kids, visit: http://mocomi.com/learn/culture/interview/