This time I am talking to children's author Priya Desai who is a speech and language therapist (speech and language pathologist in the States!) who works with young children in schools. Noticing that there were no inspiring stories available; to support children with early schools skills such as, handwriting, spelling etc. she decided to start writing stories that would fill this gap within the children’s book market and therefore bring a new sort of children’s book to today’s generation of children; that are not only entertaining stories but also stories that subtly teach children tricks and techniques that they can use at school.
Books & Writing: Where do you get your inspiration from to write Children’s books?
Priya Desai: My inspiration comes from the children I work with. I was inspired to write my first book, Benjamin Writer-Messy following a discussion with a mother of a boy that I saw for therapy many years ago, who commented on how difficult he found handwriting and how reluctant he was to practise. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if he had a story about handwriting to read that would inspire him to have a go himself and feel good about handwriting.” And that is how it all started!
As I was putting Benjamin Writer-Messy together, it became clear that more books needed to be written. Hence Jake Monkey-Tail soon followed. Now I’m more focused on children’s books and writing, ideas come more quickly. I have many more stories that I would like to write.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us a bit about the children’s books Benjamin Writer Messy & Jake Monkey Tail?
Priya Desai: Benjamin Writer-Messy is a story about a boy who has messy handwriting. I wanted to make his story unique and also a little bit quirky. Benjamin lives in a place called Pencil Land and he in fact looks like a pencil! In the story, we see him trying to find a way of improving his handwriting for a school handwriting competition. He decides to visit the Handwriting Queen, who is the Queen of Pencil Land, to see if she can help him. She gives him a golden pencil and tells him that when he writes he must be careful and slow. This golden pencil makes Benjamin feel confident in himself, as it has come from a special place and an important person, and of course it is golden, so it feels good to use. Does he win the handwriting competition? Well, I can’t tell you! But what I will tell you is that his pencil head goes from being blunt at the beginning of the story, to sharp at the end of the story, as his handwriting improves.
Jake Monkey-Tail is an incredible character and his story is quite enchanting. Jake is a monkey that goes to school but who cannot spell! The story is about how he wants to improve his spelling so he can do better in his weekly spelling tests at school. He manages to stumble upon a magical place in Monkey Jungle, where he meets a wise old monkey called Spelladictionary Monkey VII, who teaches him special spelling tricks that enable him to become good at spelling. There is of course a magical twist to the end of the story, which I can’t give away! But, the story ends positively and we see Jake’s spelling skills flourish and see him get his first 10/10 at school. You can’t help but like Jake straightaway, as in the story he is so personable form the start. He is easy for children to relate to. He makes such a lovely role-model for children, as he acknowledges his fears but also embraces and acknowledges what he is good at – I think this is important for children to see.
I learnt so much during the whole process of putting Benjamin Writer-Messy together and by the time I was ready to write Jake Monkey-Tail, I had a better idea of how to utilize my knowledge as a speech and language therapist in to my stories. Therefore in Jake Monkey-Tail, I have included all the additional therapy techniques that specialist teachers might use when teaching children how to spell. For example, using a multisensory approach to spelling, hence in the story, we see Jake spelling in the mud and also with his tail; something children have enjoyed to see.
Books & Writing: For which age group are the books intended?
Priya Desai: The books are perfect for children aged between 4-9 years of age, although even some 3 year olds have enjoyed the stories as there are so many great pictures in the both books.
Books & Writing: You also give book readings for children I read on your website. Why did you decide to do that?
Priya Desai: I decided to give book readings to raise awareness of my books and to also connect with children and see what the stories brought to them; what they enjoyed, how they responded to the stories etc.
When you self-publish you have to be really proactive in building good relationships with stores through book reading etc. to help your book become well known!
Books & Writing: I understand you published the books yourself. How did you go about that?
Priya Desai: Where do I begin? Well, to start with I had no idea! I wrote Benjamin Writer-Messy and then made a story board with my own, amateur illustrations. I then contacted a school friend, who is an artist and she started illustrating the book for me. During this process, she managed to find a designer, experienced in book/magazine design and production, who was able to format the book, liaise with the printer and help produce the finished product.
Everything fell in to place for me, so I was lucky in that sense.
Books & Writing: Are you working on a new children’s book at the moment?
Priya Desai: I am working on many books right now although I have no intention on self-publishing them this year, as I want to concentrate on promoting my first two books globally.
Books & Writing: Would you ever consider writing books for adults or young adults?
Priya Desai: Good question – I work with kids, my language in books is very much how I talk with the kids I work with. Hope that answers your question? I think there are different writing skills – some people have the skill to write for children, some for adults. I would say I’m better at writing for kids. A story for adults? I would not know where to start…
I would like to possibly write for 8-11 age group at some point but I feel I need to get many years of writing under my belt first; keep practicing, trying new stories etc.
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on the internet and buy your books?
Priya Desai: You can find me at www.priyadesai.co.uk.
My books will soon be available to buy on my website. Currently they are available worldwide on Amazon and online at Waterstones (UK). However, if you Google the books, they do come up on book websites all over the world and even on Ebay! I will be approaching book stores in the US later on this year so fingers crossed!
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Priya Desai: My first piece of advice would be, just start writing! Don’t be afraid and try not to deliberate. Also, take the time to keep editing your work and plan editing in to your schedule and timeline. You can never edit enough!
Remember that not everyone might like you work and that is okay! If someone doesn’t like your work, it is not the right work for them so don’t be offended. Just think about the work you do and don’t like. We all have opinions after all.
Also, if you are thinking of self-publishing, spend a year researching how you intend to go about it. Think about production, sales, marketing budgets. Think about ways you intend to sell your book and who your potential buyers will be. This is a big decision so don’t rush it. I will be blogging on self-publishing over the year as there really is not enough information out there for people.
Books & Writing: Thank you Priya for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer the questions!
Below is an excerpt from the book "Jake Monkey Tail" where Jake introduces himself.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Jake and I live in a fabulous place called Monkey Jungle. Lots of monkeys live in Monkey Jungle. You can tell just by the name! We do have other jungle animal neighbours as well though, like elephants, giraffes and panthers. So, Monkey Jungle is really a very multi-animal sort of place.
I’m only a little monkey, so that means that I have to go to Monkey School every day, except for Saturday and Sunday. I actually like school because I have lots of monkey friends there that I love to play with. I like learning most things like Art, History and Maths, which is my absolute favourite. Don’t you just love numbers?
There is just one thing that I find difficult. Spelling... yes, spelling. Shhh! It’s a secret! But at least I can write my letters beautifully, look I’ll show you, here is the alphabet:
o, d, c, b,
“See, it’s perfect...I think.”
Every Friday I have a spelling test. Do you have a test on Friday as well? One week I do okay, you know, get 2/10 and the next week I might get 1/10, and on a really bad week I might get 0/10!