Khyrunnisa A, children’s literature, Indian English writers, latest Kerala news, khyrunnisa a, butterfingers
Khyrunnisa A is an award-winning children’s fiction writer who created the popular comic book character “Butterfingers” for Tinkle magazine. She took over the character to publish a series of Puffin books, the children’s imprint of Penguin Random House. So far, his seven books in the series include four sports-based novels – “Howzzat Butterfingers!”, “Goal, Butterfingers!”, “Clean Bowled, Butterfingers!” and “Smash It, Butterfingers!”. Three collections of short stories are – “The Misadventures of Butterfingers”, “Run, It’s Butterfingers Again!” and “Of course it’s Butterfingers!”.
Excerpts from the interview:
‘Butterfingers’ made you a world famous writer. What made you choose children’s literature to tell stories? How did you start writing?
It happened a bit by chance. I had no intention of becoming a writer in general or a children’s writer in particular – becoming a writer had never been my ambition. We used to buy Mumbai-based ‘Tinkle’ magazine for my young son. One day I noticed that the publication was holding an India-wide competition for adult writers of children’s fiction. Just for fun, I sent in an entry. It was a fun sports-based short story titled “Butterfingers!”. Later I used this frame for my first novel “Howzzat Butterfingers!”.
The second prize I won made me feel quite satisfied. A few months later, the deputy editor of Tinkle who happened to have come to Thiruvananthapuram from Mumbai for personal reasons, visited me because her colleagues in the Tinkle office loved my story and gave her my address, and asked him to meet with me to find out if I was as alive as my story. I was delighted to have an editor visit me. When I told her that I had no intention of submitting an application for next year’s competition, she was quite shocked and said that I had “low ambitions”. She encouraged me to write. She was responsible, or her visit was responsible, for me to become a writer.
And I won seven consecutive first prizes, as well as other Children’s Book Trust awards and the Unison 2007 Children’s Fiction Award. The writing bug bit me and I started loving writing. And because I started with children’s stories, I got stuck in them. But now I’ve released two adult books – “Tongue in Cheek: The Funny Side of Life” and “Chuckle Merry Spin: Us in the US.”
What was the reason for choosing Amar Kishen and his friends as characters?
The first story I wrote for Tinkle, the one that won the award, was “Butterfingers.” A few years later, when Tinkle’s associate editor asked me to create a regular character for the magazine, I returned to Butterfingers because, although I had written quite a few stories by that time, that character goofy and fun was a family favorite. He lived in my head. In the original story, his real name is Mukesh. But the editor of Tinkle and I felt that the name Mukesh was not suitable for ‘Butterfingers’ and I decided to change the name to Amar, which is my son’s name. I made up the surname Sen for the Tinkle stories and changed it to Kishen when the Penguin published it as books. So Butterfingers’ real name as a comic book character in Tinkle is Amar Sen and in the Butteringers book series it’s Amar Kishen. And I gave the names of my son’s friends to the names of ‘Butterfingers’ friends in the comics and the books. But I only borrowed the names. The characters are not based on my son or his friends. I created them from my imagination.
According to you, what is writing? Have you consciously tried to make any particular ideas or changes to children’s literature? Do you think it is necessary to broaden the horizon of children’s literature in the country?
I think the main purpose of writing is to bring joy and insight to the reader and creative satisfaction to the writer. Writers have different reasons for writing. I like to read all kinds of books, but I have a particular penchant for humorous books. So when I started writing, I wrote humorous and funny stories. I want my books to de-stress readers, but interspersed with humor there are some serious questions that should get them thinking.
Children’s literature should never be preachy or preachy. That’s what it was before. But now, the horizon of children’s literature has already widened, and it is encouraging to see that there are now all kinds of exciting books in the Indian children’s literature market.
There is no fantasy in my writing because my writing is realistic. Nor is there any horror. Or evil. Or tragedy. Or magic. Or sentimentality. I don’t feel comfortable writing them. I think writers should write to their strengths. I don’t wish to write fantasy just to prove that I can write it. I choose to write what I feel I am good at. Let others write about fantasy, horror, etc.
Has your teaching profession influenced or helped you in any way in writing?
In two ways. The first is that when you teach literature, you come into contact with different types of books and you give critical attention to each. You are also aware of the importance of different aspects of a novel, play, short story, poetry or non-fiction. So all of that helps when you’re writing, because you can take a hard look at your own writing.
The second way it helped me is that it kept me in close contact with the students and helped me understand their minds, what interests them, etc. I also have many ideas by observing them.
Generally, people consider writing sports or comedy to be very difficult. How do you see it?
As I said earlier, I don’t find humor difficult to manage. Being the youngest of eight children, I had to use humor to stand up to my siblings. We used a lot of humor while talking at home and that also helped me hone my skills. And I love sports and have always followed sports. These areas can be tricky for those unfamiliar with sports or humor, but writing largely depends on what interests you and what you think is good. For example, some writers might find it very easy to write horror stories, but I don’t think I would like to try that.
About your roots in Kerala
Actually, my family belongs to Tamil Nadu. My father was a postmaster and he wanted to send his eight children to school. When he was posted to Thiruvananthapuram, everyone told him it was a great place for education and he chose to settle here. We all studied in schools and colleges in Thiruvananthapuram. I married a Malayali and you can call me a naturalized Malayali. I love Thiruvananthapuram and consider myself a native of the city.
Kids these days are busy with social media and the digital world. In your opinion, what can be done to attract children to books using children’s literature?
Yes, this is a matter of grave concern. It becomes more and more difficult to get the children away from the screen and to make them read the page. They are impatient and want the instant gratification that digital media provides. But it is not impossible to turn them into readers. Parents, teachers and librarians have an important role to play in getting children interested in books. A house that contains books will encourage children to read. If parents read, children will follow. Small children should be told interesting stories in an exciting and interesting way or have stories read to them. Once encouraged to use their imagination, they will understand the richness that books can bring and will become lifelong readers. Children love to laugh. Thus, humorous stories can be used to interest them in reading similar books. Research has proven that those who read become well-adjusted individuals in their adult lives and also become high achievers.
You have chosen English as the medium for your writing. “Butterfingers” has been translated into Malayalam. How do you feel?
I chose English because it is the language I know best, the language I love and which excites me. I speak Urdu and although I can speak and understand basic Malayalam, unfortunately I never learned to read or write the language. But I always wanted my books to be translated into Malayalam and other languages so that they could reach more readers.
I am particularly happy that “Howzzat Butterfingers! », my first novel, has finally been translated into Malayalam and published by Mathrubhumi. But he just got out; so I will have to wait to know the answer from Malayalis.
Children’s fiction appeals to people of all age groups. Do you try to present political or social issues through your writing?
Yes indeed. I know so many older people who love children’s books. I do not present political issues in my writings but as I told you above, I am concerned about the environment and certain social issues and I present them in a veiled way, and often with humor. For example, in ‘Smash It, Butterfingers!’, a badminton-based novel that came out last year, I deal with superstitions but in a veiled and light way.
Are you working on something new?
I’m working on my next book Butterfingers and another adult book.
You have received several accolades for your writing. What are the responses you receive for your writing? Do these awards inspire you?
Yes, they are inspirational because the awards are an official recognition of your writing talent and inspire you to write more and better.
Can we expect to see adaptations of “Butterfingers” on the big screen? Have you thought about that?
I would love for ‘Butterfingers’ to appear on the big screen. I’m sure it will appeal to young people if the novels are made into feature films. But I also think Butterfingers stories can be serialized. Director KS Sethumadhavan had approached me showing his interest in adapting it as a Malayalam film, but the project did not work out.
If a good publishing house is willing to adapt Butterfingers for the big or small screen, I’d love that. But you have to do it well. I’m waiting.