Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Writer's Block Interviews: Urvi Khanna

1) Tell us a bit about yourself and where you live and work.

I am a professional artist, designer and photographer living in New Delhi, India.

When I was in school, one day in art class, my teacher suddenly pounced on my drawing and I found myself standing outside the Principal’s office. Finally I was called in and told that they were going to use my drawing as the cover of the school magazine and it was the first time such a thing were to happen. I was 8. So very early on, I knew I was going to be an artist or designer.

New Delhi in the 1980s where I grew up, was a melting pot of cultural experiences in India. Poets, dancers, writers, artists, orchestra groups, ballet and drama groups from all over the world would showcase their work round the year -- my parents regularly used to take me for all the events and I developed major influences during that period. I graduated with a BFA (Applied Arts & Photography as my specialization) degree from College of Art Delhi, and went on to work in various creative roles -- did product photography for cola and car brands, designed for a leading current affairs magazine, taught design at a leading private school, worked as art director for an international advertising agency; and co-founded and ran a successful advertising agency for many years.

I also enjoy challenging on-location photography assignments - some of my past photography projects include stories on Tihar Jail (one of India’s biggest jails), and the tribal weavers of India.

2) Describe your journey to becoming an author.

Becoming a parent was a life changing event for me just like for most people. I started seeing things from a child’s perspective. Funny, I had always thought of teaching art to children, but never doing a children’s book. And then it happened and now I can’t imagine why I never thought of it before!

I’m a very visual person so I usually think of ideas and stories in visual form. My first book is a picture book, which was fun and comfortable for me to do since most of the ideas are expressed through visuals or very simple words. It was a collaborative effort with a wonderful writer Indie Poe.

3) Do you gravitate toward any particular genre in writing?

Poetry is beautiful, not just a clever play of words but words that fill you with emotion. Also a style that leaves you imagining more than what is visible on the page. So that every time you read it you see and imagine more or different things.

4) Tell us about your new ebook, The Fountain. What inspired you to write it?

For me, living in a polluted city like New Delhi with a toddler has been challenging as a parent. Although Delhi has several large parks, I would really love to bring my son up in a place surrounded by nature, or at least create more opportunities for him to interact with nature.

My son loves fountains -- he sees one in the bathing tub, the paddle pool, the rain... everywhere, even wanted one in a book! A few weeks ago I was conducting a children's outdoors workshop called ‘Art in the Park’, and the concept of the book sort of came together for me at that moment.

5) Describe your path to publication. Has this experience met/exceeded your expectations?

I chose to self-publish on the iTunes store because what excited me was the possibility of reaching numerous children all over the world in a jiffy. Just to be able to see the book up on the iTunes store, days after finishing it was magical!

The hard bit is the book discovery/marketing process. Everyday a ton of books are being published and many of them are so good! As a self-published author you have limited avenues for marketing your book -- you don’t have a budget really, so it’s not easy to achieve sales.

6) How do you promote your work? What methods have worked best for you?

That is something I need to work on, though having a presence on reading forums really helps connect with readers. I guess the minimum that one needs to do is to create awareness about your book on your personal blog / facebook / twitter etc. Securing reviews is very useful as well. I’ve been usually shy about self publicity -- I think many other creative people feel the same way. I’ve been told that needs to change -- and hope that what I’m learning about book marketing now would be put to better use by the time my second book comes out.

7) Who are your favorite authors? What is on your reading list right now?

As a child I loved folktales from all over the world. One that I have never forgotten was “Aminata the Wind Loves You”, an African folktale by Chia Hearn Chek, published by Dominie Press. The illustrations were like paintings, it was a story about the wind. “Folktales from India” by A.K. Ramanujan is another all time favourite, with stories from the diverse Indian culture. Right now I’m re-reading anything and everything Eric Carle has produced, there is so much to learn from how he communicates complex concepts to children so simply besides the fact that his illustrations are so beautiful. Salman Rushdie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens are authors I can enjoy anytime.

8) Describe a typical day in your life.

My day is usually hectic. Time is divided between certain hours for personal work, a bit of teaching on certain days of the week and looking after my little toddler. But I do consciously take time out to be with nature, gaze at leaves, the sky; watch birds fly back home in the evening, the bats come out..

In spite of all the planning, things move with the mood of the day!

9) What projects do you have in the works?

Currently I’m illustrating my next picture book for the nature series (The Fountain was the first). Lets see where it goes, hopefully it will be out soon.

I am also developing art programs for young children that aim to create friendly, supportive environments for self expression through art. I continue to do some design, advertising, photography and teaching - basically everything I love and enjoy!

10) What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

Being just a book old, I’ve got a lot to learn myself. But I’d like to share a quote that says it beautifully:

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities.” - Dr. Seuss

About the Author

Urvi Khanna studied Applied Art and Photography at College of Art, Delhi (India) and Advanced Photography at O.P. Sharma’s Institute at Triveni Kala Sangam.

Worked with photographer Hardesh Dhingra and interned with the legendary Madan Mahatta. Also worked with India Today (national & international editions) and Euro RSCG (The Sales Machine - direct marketing).

Co-founded and managed Inventiv Advertising, a full services advertising agency as its Creative Head.

Also taught art at Vasant Valley School, New Delhi.

Currently freelancing and working on personal projects in photography and art. Conducting art workshops for children and working on a book.

First exhibition – Tradespotting | Old Delhi at Delhi ‘O’ Delhi, India Habitat Centre 1- 31st January 2008.

Contact Urvi

Website (blog): http://www.urvikhanna.com

Twitter handle: @urvikhanna

Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/urvi.khanna.90

Blog post about the book: http://www.urvikhanna.com/2012/06/fountain-picture-book_748.html

Email: urvikhanna@gmail.com

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