Nimesh the Adventurer written by Ranjit Singh (@RanjittheAuthor) and illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini is a delightful story about imagination and playfulness following one boy’s daydreaming possibilities as he walks home from school. With echoes of Jill Murphy’s On the Way Home, Nimesh the Adventurer brings something additional and very welcome; it is glorious in its subtle challenging of stereotypes and sumptuous and dynamic collage illustrations bursting with colour and energy. An inclusive, funny, joyous book for all.
I’m really very pleased to bring you an interview with author Ranjit Singh today. I first asked Ranjit about his route to becoming a published author:
“From childhood, I have liked how the picture book, through a simple line of text opposite an image, could express so much with so little. The brevity of the form is fascinating. There is something very elevated about aspects of the ‘child mind’ and this medium allows adults to see and feel on that childlike level again.
I did not have an intention to write picture books as such; rather ideas suited to them have just occurred to me once in a while. I did not have any intention in writing ‘for children’ as the concept of a picture book seems a thing of universal beauty. I suppose if the language is simple and the subject matter is appropriate, then it can be considered a children’s book (which is no bad thing).
Children’s picture books, in my mind, have come to be synonymous with a pleasant, if momentary, escapism. Maybe even more like a ‘happening’ than a story. A good recent example would be Night by Junuka Desphpande.”
I then asked Ranjit about his favourite books as a child – if he had to pick just three, what would he choose?
“It would be hard for me to name three favourite books as a child, because my memories of them are so vague. There are so many that made an impression in one respect or another and there are many that I remember aspects of but that I cannot recall the titles or the authors of. Maybe that is how it should be. Another point is that I never thought of these books or stories as ‘mine’, so I cannot recall considering any as ‘my favourites’, rather they are just these wonderful things, lights in the world, or personal lights of their authors.
One book, which I considered a brilliant achievement, was Tales of ‘A Gambling Grandma’ by Dayal Kaur Khalsa, for its moving story and its vivid images. I especially had a liking for the bold colours and the Edward Hopper-esque style of the images.
Another thing that impresses me about picture books is how some of them seem to remove or disregard the perspective of fear from a situation. For example, in ‘The Tiger Who Came To Te’a by Judith Kerr, the little girl seems smilingly indifferent to the fact that a Tiger has come to visit, and is even a little amused. It is also the first book I remember reading that melded the extraordinary with the everyday.
The images of the giant monsters dancing with the little boy in ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak also made a memorable impression, as well as the idea of the boy just ‘sailing away’ from his bedroom to some distant land. Other titles that came to mind were ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle, ‘Old Bear’ by Jane Hissey and ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ by Beatrix Potter.”
So where did the idea for ‘Nimesh the Adventurer’ come from? What were Ranjit’s inspirations?
“What I recall about ‘Nimesh the Adventurer’ is how both the title and the idea came into my mind in an inspired fashion, fully formed, including the name ‘Nimesh’. In fact, I had to perform a search on Google in order to confirm that Nimesh was an actual name, as I did not recall having met anyone with that name before. I do remember playing such imaginary games as a child, as Nimesh does in the book, but that did not have any deliberate bearing on the idea of the book. I then had fun writing the various scenarios that Nimesh evokes, one from my own memories of game playing as a child and others simply inspired. I really enjoyed writing the text. One of my favourite scenes was Nimesh riding on a horse through some mountains, though it did not make the editorial cut.
I had written a number of other manuscripts, and was just sending out manuscripts unthinkingly. I often got personal rejections, but that was a step up from the typeset/prewritten rejections I used to get when I first started out (even if they were still rejections, the personal effort/touch was slightly more encouraging). Then one day whilst thinking about how to submit manuscripts I started to think about things from a publisher’s perspective and it suddenly occurred to me that the manuscripts should be matched to the publishers. It seems so obvious now, but back then it was something of a revelation.
When I saw Lantana’s website (I cannot remember how I found it), it occurred to me that I could submit Nimesh the Adventurer to them, though I did not hold out any particular hopes of them liking it. Looking at their website, I still remember first seeing the large, vivid and translucent Lantana logo, which stood out right away, and the adjacent explanation of the company name, which is also Lantana’s mission statement. I was not even sure whether they were based in England. Either way, I emailed Lantana the manuscript and then forgot about it. Their positive response was really a pleasant surprise.
Once the manuscript was accepted, it went through an editorial process. I originally had a much sparser vision for the book. The text mainly described vistas as Nimesh ran through them and I had foreseen basic line-like illustrations for the book, with Nimesh drawn and presented in a way like E.H. Shepard’s drawings of Christopher Robin. The version you see now has had considerable input from the editorial team, and Mehrdokht has had free reign on how she has done her illustrations. I like the sense of humour and extroverted spirit they have collectively introduced into a text which I had originally envisioned as very introverted and lonely. The ‘flip the page’ to show the contrasts was Alice Curry’s (the editor) idea, and an excellent one I think, because of the element of suspense that it creates.”
The role of the publisher and editor has clearly been very important in creating the final version of Nimesh the Adventure, but I was also keen to hear from Ranjit about other things – books, people or experiences – which had helped his writing and stortelling.
“1. As a teenager I once came across a book of essays by George Orwell where one essay was about the rules of writing. I recall really liking the advice about using language as simply and accurately as possible, and consequently took it to heart. On a different note, when I first read that ‘Animal Farm’ was mistaken for a children’s book by both publishers and bookshops, I understood that as a compliment, upholding the fine art of simplicity.
2. I first read about Nadia Chomyn, an autistic, artistic child savant, in a copy of Scientific American. Immediately impressed by her drawings, I later did some light research about Nadia and was impressed by something her psychiatrist noted about her personality- that she was ‘indifferent to praise’. This struck me as the right attitude to have when doing something creative, to not even think of being praised by others, much less be influenced by their praise. The same article also mentioned another delightful art prodigy, Wang Yani. Wang’s art came up on my YouTube suggestions recently, and it was a delight to see her paint. I consequently searched for some quotes from Wang about her process or perception of it, and came across this amazing comment: “When you pick up a brush don’t even ask anyone for help. Because the most wonderful thing about painting is being left alone with your own imagination. I do not paint to get praise from others, but to play a game of endless joy”. I do not think I could have said it better.
3. I once watched an interview with David Lynch about Mulholland Drive where he talked about suddenly getting ideas and the importance of staying true to them. This was similar to my own (developing) beliefs about inspiration, and acted as a nice encouragement to stay true to my visions.”
And then, because we’re here on Playing by the Book I wanted to know what Ranjit had last read which had inspired him to go out and do something beyond reading the pages…
“Due to other projects, I have not had as much time to read for leisure as I would have liked, but for my best recent reads – in terms of novels it might be The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald really transports the reader to another place and time. She is a brilliant minimalist, sparing the reader from long, tedious descriptions. And she is a brilliant storyteller.
The last book that made me want to go out and do something was Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. I had seen her Ted Talk some years before and so recognised her name from that. Having watched her talk, I did wonder if there was any need to read her book, but I am glad that I did. The book is about intellectual growth, both delighting in and having a progressive attitude towards hardship in learning rather than running away from something just because you find it difficult. Dweck has a brilliant gift of explaining very complex things in simple terms, (although I suspect the French may not appreciate her France/Italy analogy!). The book did not inspire me to try anything in particular, as I am always trying to learn new things, but rather, encouraged me to persevere with them, as I tend to be a bit (I must admit) lazy and give up new things pretty quickly.”
My thanks go to Ranjit for his generous responses for this interview. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a behind-the-scenes insight into Ranjit’s background, inspiration and way of working as much as I have.