News: Celebrating Five FAB Years with Rashmi Sirdeshpande

Rashmi Sirdeshpande is a lawyer turned children’s author who writes a mix of fiction picture books and uplifting illustrated non-fiction. Her latest books are Never Teach a Stegosaurus To Do Sums, illustrated by Diane Ewen, and How To Change The World, illustrated by Annabel Tempest.

When did you first start writing and when did you realise you wanted to be/could be an author?

I wrote lots as a child but somewhere along the line, I stopped thinking people like me could become authors. To be clear, it’s not that authors like me didn’t exist. They did. And they worked so hard to get where they got to. But they weren’t visible to me. The FAB Prize and the Penguin Random House Write Now scheme reawakened that love of writing and that whisper of a question – could I do this? Could I belong in this world?

Tell me a little more about your journey as a writer.

Controversially, I fell in love with children’s books as an adult. Because they’re so much more rich and varied than the ones I grew up with. It was exciting to think about how much things had changed, how much they were changing. So when my little people started gobbling up books, I joined them, and I started playing with words too. After the longest gap. And it felt good. But my journey really started up in a big way when I was selected as one of eleven writers on the Penguin Random House Write Now mentoring scheme for underrepresented voices in 2018 and had a picture book listed as Highly Commended in the FAB Prize at the same time. I found my lovely agent and bookish partner in crime, Lydia Silver. Soon after, we signed a few exciting book deals and the rest, as they say, is history.

Who do you write for?

I write for children. A mix of things – picture books and illustrated non-fiction for younger readers and life skills/handbook-style nonfiction for older children. And I write for myself. I write the kinds of books I wish I had growing up, the books I’d love little people to grow up with. I think about what might be useful, uplifting. What might make someone laugh or smile or think or dream?

How can the industry better support writers at the start of their journey?

Publishing is so opaque. It needs . . . demystifying! To really open its doors to new writers (and illustrators), especially underrepresented ones, it needs to make the first move. Step out of the ivory tower. Dial down the industry speak. Make things accessible. Not just say that the door is open but show that it’s open by being there and being supportive. I’ve been so very lucky to have mentors who will sit me down and explain the basics, answer all my silliest questions (even today!). I know what a big difference it makes so I always try to be there for other writers too.

What has been the highlight(s) of your career so far?

So many! Where do I begin?

  • Being paired with the most wonderful illustrators – seeing Diane Ewen and Annabel Tempest and others bring my words to life has been the most incredible experience. I’m constantly floored by their work and so so proud to be making books with them.
  • Doing an event for Dosh at the virtual Edinburgh Book Festival!
  • How To Change the World, my book with Annabel Tempest, being named Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller.       
  • Receiving the most wonderful reviews for How To Be Extraordinary, Never Show a T-Rex a Book and Dosh (and the first two being featured as BookTrust Books of the Day)!

But the very BEST highlight is seeing actual real readers reading the books we’ve made and LOVING them. I mean that is . . . WOW. It’s just WOW.

What challenges have you encountered in your journey so far? How did you overcome them?

Imposter syndrome already is a friend that likes to visit way too often. Especially because I do surround myself with amazing people but they’re also amazing writers and that tendency to compare is just overwhelming. And I know some people out there may look at where I am and say well that looks pretty rosy but trust me, I’m looking at someone else thinking the same thing. How do I overcome that? Well . . . it’s a practice. When I catch myself doing it, I do what I need to do to be kind to myself. Even if that means stepping away and refocusing on my own path.

Time is another challenge. I took on way too many things last year. That plus, well, 2020, it was just too much. Friends have helped. My agent and editors have helped too. I’ve been really lucky to have people in my life who can see the big picture, check in on me, make sure I’m ok and not burning out. I’m very big on NOT burning out. I think when you make something like that a priority, you can take little steps to change direction.

What advice would you give to new writers?

It’s so important to surround yourself with good people. Being a creative is a total rollercoaster and you need people who you can celebrate with, people whose shoulder you can lean on and even cry on. People who get you. And that applies to agents and publishers too.  They need to champion you, be there for you and build you up in the long run.

Hold onto all the kind things anyone has to say about you and your work. Write it down, print it out, stick it on your wall or in a feel-good scrapbook. This is what you turn to when imposter syndrome strikes. When you can’t put your faith in yourself, put your faith in all those people.

Remember to stop and be proud and be happy. It’s so easy to think you’ll be happy when you: finish your book, get an agent, get a book deal, get a second book deal, get published, win an award etc. It is never-ending! Be kind to yourself. Hit pause. And be happy right this moment.

How has the last year changed the way you work?

Balancing the writing and events with looking after two small children and other life stuff has been hard. As much as it’s been a dream-like journey in public, the truth is I’ve been working non-stop since last March and I’ve had no time for me. I’ve worked days and nights and weekends without a break. I can’t function like that. It’s easy to see other authors and illustrators doing lots of virtual stuff and feel like you are missing out. But you can only do what you can do. And I want to write lots. So I need to find a balance that leaves space for my family and for me! That means not saying yes to everything. It’s hard but I’m going to do it.

What daily/regular practises do you use to improve your writing?

Ummmmmmm . . . I don’t know. I haven’t been writing that long. I’m literally learning on the job, which is scary but fun but, yes, mainly scary! My regular practice is writing! Just writing. And actually, also stopping and taking a break from writing when I need to. And I meditate. If I’m on deadline, I meditate longer. It helps.

Which book(s) resonates with you?

There are so many! But here are a few that I’ve read recently that really stayed with me. Go read them. They are wonderful!

Rashmi Sirdeshpande