Today, I was invited to run two workshops with the Otago Literacy Association. First up were a group of Year 5 and 6 from lots of different primary schools across Dunedin. We created brand new Bad Panda plots and talked about reasons why you might fall in a canal.
Next, I got to speak to teachers from around Dunedin. We had a go at some of the writing tasks I set for pupils during my workshops in schools and the teachers brought their creative A-game. We heard about pandas taking a trip to the pub and evil caretakers called Karl.
Thank you to everyone who came along. I hope to hear all your pandareffic stories soon.
It’s June! I’m in my last few months of being the University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence and here are my top writing exercises for when I’m stuck in a writing rut:
My Dad is a Grizzly Bear has won the Woke Babies Book Awards Picture Book of the Year! I’m so proud of this book and thrilled to see it get the Woke Babies stamp of approval. Thank you so much to the judges and everyone who voted.
This means the world to me as the partition of India rarely features in young historical fiction so I’m so thankful to see Torn Apart feature on this incredible platform. You can have a look at the full shortlist here.
It’s May! I’m still the University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence and here are my top tips for writing dialogue because that’s my favourite thing to write:
I’m in the third month as the University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence and I thought I’d let you know what I’ve been up to. Find out about how I think about characters and why, if you grab a bag of snacks, you are probably a pigeon:
Thank you to DRAKE the Bookshop for inviting me to be part of their World Book Day extravaganza. I kicked off the day of author events, with a reading of My Mum is a Lioness. This was the first time I was reading the book at an event, made all the more special by the fact that it’s only a couple of days until Mother’s Day.
I was asked some brilliant questions from Hurworth Primary School, Lingfield Primary School and Green Gates Primary School and I thought I would share my answers here:
Hurworth Primary School
Joshua and Eimh: How did you make all of that writing in just one book for Bad Panda?
Swapna: It was hard work but I love writing. It’s how I express myself. Some people dance, some play sport, some paint, some sing but I write so even though it’s a lot of work, I have fun doing it.
Humphrey: How did you get so good at drawing?
Swapna: I’m terrible at drawing. Thankfully, I don’t have to draw the pictures in my books. I get paired with a very talented illustrator who does that. Sheena Dempsey illustrates the Bad Panda and Dave Pigeon books and Dapo Adeola illustrates my picturebooks.
Xander: How did you come up with the title ‘Bad Panda’?
Swapna: Lots of people think pandas are really cute and since they are very gentle beasts we all recognise that they are good and kind animals. I thought it might be fun to mix things up and see what happens when a panda misbehaves and ‘Bad Panda’ seemed like an excellent title for a book.
Ollie: How do you come up with good stories?
Swapna: This is a great question and I get asked it a lot. I’m not entirely sure where ideas come from but I like to think of waking with an invisible shopping bag in my hand. From the moment I get out of bed and feel the floor under my feet, everything I see, hear, smell, do, feel and taste is an experience I pop in the bag. From smelling breakfast to hearing a dog bark to jumping in a swimming pool – whatever it is, it goes in the bag. Then when I sit down to write a story, I give the bag a shake and reach in to pull out three different things. Those become the inspirations for my story ideas. So breakfast, a dog barking and a swimming pool come together to perhaps create a story about a dog who swims all the way across the world for a maple syrup waffle.
Lingfield Primary School
Harry: Why do you write about animals?
Swapna: I love animals. I also really love that we don’t entirely know what they are thinking so it’s huge fun to put myself in an animals paws and write a story from their point of view.
Luca: I like tigers. What’s your favourite animal?
Swapna: I have a soft spot for dogs. I have dog called Archie and he’s my best pal. I can’t resist petting every dog I meet – they are just so wonderful.
Green Gates Primary School
Rosie: Why did you choose a lion to be the mum?
Swapna: The My Dad is a Grizzly Bear book and My Mum is a Lioness book were both inspired by my son who genuinely thought his dad was a bear for a while. As a mum, I am fiercely proud and protective of my son and I love giving him ginormous cuddles – so it felt right that the mum should be a fiercely proud lioness who gives the biggest cuddles.
Swapna: I don’t want to give away the ending but we are all a bit more complicated than just wholly nice or wholly naughty. We are a mixture of both and I think Lin in the Bad Panda books is the same.
Y3: Are both of the pandas naughty?
Swapna: Lin is definitely the naughtier of the two. Fu is adorably kind and good-natured but he’s easily led by Lin’s naughty plans.
Y3: Are the pandas good at the beginning?
Swapna: Yes. We definitely see Lin go through some trials that make her feel like being naughty is the only way to be. You’ll have to read the book to find out exactly what turns her.
Y3: Why does the cute panda want to be naughty?
Swapna: Again, I don’t want to give away too much but Lin thinks her only option is to be naughty to try and get her way. Have you ever felt like that? I know I have but being naughty has never worked out for me!
Y3: When did you start writing?
Swapna: I started writing when I was about your age. I loved telling stories and making my own books. I wasn’t the best at spelling but I got better over time. Writing is a really wonderful outlet for me. I got my first publishing deal in 2014 and my first book, Dave Pigeon, came out in 2016 so it took me a while for me to be brave enough to share my stories with the world.
Y3: Where did you get the idea for the panda story?
Swapna: A few years ago I was very lucky to go on a trip to China where I got to work as a panda keeper for a day. It was an incredible experience and spending so much time with the pandas gave me the idea to write about a panda. Luckily, I didn’t meet a single bad panda but I did wonder what might make a good, fluffy panda turn to the dark side.
Y3: How long did it take to write?
Swapna: It usually takes me a month or so to write a book. It really depends on how long the book is – shorter stories take less time and longer stories take much longer. I need lots of time to think though. I write notes, go on walks, listen to music, read books, watch movies and lie in the bath – all of that is my thinking time and that can take a few months or more!
Y3: We are writing a narrative, can you give us some tips?
Swapna: My best tip is to read. Read lots. Read a variety. Even if you read something and you find you aren’t enjoying it, that’s a great experience to take forward into your writing. Think about why you didn’t like what you were reading? Was it boring? Was it too complicated? Reading and asking yourself questions of why you enjoy and don’t enjoy something will help you work out what you want to say in your writing and how you want to say it.
1B: Have you ever met a grizzly bear?
Swapna: Thankfully not a real one otherwise I might not be here today! Sometimes I think I live with one though – my husband snores a lot and eats all the honey.
1B: How many books have you written?
Swapna: I have about twenty books out at the moment and over the next few years another ten to come out! So lots! Lots and lots and lots.
1B: What is your favourite book you have written?
Swapna: I couldn’t possibly pick one! They are all my favourites. But I suppose my very first book, Dave Pigeon, is one I’m very proud to have debuted with. I will never get over the incredible feeling of seeing kids dressed up as Dave Pigeon for World Book Day – it’s so special to know how loved the books are.
Thank you so much to everyone who came along and joined in. Happy World Book Day to you all!
It’s my sixth week as the University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence and I thought I’d let you know what I’ve been up to in my latest video. Find out about how I plan a novel, why writing is like Pringles and why the heck I’m making this face: