DEBUT JOURNEYS Rashmi Sirdeshpande

Welcome to this virtual landscape where SCBWI-BI members share their debut journeys with us.
 This month Helen Simmons steps out with author Rashmi Sirdeshpande whose debut How To Be Extraordinary, illustrated by Annabel Tempest, came out with Puffin Books on 1 August 2019. 
Let’s begin our journey... 

There’s nothing like a good walk to fuel creative ideas and give us inspiration in our writing. Where are you taking us on our walk today? 

The stretch of jungle behind my grandparents’ house in Goa. It’s the monsoon and there’s nothing like that smell of the rain and soil and flowers and fruit…

What about the landscape you have created in your book? 

The book is about the true stories of 15 incredible humans and Annabel’s stunning artwork takes the reader all over the world from Japan to Kenya and India. It’s like stepping into another country every time you turn the page. MAGICAL. As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand steps starts with one.

Tell us about your inspiration for your book. 

The book started as a seed of an idea at Puffin Books – just a title and a very high level concept. I was working on a similar project as a Penguin Random House WriteNow mentee when they asked me to put together a sample spread, which Annabel illustrated. My vision was really clear and Puffin were 100% on board. I wanted there to be something in the book for every child no matter where they’re from and no matter what they’re interested in. That’s it. That’s how it all started.

Now we have got into our stride, can you tell us what you loved most about writing this book? 

I loved the back and forth with my editor, Emily Lunn. It was an initiation of fire! The schedule was fierce – I was turning in two biographies a week (and there was a LOT of research that went into each one!) plus editing the last two so that the illustration could happen simultaneously. The whole book took less than a year from offer to publication (and anyone who knows how picture books work will know that that is FAST). It wasn’t easy but in a way, it was the best thing that could have happened to a baby writer like me! I learned so much and so quickly.

We seem to be lost in the woods now. Can you describe your most difficult moments when you were writing …, and how you got back onto the right path? 

Ahhhh you know what, despite the speed, this was a surprisingly smooth writing project. It just flowed. The hardest part was getting over the early days. Sending in my cringe-worthy drafts and having to do a complete rewrite to get to the juice of it all. But I love my editor and she is just SO good at this (and shockingly patient). Because of the tight schedule, she’d send comments every few days. Sometimes, we’d workshop a spread and send it back and forth a few times in one day and then finalise it. HA! I say ‘finalise’ but text is ALWAYS up for debate until the publisher hits ‘PRINT’ and of course we revisited ALL the words many, many times. That’s a point, actually. The tail end of a project is always tricky. You think it’s all over but then there are last minute edits and ‘thoughts’ and with a heavily illustrated book like this, you’re working with some serious space constraints once the design layouts are fixed! But we figured it out together and we got there in the end! Also, I can’t complain about the space constraints. Not really. It’s all about leaving room for Annabel’s gorgeous artwork!

As we reach the summit, can you tell us how it feels to be a first time author? 

Surreal. I haven’t had much time to process it actually as Annabel and I leapt straight into another thing (also on a super tight schedule) and I’ve had other projects on too. There are moments though – moments where I can’t quite believe how lucky I am. It’s the school visits that get me. Children are incredible. To see how much they love the book, to hear what EXTRAORDINARY means to them, to know what meeting an author means to them – I can’t even begin to put that into words. I have some ‘thank yous in me if that’s okay. We don’t get acknowledgements pages in picture books so bear with me. *BREATHES IN* I’m so grateful to Siena Parker at Penguin Random House for setting up and running the WriteNow mentoring scheme, to my Puffin mentor and champion (and fiction PB editor!) Anna Barnes Robinson, my nonfiction editor extraordinaire Emily Lunn, design wizard Steph Jones, Wendy Shakespeare and her magical copyediting book fairies, and of course the wonderful Annabel Tempest who I am so thrilled to have been paired with! *BREATHES OUT* Also, a huge thank you to my family for always supporting me and to ALL my writing buddies including the TOP SECRET underground ones (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE – I ADORE YOU).

We’ve finished our walk and now I think we deserve to celebrate with tea in a cosy inn. As we warm our feet by the blazing fire, tell me where you think your writing will take you in the future?

So many things I want to say, but publishing is full of secrets so only two of my books are announced – this book (How To Be Extraordinary) and my fiction picture book debut, Never Show a T-Rex a Book, illustrated by Diane Ewen and out with Puffin Books in May 2020. It’s a BONKERS book and Diane’s artwork just blew me away. I can’t wait for you to see it! More in the pipeline and a fairly even split between fiction and nonfiction, which is just how I like it!

Finally, I have really enjoyed walking and talking with you today. Can you give us one take away tip for yet-to-be-published writers? 

Be kind to yourself. There’s so much emphasis on the push, on the writing, on the resilience and all of these things are important but they don’t mean a thing if you don’t take care of yourself. Everything else can wait. You, you’re precious.


Rashmi is a children’s author with the curiosity of a 5-year-old. Her world is filled with whys and hows and great big moments of WONDER. Rashmi writes fiction and non-fiction picture books and when she isn’t playing with words, you’ll find her on her yoga mat, twisting herself into all sorts of shapes. Rashmis debut illustrated nonfiction book How To Be Extraordinary, illustrated by the extraordinary Annabel Tempest, was published by Puffin Books in August 2019. Her first fiction picture book, illustrated by the amazing Diane Ewen, will be published by Puffin Books in Spring 2020. 

Follow Rashmi on Twitter: @rashmiwriting 


Helen Victoria is a writer of YA fiction, a full time drama teacher and a reader of anything and everything. When she is not putting on shows, reading or writing, Helen loves to walk in wild places, or hang out with her family and friends in London, France and Cornwall.

Follow Helen:
Twitter: @helensimmons100


Imogen Foxell is an illustrator with a particular interest in creating intricate imaginary worlds. She illustrates English literature revision cards for, and interesting words for Her website is Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

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