WRITERS' MINDS Rashmi Sirdeshpande


W&P's roving reporter Sarah Broadley talks to Rashmi Sirdeshpande about undiscovered histories, extraordinary people and dinosaur shenanigans. 

How to be Extraordinary and How to Change the World are two of your non-fiction publications (superbly illustrated by Annabel Tempest) concentrating on people who've made and continue to make a difference in our world. The number of people on your list must have been long, how did you finally decide on who was going into each book?



‘Superbly illustrated’ is right! I can’t take my eyes away from Annabel’s artwork. She’s a marvel. Choosing which people and movements to include was so difficult. But I had a really strong vision, which Puffin shared too. I wanted to take the reader around the world. I wanted to bring to light some histories we don’t talk about enough. So that’s one way I cut the list down! For extraordinary people, I also wanted to cover some really different interest areas (art, sport, spies, space, nature, politics, maths etc) so that there would be something every child could connect with. And that helped me narrow it down too! 

Never Show a T-rex a Book is your first jump into picture book fiction land. A fantastic, encouraging story, showing that you can be who you want to be and do what you want to do (even if you're a T-rex). How different was it working on this with illustrator Diane Ewen, compared to the non-fictional elements you've had published? Are both processes relatively similar, or are there other factors to consider? 



It’s interesting because these were both my first books (T-Rex is actually my VERY first!). I highlight that because it meant that I followed the unspoken rules of the game and didn’t speak to Annabel or Diane when the books were being made. I worked with my editors and the illustrators worked with the designers. So maybe the experience for me was similar – we were each in our own worlds, dancing in the dark, but it all somehow came together so beautifully. The real difference is for Annabel! She and the designer had to really think about the clothes and settings etc in the various time periods we were exploring and so a lot of research went into those wonderful pictures. A LOT. 

Research is key regardless of whether you're writing fact or fiction. How much research did you do for DOSH (reprints changing to CASH ), your fantastic book on a positive money mindset for children? Was there much input from editors at the concept stage or more for final drafts?


So much research, but nowhere near as much as I had to do for Good News. I always run a detailed initial outline by the editorial team before I start work, because otherwise I can end up down a ton of rabbit holes that I have no business investigating! It does change as I write, but the main elements of a solid structure will stay. I like to have that framework with an element of flexibility, because you do discover new things as you dive deep into the research. You might realise that things that are seen as commonly-known truths just don’t hold together, or you might come across something exciting that you hadn’t thought of before. 


In terms of editor input, that really kicks in in a big way as I send my drafts in. I’m quite a new writer so I do end up doing big redrafts and I’m no longer ashamed to admit it. My editors are amazing and what you see in these final books is nothing like the first version I turn in. I need that guidance and I need to be challenged and stretched and redirected(!) to finally put together a publishable book that we’re all proud of.  

Good News: Why the World is Not as Bad as You Think - such a fantastic title and much needed book in these interesting times we're living in. What spurred you on to create this wonderful, insightful book that reminds us of the positivity in today's society? What message did you want readers to take away from reading this book?


This idea came about in April 2020 when we were deep in a global pandemic and things felt very, very scary. Big issues like the climate emergency and inequality were already in news cycles and in children’s minds because of the media and maybe conversations at school and home. And meanwhile, fake news was on the rise. I wanted to write a book that brought back the hope, but in a way that focused on the facts. A book that went deep into the biggest challenges we face on our planet, while shining a spotlight on the FACTS about how far we’ve come and all the amazing things people are doing to make the world a better place. 


I want readers to come away knowing how to navigate this world we live in, understanding these big issues, but feeling confident and positive about our future and the part they may play in it. A huge project and it took a LOT out of me (and the whole team!) I cried on my agent’s metaphorical shoulder multiple times when writing it. But I’m so proud of this book. It’s the truest, most important book I’ve ever written! And I wrote it 100% for the reader. 

We're all inspired by others - do you have a favourite author and/or illustrator who gave you the encouragement to write your own books? Your own heroes and heroines of the literary world that took you on adventures with every turn of the page?


I grew up reading Indian comics, picture books, DK fact books, Atlases and the Usborne Puzzle Adventures. I never had an author visit or school library and I never really connected with the idea of authors and illustrators as actual people, so I didn’t have favourites growing up! But today, so many inspire me. Far too many to list but I couldn’t live without my Circle, Vent group, and Swaggers. I love their books but they’re also the best listeners, advice-givers, group-huggers, and champions too. 



Never Teach a Stegosaurus to do Sums came out this year. Are there more dinosaur shenanigans ahead for your readers? Do you see yourself writing for other age groups in the future?


YES and YES. Should we leave it at that? I think we probably should! But I will add that I absolutely adore Diane and her work and am so very lucky to be making books with her. I’ve said it before, but this picture book partnership feels special. It works! It just does. So yes, watch this space! 


Rashmi Sirdeshpande is a lawyer-turned-author who writes a mix of fiction picture books and illustrated non-fiction for children. Her debut picture book with Diane Ewen, Never Show a T-Rex a Book, won the Society of Authors Queen's Knickers Award and is shortlisted for the Lollies 2022. The sequel, Never Teach a Stegosaurus To Do Sums was shortlisted for the Sainsbury's Children's Book Award and her latest non-fiction book, Good News, has been longlisted for the Blue Peter Book Awards. Rashmi loves supporting other creatives and runs regular #KidLitBookBoost Instagram Lives to help raise awareness about some wonderful new children's books. She's also going to be the Picture Book Writer-in-Residence at WriteMentor for 2022, helping new picture book writers find their feet, shape their stories, and break into the industry. 


Sarah Broadley lives in Edinburgh with her family and two cats. She is a member of SCBWI Scotland. Follow her on Twitter.

Natalie Yates is Writers' Minds editor for Words & Pictures. Follow her on Instagram. Contact: writers@britishscbwi.org.

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