Last year, this 15-year-old’s artworks sold out on the first day of her first show. The young talent is now back to launch her first novel ‘Home in the Hill’. The work of fiction, inspired by the books of Roald Dahl and Ruskin Bond, chronicles a teenager’s many misadventures at her grandma’s hillside home.
Young artist-author Muskaan Shah, who is now preparing for her 10th-grade board exams, spent most of her holiday nights last year religiously writing her debut novel Home in the Hill : A Granddaughter’s Tales of Childhood Adventure.
Her mother Pradita Shah, who watched over her during those three months of intensive writing, recalls, “There were times when I had to come to her room at 2 am and forcefully make her sleep.”
Despite this, she motivated Muskaan to write. In Home in the Hill, the 15-year-old narrates imaginary misadventures that occur at her Grandma’s fictitious hillside home, by drawing on inspiration from her own childhood experiences and the stories of stalwart writers like Ruskin Bond and Roald Dahl. That her penchant for writing doesn’t remain as a mere past-time, her father, Darshan Shah, supported her in the daunting process of converting the draft manuscript into a published book.
Published by Notion Press, a Chennai-based self-publishing house, Home in the Hill’s well-developed characters live in a”perfect house” leading a “perfect life”, in a setting that’s a hyperbolised version of the young writer’s own experiences with her friends and family. The tale revolves around a small hamlet, whose clear sky and sunny environment are inspired by Muskaan’s third-grade memories of a visit to Switzerland with family. On this scenic trip, she would often take short morning walks with her grandfather midst the hilly landscape, which has come to now inspire the setting in Muskaan’s novel. The wise, lean and loving Grandma in the novel, who lives in a small hill-station in India and bakes carrot cakes, is a hybrid between both her maternal and paternal grandmothers. The mischievous cousins in the book are exaggerated renditions of Muskaan’s playful brothers and sisters. The grumpy neighbour Mr Feeny, who is as adorable as the Grandma, is a comic character that germinated entirely from Muskaan’s imaginary world.
Muskaan describes many of her own desires through the plot points of the fictional novel. In one part of the novel, for instance, the protagonist bemoans “not having a dog”.Other incidents in the book, like one where Muskaan leaves her grandma’s home without informing her grandma, thus leaving her worried senseless, are examples of stories drawn from real life. first-time writer skillfully draw on her own experiences to lend truth to her narration.
Muskaan believes that her voracious reading habits helped make this compilation of fictional stories a possibility. Although the student of Ahmedabad International School mostly reads classic literature these days, she read a lot of young adult novels till a few years ago, while studying at the Zydus School for Excellence. Her favourite books by English novelist Roald Dahl and British-Indian writer Ruskin Bond helped her understand a writer’s techniques of character-sketching and world-building. She says,
“Like Ruskin Bond, who draws a lot of inspiration from his childhood memories, which I noticed while repetitively reading his book Crazy Times With Uncle Ken, I have also tried to create stories in the book from my early memories. I also noticed that my favourite authors use simple language to describe such brilliant ideas with such complexity.”
The young creator has already embarked on writing another novel and on creating other abstract paintings for her second art exhibition.
Muskaan has dedicated her book to Mahua Pakrashi, who was her English teacher at Zydus School for Excellence. She recalls that Pakrashi would motivate her students to paraphrase their answers instead of copying them directly from their textbooks. Following this advice helped Muskaan develop her linguistic skills. The teenage writer has now dedicated this book to Pakrashi to thank her for encouraging in her a love for exploring new words.
“For one year, I practised writing new words from the dictionary in an individual book and these new words then became a part of my personal diary,” says Muskaan.
The diary-writing practice helped her build her skills of narration so that she could recount topics in extended anecdotal form.
Muskaan’s friends lightheartedly call her a “bookworm” today, probably because of her habit of gifting books to them instead of games or chocolates. Now, Muskaan wants to motivate people to read more. She aims to organise a series of book exchange sessions in Ahmedabad during her upcoming summer vacations, in which people can exchange books and their experiences of reading them with each other.
Muskaan’s 94-pages-long debut novel Home in the Hill, as well its e-copies, are already up for sale online on portals like Amazon, Flipkart, iBooks and Google Play. The book will also be housed in selective bookshops across India. It’s rare to come across a book written for children that’s written by a young person herself. Come by to encourage the young writer Muskaan during her book launch on January 6 at 4 pm at 079 Stories, Ahmedabad.
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