Interview: Priya Desai

Priya Desai is a speech and language therapist who works as an independent therapist with young children. Her work inspired her to write her own educational and entertaining books that are accessible to children. She chats to Book Events for Children about her experiences self-publishing and her future writing plans.

As well as being a children’s author, you are also a speech and language therapist. What led you into writing?

I started working as a speech and language therapist in 2004, and  in 2008, I got the idea to write a story about handwriting for children, following a conversation with a mother about her son’s handwriting difficulties and lack of motivation for it! If I am to be honest, I did not see myself as a writer; rather, I was more motivated by the thought and challenge of trying to write and produce a book. It took me a while to start writing and one day the words just flowed, and then I didn’t look back. Fortunately, I met the right people who could help me produce the book and finally in May 2010, Benjamin Writer-Messy was published.

While Benjamin Writer-Messy was being produced, it became apparent that more stories, with this educational type context, needed to be written, as there were no books like this around. I got the idea for Jake Monkey- Tail, while working on Benjamin Writer-Messy. Now ideas come quite quickly and easily – there is inspiration all around!

Your first book Benjamin Writer-Messy explores a boy’s difficulties with handwriting?

Yes, Benjamin Writer-Messy is…let’s say a little quirky, with a touch of magic. The story is set in Pencil Land, a place where every person and building looks like a pencil.  Everyone in Pencil Land except for Benjamin, has nice handwriting. He is faced with a handwriting competition at school and knows he needs to find a way to improve his handwriting; so he comes up with a plan to go and visit the Handwriting Queen to see if she can help him. She gives him a golden pencil for the competition and some wise words, which gives him just the confidence that he needs!

What message do you hope children will take from the book?

Firstly, I wanted to show children that there are other characters out there that do what they have to do at school. There are several messages, such as the importance of ‘trying’ when you find something challenging, and with handwriting, it helps if you are ‘careful and slow’.

Your first two books focus on dealing with difficulties with handwriting and spelling.  Are there any other issues you’d like to explore through your writing?

Jake Monkey TailYes many more in fact; my plan is to write some more stories which show and  highlight educational type skills,  such as vocabulary, memory, time and Maths – obviously all through the guise of entertaining characters,  situations and settings. I also plan to write stories with less of an educational focus. All will be revealed …

Can you tell us a little about the process of self-publishing your books? Is this a process you’d recommend?

This is an immense topic to speak about. There are many ways that people can now self-publish and it is certainly becoming more popular, especially with  independent authors within the adult book market.

With a children’s book you need an illustrator and a designer to help you produce your book, and then you need to find a printer who can make all your books for you. This is an exciting process but the hard work starts when you have your book in your hand; you then need to start promoting your book, try to get your book into stores, and most importantly be active and consistent in your efforts etc. Writing and self-publishing a book is essentially a full time job.

I think that any person that would like to self-publish, needs to think carefully about it first, as the whole process is quite costly; however this is dependent on how you intend to publish – print on demand is cheaper, as is producing an e-book.  It is easy to assume you will make your money back quickly but you also have to remember that the book market as a whole, is a hard market to break in to.

Do you have any advice to give to parents if their child is struggling to read or write?

The first thing I would say is that you can’t force a child to read or write – it’s important to get a little creative when trying to develop a skill. With both skills, if there is some level of difficulty, some investigation may be necessary, such as is there any fine-motor difficulty if handwriting is a problem  or is spelling tricky if reading is difficult?

I think leading by example is a good place go start. Show your child that you read and write too. And let your child choose what they want to read and what pencil they want to write with. Lots of praise for any attempts made and sticker charts help too, as does consistency in practising and also giving praise.

These are just a few general tips to give you some ideas; there are many more specific strategies you can use but this does depend on the child and level of difficulty.  These suggestions will be suitable for some children but the first step is investigating the difficulty and problem-solving what to do with your child’s  teacher.

Will you be attending any book-related events in the coming months?

Yes! I have some events lined up. I will be reading Jake Monkey-Tail on 30th June at Aspace in Fulham and then I will be in-store at Waterstones Kingston from 2.30pm. There will be more events on the way after September!

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