Asian Mum’s Network Interviews Shweta Aggarwal Children’s Author Of Dev And Ollie: Kite Crazy!
Asian Mum’s Network interviewed Shweta Aggarwal children’s author of Dev and Ollie. This is a magical tale of kite crazy Dev and his owl Ollie. Vibrant, colourful and informative, this beautifully illustrated book can be enjoyed not only by children but also adults and is available on Amazon:
“Dev, a British Indian boy, and Ollie, his magical bedtime owl, came about…a fun and modern way to
learn about India and its amazing festivals” Shweta Aggarwal (Amazon)
AMN: What inspired you to write Dev and Ollie?
SA: “Where do I begin – It wasn’t a single ‘light bulb’ moment. There were several of them.
The first and key source of inspiration has been Katie book series by James Mayhew. In most Katie books, Katie visits the National Gallery with her grandmother who inevitably dozes off on a bench while Katie explores the gallery. As Katie clambers from one painting to another, the paintings come alive, taking her on fun-filled adventures back in time.
One day when I visited the gallery with my daughter aged 6, she recognised quite a few of the paintings from the books! We all know how children learn from books and that moment in the gallery was the proof of the pudding!
Then a few days later, I visited an Indian cultural festival in Watford with my two children. This visit had my kids in awe. For the first time they didn’t want to leave. The fact that they were mesmerised by the children’s plays about various mythical tales was a real surprise to me. As the plays were modern, funny and easy to understand, my children connected with them straight away.
The third and final inspiration came from my children watching a Dora cartoon that night (the world famous Spanish character). I knew it was a sign.
As an Indian living in the UK, I’m forever exploring ways to educate my children about India in general (not in a religious way but culturally). I realised how children learn rapidly if they relate to a character. That’s how Dev, a British Indian character, came about. Then Ollie, his magical bedtime owl, was added for the fantasy aspect, making the stories modern and fun.”
AMN: How long have you been writing?
SA: “Dev and Ollie – Kite Crazy is my first book and it took one and half years to write. Some could write a novel in this time! But because this was my first picture book, I was keen to take the slow and steady approach. I knew there was a steep learning curve ahead. My first few months were spent researching the gap in the market, creating the characters and then researching the subject (kite festival in Gujarat) in depth. Then I went on three picture book writing courses where I learnt that writing for children is much harder than writing for adults as pictures speak louder than the words. Working closely with an illustrator who can translate your thoughts into images is a challenging process too. Thankfully, I found a fantastic illustrator very quickly.”
AMN: Is Dev and Ollie a multicultural children’s story?
SA: “Dev is a multicultural character as he’s British Asian. However, for the book as a whole, I prefer not to use the term ‘multicultural’. In the literary world, a ‘multicultural’ children’s book immediately gets pigeonholed as a book catering for a niche market / certain community only. We live in a global village now. For me, multiculturalism is not niche anymore. Multiculturalism is globalism.
I strongly believe this book can be enjoyed by children from many backgrounds. Every child is bound to enjoy an adventure story about kites. I’ve done several school book readings and children from all backgrounds have been equally fascinated by this story.
Dev and Ollie should resonate with Asian parents internationally and also appeal to a wider audience simultaneously.”
AMN: Why have you chosen India as fantasy destination for your children’s story?
SA: “Simply because the cardinal rule for writers is ‘write what you know, what you love’. I grew up in Japan (that’s a whole different story which I’ll save for another time) but spent a significant part of my life both in North and South India. And that’s when I experienced an array of amazing festivals. Festivals evoke the best of Indian culture, in fact any culture. Colour, noise, excitement, family, laughter, all these ingredients are wonderful for children’s stories. I also hope that writing from experience makes “Kite Crazy” and all future stories more compelling.”
AMN: Tell us a bit more about Dev and his family background?
SA: “Dev is a 6 year old boy who lives in Hertfordshire. Dev is cheeky, curious and clumsy. Like almost every boy in the UK, he’s obsessed with football! But even more than football, he loves his bedtime cuddly owl called Ollie.
As for the family members, in the first book, readers will meet his grandfather. Then the readers will meet the rest of his family as we progress into the series. Dev’s grandfather is from India but both his parents are British Asians.”
AMN: What has been the reaction of publishers and the public to your children’s book?
SA: “Public reaction has been incredibly positive and the book has been receiving lovely reviews on Amazon. I’m also particularly pleased with the positive reaction from children in book readings. When children ask questions, you know they are interested and engaged. And the fantasy aspect of the story has been a great hook. In fact, during book readings, many children share with me how much their bedtime cuddly toy means to them!”
“As for publishers, I decided very early on to self-publish the book so I didn’t approach any publishers. The process of getting traditionally published is a long one from the time you contact a literary agent to the time you secure a publishing deal. I just couldn’t wait that long!”
AMN: Is there a market for British/Asian adult, teen and children’s literature?
SA: “Absolutely! There is a big gap in the market for British/Asian literature for all ages. If the content of a book only caters to a niche market, traditional publishers find it difficult to take it on primarily because of the books potential for saleability. I can understand their dilemma because marketing a book requires a heavy budget. Therefore the gap still exists. However, as the self-publishing industry has taken the world by storm, I strongly believe this gap can be narrowed. If you find a gap and believe there’s a great story to be told, there are several self-publishing platforms available.
Asians all around the world have many life experiences in common. Therefore British Asian literature would appeal to all Asians – and that’s a big enough market to tap into.”
AMN: What has been the biggest mountain you have had to climb from writing this book to publishing?
SA: “Shouting out loud to let the world know about Dev and Ollie. From the time I first had the idea to going live on Amazon as a self-published author, it’s been a tremendous journey but it’s all been fun. There were minor setbacks such as finding the right illustrator or technical requirements I was unaware of in self-publishing. The biggest mountain to climb (and I’m sure many independent authors will agree with me) is marketing the book. Most independent authors will not have a big budget to advertise their book in tube stations for instance. Finding contacts in the industry with newspapers etc for reviews is another hurdle. Therefore it’s difficult to inform millions of readers that your ‘baby’ has arrived.
Apart from being active on social media, blogging regularly etc, every independent author has to work hard to spread the word. It’s extremely important in this saturated market to be different and for your book to speak a thousand words (no pun intended)! To write a book which others will want to shout about.
Fortunately, I’ve been told Dev and Ollie is different so I’ve had advocates spreading the word around the world for me. Still, these things take time and patience is key!”
AMN: What advice would you give to Asian women who are interested in writing adult, teen or children’s fiction?
SA: “I hardly feel experienced enough to impart wisdom (LOL!). Apart from thoroughly researching the subject matter, my only advice would be to ‘use your voice’ as they say in the literary world, and stick to it. Writing to me is like falling in love – you have to go by your gut instinct and pour your heart out into it. Then people will fall in love with your style (even for children’s books). I’ve experienced that whenever I’ve fought my gut instinct, it has usually gone wrong!
I’ve received critical feedback too and have made minor tweaks to the book. However, I’ve also learnt to grow a thick skin to every individual’s views. I’ve learnt that no matter what, you CAN’T please everyone so it’s important to be comfortable in your own skin.
On the other hand, if you’re not approaching agents and publishers and self-publishing instead, your book won’t be scrutinised to the extent it should be. Friends and family will obviously have a biased view on your book.
Therefore you have to be extremely ruthless with yourself and produce the best book you possibly can with editing, editing and more editing.”
AMN: What are your plans for the future?
SA: “I plan on releasing several other titles, next one being Colour Combat which is about Holi. Holi has recently made it to the top 100 festivals of the world…it was celebrated in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park last year and open to people from any background! Colour Combat should hopefully be out in another two months.
Then there’s Camel Carnival about Rajasthan’s camel fair. This story is my personal favourite (Shhh!). 50,000 camels in a beauty contest, a camel race, fun fair, Ferris wheel…all in a gorgeous setting in Rajasthan!
Hectic Harvest about Kerala’s harvest festival is in the pipeline too – another hilarious action packed adventure in the beautiful & tranquil setting of Kerala’s paddy fields and backwaters. Nothing is tranquil about this story though, except the setting!
Also, at the moment, Kite Crazy is available only on Amazon. It will be made available to many other book retailers as well as schools and libraries very soon. Plans in the not so near future include a Dev and Ollie app and merchandise.”
Find more information on Dev and Ollie from the following links: