Pisho Pencil inspires children to read
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Jamati: Give us a little bit of background on you.
My full name is Vaishnavi Ram Mohan, but everyone calls me Vaish. I was born in May 1994 and I’m a junior-year student at United States International University in Nairobi. I’m a psychology major and an aspiring author. Aside from writing, I play chess and I love reading novels and traveling.
Jamati: Tell us a little about your first book. Why did you write it? What kind of response did you get from readers?
A a child, I was a compulsive reader who devoured everything from classics to short stories and fiction. Soon I started imagining what I would I have written differently had I been the author, and every time I read the short stories in the Young Nation (a leading national daily), I used to comment on how I could have done a better job if I’d been the one writing. Finally, my mother told me that instead of criticizing other people’s work, I should try and write my own story and see if it would be published. So, when I was six, I wrote my first story, ‘How Kimbu almost lost his wife‘ and sent it in to the Young Nation. I waited for ages but nothing happened, so I practically gave up. Then one day, when I opened the paper, I saw my story and my name. I was so thrilled. That was the motivation for me to keep writing and keep sending in stories, because every time I sent in a story and it was published, I’d feel encouraged to write more.
I also tried my hand at writing poems and articles. I used to play chess competitively and got opportunities to represent Kenya at many international events. I used these chess experiences to write travelogues about all I learned on these trips, and they were published. By 2007, I had more than thirty short stories and articles published. One day, my parents suggested that if we compiled all the short stories into a book, we could try and get it published.
I absolutely loved the idea because I felt I was getting the chance to take my writing to the next level and building on my passion. For my first book, we thought we’d try to get it published in India since the stories had a highly African flavor andwe felt it might appeal to an audience abroad. It would also help more people know about our culture here. In 2008, my first book, a collection of short stories entitled ‘Tales From Africa‘ was published in India by Harman Publishing, a well-known publishing house in India. The book targeted young readers from around 5 years to maybe 8-9 years. It was also released in Kenya on a smaller scale. Generally, the book was well received and got a positive response, which was really encouraging for me.
Jamati: Tell us a little about your second book. How has it been received? Who is the target audience?
My parents and I decided to get my second book published in Kenya, so we began scouting around and visiting many leading publishers. Storymoja welcomed me with open arms and were more than willing to work with me. For this book, we also decided that I would focus on writing a single chapter story rather than a collection of short stories. In fact, when I now compare both my books, I can see change and a kind of growth in my work.
I was actually sitting in the Storymoja office, chewing a pencil (my mom was glaring at me so I’d stop) and it was in that moment I decided that my next story was going to be about the adventures of a pencil who can’t stand being chewed and decides to run away. So this book is called ‘The Incredible Adventures of Pisho Pencil‘ and is the story of a pencil with personality. Pisho can’t stand being chewed and mistreated by his owner so he decides to run away and sets off to see the world. The book tells the story of his crazy, hilarious, and sometimes bizarre experiences and targets children in the 7-11 year age group.
I’ve promoted this book at many leading schools in Nairobi, including Aga Khan Academy, Nairobi Jaffery Academy, and Rusinga School. I’ve worked with the students to mentor them and encourage them to start reading and writing. The response has been very encouraging indeed and it’s been wonderful, because most of the children we’ve met or interacted with seem to really connect with the book and enjoy it. Earlier in the year, I was also interviewed on NTV’s ‘Breakfast Show’ live to share my experiences.
Jamati: What is your next project?
Well right now, I’m working on two projects: the sequel to Pisho Pencil and I’m also experimenting with a pre-teen adventure story, the plot of which is actually based on chess. It’s very exciting.
Jamati: How do you manage to balance writing and school work?
Hmmm…..well it’s not always easy, but I think it’s not really that hard either. I don’t have a fixed schedule, in which I must spend two hours a day writing or something, but I do try to make a balance between the two. My first priority is always academics, because I really think it’s important for me to maintain good grades in university, but at the same time, for me writing is such a passion that it’s not an effort for me to find time for it. Of course, the support of my parents is also huge for me, because they’ve always stood by me and, in so many ways, I owe it all to them. Basically, I think it’s just a case where I’m doing what I want to do, and loving it, so I am able to find the time for everything I want without getting stressed or burned out.