Most writers like to complain about their editors. Even if your editor is your best friend, it’s hard to take all their advice on the chin. So it was an interesting experience for me to be on the editing side of the fence, dishing out comments on stories included in ‘Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean’ and then waiting nervously for the fall out from the writers and illustrators. I was so glad to be co-editing with Anita Roy as well as the talented Payal Dhar.
I had been friends with Anita Roy since 2007 but my relationship with Payal grew first via email and then through long weekly Skype conversations. Every week for a year, Payal, Anita and I spent hours discussing the ideas behind the anthology and whose work we would like to see included and then months on end editing the stories as a team.
Payal is an amazing writer to work with and her contribution to the anthology, ‘Memory Lace’ is an exquisite story set in an alternative world. Predictably, it needed very little editing. Payal is one of those people who can do anything with words. She blogs, writes, reviews, edits and moves between genres and forms with ease. In her fiction, her prose is always finely crafted. Her editing is clear-headed and precise and her imagination seems to be limitless.
She’s the author of the beautiful layered fantasy trilogy ‘A Shadow in Eternity’ and also ‘Satin’, which is the first book in a new series. She vividly builds worlds and conjures characters who break the rules of time and space. Her children’s novel ‘There’s a Ghost in my PC’ is full of deeply likeable and quirky contemporary characters. But she also writes realist fiction and her latest YA novel, ”Slightly Burnt’, feels like a deceptively smooth story about two middle-class friends growing up in Delhi until you realise it actually tackles some of the toughest sexual dilemmas that confront teenagers in any country.
It was great to finally meet Payal when I went to India in November to launch the Indian edition of the anthology. Although she’s usually based in Delhi, we caught up in Bangalore (Bengaluru) and I think it was pretty strange for both of us to be able to chat without worrying about our internet connection dropping out. Hopefully, one day Payal will make it out to Australia and Australian readers will have the chance to enjoy more of the word magic that she weaves.
February is going to be a month of eating sky.
At last, the Australian edition of the anthology Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean is available to Australian readers. This book has been a long time coming, or perhaps it just feels that way because of all the blood, sweat and emails that went into producing this ground-breaking cross-cultural collaboration. I co-edited the book along with two Indian editors. In the process, I wrote over 4,000 emails as well as contributing a short story and collaborating on a playscript for the collection.
In December, 2012, my co-editor Anita Roy and I met at Dilli Haat market in Delhi to catch up over a plate of momos. Momos are delicious Tibetan dumplings, for those who haven’t been lucky enough to savour them. I’d like to say the momos inspired us to start a food blog but the tone of our conversation quickly grew serious once the momos were eaten. We began discussing future book projects that we might work on together. Anita Roy is a publisher at Young Zubaan, as well as a writer, and was responsible for publishing the Indian edition of my novel ‘The Lilliputians’.
Anita told me about an Indian writer, Payal Dhar, who wanted to put together an anthology of Indian speculative fiction and I pointed out that as much as I loved India, I’m actually Australian. So we started talking about broadening Payal’s idea to include some of the best of Australia’s speculative fiction writers.
But hanging over us both as we discussed the project, was the shadow of two terrible crimes. Only a couple of days earlier, in Anita’s home town of Delhi, a beautiful young woman had been raped and murdered. In my home city of Melbourne, a beautiful young woman had been raped and murdered a couple of months earlier. In both cases, the cities had risen up in protest against the crimes, but we were all left shaken, wondering what this meant for the futures of young women, wondering why these terrible crimes occurred. And out of these conversations grew the idea for a very different sort of anthology – Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean.
Over the course of February, I’m going to blog every day about this book. It contains the work of 20 writers and illustrators, 73 pages of graphic illustrations (6 separate stories) plus 10 short stories and a playscript complete with tentacles so there’s a lot to explain about the whole process of putting it together. It includes the work of authors that most Australians have never heard of, just as when it was released in India in November, very few readers in India were familiar with the work of the Australian authors.
It’s a while since I’ve set myself a blog challenge but there is so much to share about this anthology, from the talent of the 20 contributors to the convoluted process of bringing the book into being in both India and Australia. It won’t be hard to come up with dozens of interesting posts.
Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean, published by Allen & Unwin, is in stock in good bookshops across Australia. Check it out at Allen & Unwin’s website and brace yourself for a month of sky-eating and ocean-drinking.
It doesn’t feel like summer in Melbourne. The sky is silvery grey, there’s a chilly breeze rustling the leaves of our tomato plants and the ground is deliciously soggy from the latest downpour.
But the cool weather has been great for reading. I’ve been convalescing the past month and there’s nothing nicer on a cool day than lying in bed with a cup of tea and a stack of good books to hand.
One thing I noticed as the piles grew higher is that the more I read, the more deeply I engaged with each new book. Towards the end of last year I’d spent too much time on the internet, done too much shallow reading. (If you want to understand exactly what it means to read shallowly, get a hold of Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows)
The beautiful thing about deep reading is that it’s like working a muscle – the more you use that muscle, the more powerful it becomes.
I’m an eclectic reader. I like to read across all genres and forms. I enjoy a good children’s book as much as a work of complex literary fiction. I don’t grow fatigued with reading if I vary it. A couple of prize winning literary novels are nicely leavened by a graphic novel or a playful kid’s adventure book. Reading widely can help you develop the ability to read all types of books with more clarity.