Interview: Author’s Award-Winning Novel Inspired By Father’s Partition Experiences

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Veera Hiranandani is a writer, a creative writing teacher, a mom of two teenagers, and a cat owner. She has written many books, including The Night Diary, which I recently reviewed. What’s so unique about the award-winning story is that it’s written with inspiration from her father’s experience during the partition of India in the 1940s. The author was probably also inspired by some of the historical fiction novels she reads, historical fiction being one of her favorite genres of books to read.

As a kid, Hiranandani read a lot of books. A lot of the ones she read were by well-known authors like E.B. White, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, and Beverly Cleary. “I was always searching for characters that represented me more closely and never found that growing up,” she says. Now, the author has written a book that represents her as a young girl!

I had the pleasure of interviewing this wonderful author! Read more below.

Q: What inspired you to become a writer, and have you always wanted to be one?

A: I’ve always written and loved making up stories. I didn’t even know I could “be” a writer until I was in college and started taking creative writing classes. But it still took me many, many years to publish my first novel, The Whole Story of Half a Girl. But really, I’ve been a writer since I was a kid. Anyone who writes is a writer.

Q: I heard that your book The Night Diary was inspired by your father’s experiences during the partitioning of India. Could you share some of his memories?

A: Yes, my father and his family (his parents, brothers, and sisters) had to leave their home in Mirpur Khas during the Partition. My father was nine and they had to leave quickly because it was getting increasingly dangerous. He remembers it to be a confusing and scary time. They lost their home and their community, but they made it over the border safely on a train. They also found a small flat in Jodhpur, like Nisha’s family did. The house in Mirpur Khas from the novel is based on my father’s home as well. I used some of the real details of my father’s story for the book, but mixed them with details of many stories I read about the Partition.

Q: How did it feel to win so many awards and recognition for your novel?

A: It has been very exciting and validating for me as a writer. But it does put a little more pressure on my writing now. I feel like more people are following my work, which is wonderful, but I hope I live up to any raised expectations! I keep reminding myself that each new book is it’s own journey.

Q: Why do you think it’s important for kids to see themselves and others in books?

A: If you never see anyone like you portrayed as a character in a novel, you start to wonder if people like you (and this can mean race, religion, family history, sexual orientation, or maybe a learning or physical challenge), aren’t valued as much as the majority, as the characters you always see in books. I certainly felt that growing up as a biracial kid in an interfaith family. Seeing someone like you in a very specific way is a formative and powerful experience. Having more diverse stories out there allows everyone to both see themselves and experience other worlds as well.

Q: What advice do you have for budding authors?

A: Give yourself freedom to play! Don’t try to be perfect. As a young person, this is a great time to experiment with both your writing and reading. Have fun with it.

Q: How did you decide to write The Night Diary in the form of a diary?

A: I thought it would be interesting to show the contrast between how Nisha acted in her world and Nisha expressed herself in her diary since she is very shy. I also like creating certain boundaries for myself in writing. It makes me think more about how I’m creating the story.

Q: What books did you like to read as a kid?

A: I liked to read all kinds of things. I loved authors that were popular when I was in middle school, books by E.B. White, Roald Dahl, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, Sydney Taylor, Madeleine L’Engle, but I was always searching for characters that represented me more closely and never found that growing up.

Q: What is your favorite genre of books to read?

A: I tend to gravitate more towards realistic and historical fiction, both for reading and writing. I read some poetry as well. But occasionally I’ll dip into some speculative or fantasy fiction or treat myself to a graphic novel.

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