HYDERABAD: A year after her children’s novel, ‘Wisha Wozzariter’, won the Crossword Award for Children’s writing, author Payal Kapadia is back with a new book. This new offering is “so absurdly horrid that it would make kids laugh.” ‘Horrid High’, published by Puffin India, is set in the world’s most horrid school where most of the grown-ups are utterly despicable and the kids are left to their own devices to save the day.
The book has five lead characters, each one blessed with an extraordinary skill to help them through school. “They have names to match those qualities too,” says Payal. We meet Phil Fingersmith who can crack all kinds of locks and Fermina Filch, a pickpocket par excellence. And then come the baddies. From the English teacher Vera Verbose who makes the kids read dictionaries to Coach Kallus who makes them run on their knees, these evil folks fill the book with their malicious designs. It is a melange of all things horrid. Payal laughs, “I figured the more horridness, the better! I have to confess: I couldn’t get enough!” And then there’s her favourite grown-up character: Granny Grit, who can save a school or a planet just as well. “Because it’s about time that grandmas figured in a big way in an action-packed children’s adventure!” she says.
Talking about how she etched the hero Ferg Gottin’s character, she says,”I needed to ask myself: do heroes have to be blatantly heroic, or is heroism about the choices you make when you’re cornered?”
Payal, an erstwhile journalist, always wanted to be a writer from as far back as she could remember. “Fresh out of college and looking for a credible Master’s degree option, I turned to journalism,” she says. “It would quench two desires at once, I supposed, a desire to write and a desire to change the world.” Journalism was meant to be a pit stop, a platform to develop a worldview and an authorial voice. But after ten years in the field and just around the birth of her first daughter, she was convinced that this pit stop would become a full stop unless she bit the bullet and wrote the books she had always dreamt of writing. “I was on the cusp of motherhood, poised to see the world again as a child. Writing my first book for children felt like a natural choice at this time,” she recalls.
She is currently working on book two of Horrid High which “gets more horrid,” in her view. What does she think about children’s literature at present? She answers, “I think the gap between children’s fiction and adult fiction has closed considerably. The best children’s books have complicated plots and characters and even allow for satire and moral ambiguity. Children these days can handle sophisticated thought-maybe they always could, but we never spoke to them as equals, which is a big mistake; they make for very savvy readers.”