Interview: Uma Krishnaswami on Treadmills, Knitting, and P.G. Wodehouse

Uma Krishnaswami
Uma Krishnaswami

Uma Krishnaswami grew up in India with writing a distant thought. Now, she’s a writer of novels, picture books, short stories, poems and articles. Her books have been published in 11 languages and won numerous awards. She’s also a teacher, guiding future writers in sharing their own stories.

What’s Uma’s life like now? She told us…

Booking Biz: What does your average day look like?

Uma: I’m usually up early. Coffee. An hour of exercise, breakfast, and my day begins. No more than an hour to get correspondence and other business related tasks out of the way. Then I settle in to work. That means some combination of writing or revision, depending on what the current project needs. I work at a treadmill desk—sometimes standing, sometimes walking. The pace varies. I read at 1 mph, type at 0.5 and revise with the treadmill off. Longhand writing is all in the armchair with a notebook and a fountain pen. After about three hours with a couple of small breaks, I stop for lunch, then put in another four hours or so in the afternoon. Then it’s teatime, followed by an hour’s walk, whatever the weather. Rain? I just throw on the raincoat and head on out. That’s a working day, more or less. I try to keep weekends free. I find it helps to give my writing a chance to simmer on its own without my thinking directly about it. But when I’m working on a book, it’s always in the back of my mind, so in a way I’m always working.

Book Uncle and Me

Booking Biz: When you’re not writing, what do you like to do best?

Uma: I love to hike. We have a regional park close to the house and I walk a lot in there. I’m a knitter. I knit scarves and hats and socks and give a lot of them away. Knitting helps me revise, actually. I like to potter in the garden although I’m better at planting than maintaining, so everything always looks a little wild, which is okay. Finally, I love to travel and have been fortunate enough to be able to visit some amazing places in my life.

Booking Biz: Where do you get the inspiration for your books?

Uma: Everywhere. That sounds clichéd, but I don’t think that inspiration is necessarily a sparkling gold-tipped wand. For me, it comes more slowly, seeps into the mind and refuses to leave me alone. I try to keep myself open to ideas. When one shows up, I test it out by writing around it and asking questions about it. I do this in a notebook, in longhand, sometimes in different colored inks. When those thoughts begin to coalesce, that’s when I know that the idea has come to stay with me and I need to write through it to find a possible story.

Booking Biz: Did you always want to write books for children, or was there another career you wished for as a child?

Bright Sky Starry CityUma: Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine myself becoming a writer. I thought I wanted to be a doctor, then a lawyer, then a teacher, then an actor, then an artist. For a while the goal changed just about every day. But the thing is, I was a writer even then, without knowing it. I wrote constantly in response to things that happened to me. I made up stories. I wrote letters to authors. One of them, British comic writer P.G. Wodehouse, sent me a reply which I still have. I was every bit a writer, from the age of 6 when I wrote my first piece of fiction in green crayon on a wall. I just didn’t know that people like me (brown kids, in India) could imagine themselves as writers.

Booking Biz: If you ruled the world, what would it look like?

Uma: Oh I would be busy! Well, okay, first of all, I’m assuming that world-ruling comes with magical powers. So…here goes. I’d clean up the planet for starters. Mount Everest and the plastic in the ocean. I’d get rid of fossil fuels and adopt clean energy. And I’d clean up the halls of power. You couldn’t be a criminal and rule a country in my world. I’d see that children’s bodies and minds were nourished as they deserve. I’d honor the pursuit of knowledge. By that I mean knowledge across the arts and sciences, including the lifeways of indigenous people, keepers of the planet’s aboriginal cultures. I’d honor the abilities and accomplishments of women. I’d outlaw war and the kind of nationalism that comes at the expense of other people’s humanity. That’s the short list.

Booking Biz: A world of love and respect is a world we would love.

Read more about Uma Krishnaswami on her speaker page.