A brand-new member of CWILL BC, award-winning author Mahtab Narsimhan, comes to Vancouver via Mumbai, Delhi, Dubai, Bahrain, Oman, and Toronto.
This well-travelled former hotel manager and saleswoman moved from the Middle East to Toronto in 1997, seven years before she took up writing children’s books. She and her husband, who are co-owners of an I.T. firm, decided on Canada both to give their son (now 23) greater opportunities in life, and to be closer to Mahtab’s sister, who had immigrated here a couple of years earlier.
Mahtab met her husband in Delhi, where both were enrolled in a hotel management program. Each batch of management trainees had 30 students, four of them women. “We girls had our pick,” she jokes.
Her seven books – published by Dundurn Press, Cormorant (Dancing Cat Books), Pearson Canada, Lantana Publishing (UK) and Scholastic (USA/Canada) – include one picture book, one young adult book and five middle-grade novels. “Middle-grade is my favorite age group, and fantasy is my favorite genre,” she says.
You may recognize some of her titles: The Third Eye, The Tiffin (YA), Mission Mumbai and Looking for Lord Ganesh. All these reflect her fascination for Indian mythology, her culture and “memories of my life back in India.”
Although her debut novel, The Third Eye, won the Silver Birch Fiction Award in 2009, Mahtab has had anything but an easy go of her career. For one thing, her day job’s demands mean she must rise at five-thirty every morning to write for a couple of hours before work. “My goal is 1500 words a day. I get very cranky if I don’t get a chance to write. Good thing I’m a morning person.”
For another, she jumped into the deep end with writing for children. The Third Eye started as a journal, to cope with the grief of losing her father: “I had no training. I just decided to write a story.” An agent said she loved it and sent it to eight publishers. “She dropped me when none of them accepted it. I had lots of rejections after that; I think I stopped counting after a hundred. It was brutal. Then I joined an online critique group, met an editor from Dundurn who said yes, and I was on my way to being a published author. You only need one yes!”
Though she still finds getting up from her warm bed in the mornings and dragging herself to the laptop a challenge, “once I’m there I can write, though of course some days are harder than others.”
The best part of being a writer, she says, is “creating something out of nothing, and having kids come up and say they love my book.”
Not everyone loves her books’ endings, however. “I don’t do neat endings because life isn’t neat. My endings are realistic but hopeful.”
When she’s not writing or working, Mahtab is out walking along Vancouver’s seawall, reading or cooking, especially Indian food. Her most recent passion is to master baking a perfect loaf of bread.
Though she did lots of school talks in Ontario, she hasn’t presented in BC yet except during TD Bookweek, earlier this year. She and her husband are currently in Coal Harbour but will be moving to Furry Creek (near Squamish) in a few months. She hopes that won’t cut her off from newly-made friends in CWILL BC, which she joined for the networking and social benefits. “I’ve been getting to know lovely people!”
Her goals are simple: to keep improving her writing and publishing more books. “I have finally recognized my true calling in life: to be a writer. And it only took half a lifetime to find it!” she likes to say.
Pam Withers is a long-time CWILL BC member with
17 YA novels published.