Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Question of Money by Chitra Soundar

 I’m still wrapping up the last of the World Book Day events across the whole month. I visit primary schools and spend time with children across Reception to Y5.

This year when I was visiting a school, I had two Q&A sessions with two Y4 classes that had read my books as part of their lessons. The usual questions came up:

a)    How old are you?
b)    Did you come from India to our school today?
c)     Where do you get your ideas from?

Then came the question that I get once every 5-6 schools, “Do you make a lot of money?”

This boy was immediately cut short by another one who said, “That’s not a proper question to ask.”
 Normally I would smile, and say not a lot and tell them I do my own dishes, took the tube to their school etc.

But I wanted to answer this time (and I’ve been since that day, answering this question seriously).
Doing what I love - 2016

A job to support myself while writing - 2004
I explained how sometimes you might have to do your art alongside other things. I explained how difficult it can be sometimes and how many writers do have another job. I iterated to them a few times that do not give up on writing or any other artistic pursuit because you can’t make a lot of money. There will always be a way to find an opportunity or avenue if you work hard at it. I told them it was hard work but it was also worth it because I enjoy what I do.

The vigorous nod of heads and big smiles told me they would want to become writers and of course they’d have to become engineers, doctors, teachers, firemen, accountants as well. That is fine, I am one of those people who never gave up writing through my life as a teacher and then as a bookworm stuck in corporate plumbing.

Since then whenever the question of money comes up in Junior School I’ve not been evasive or even embarrassed about how little we make. The school is not the place to discuss what Nicola Solomon has written about in last week’s The Bookseller.

But then I do get a series of questions, which after discussions with fellow authors, I’ve concluded has come from celebrity publishing thrust under their noses.
a)    Do you get fans coming up to you in supermarkets?
b)    Do you have a limo?
c)     Are you a celebrity?
d)    Are you famous?
e)    Do you live in a castle?

f)      Do you have a Ferrari?

And that I worry about. When the majority of books they see in a WBD line-up or in bookshops are from celebrities on TV, then it does create an expectation that only celebrities write books or if you write books, you must be a celebrity.

I’m wondering if a part of my presentation now should include photos of me cleaning the house, taking the rubbish out and being squished in a bus with my WBD gig bag to bring the glamour of being a writer down.

I do take my notebooks into schools and then I show them the ones that I’ve been writing for years without any success. When they see my Work in Progress scrap-books and research notes, my multiple drafts of the same story, they hopefully will realise hard work will get the books on the shelves. 

If I also get a TV show before or after, fantastic! I’d love to buy that Ferrari.  

While writing this blog, I wanted to provide some resources for those young people who are interested in arts. Here are a few. If you are sharing this with young people in your life, please do research them thoroughly before taking it further.

YPIA - Young People in Arts -
The Roundhouse Trust -

Impact Arts - Cashback to the Future -

And finally a teenager's view on how to engage young people in the arts -

Chitra Soundar never knew arts was an option as a teenager. She graduated from university with a degree in commerce and accountancy and a diploma in computer science. As an adult, while working 12-hour shifts, she pursued her writing and she's hoping the day will come when she didn't have to work in a corporate firm for sustaining her arts. Follow her on Twitter @csoundar and on Instagram @chitrasoundar


Pippa Goodhart said...

Like you, I take that money question seriously when children pose it (you know very well that the teachers actually want to know the answer to it too!). Children do need to start properly thinking about earning their own living and respond well to being treated seriously when they ask such things.

Beyond Books Media said...

It is so sad isn't it, I and I think someone else was airing the need for a 'bursary/grant' for anyone who is willing/able to do what you and I and others do... If the right people tell the right stories and they are heard by enough, then maybe, things could improve. I think there is a perception we all have lots of money from somewhere that allows us to visit them without needing any more. And, yes we all do it because we love what we do and actually see the response from receptive minds (teachers included).

Sue Bursztynski said...

Good on you, Chitra! Most of us do have day jobs. Mine is teaching. Colleagues have told me that kids have asked them, “ If she’s a writer, what is she doing here?”

But they do eventually get used to the idea that Miss is the author of those books on the library shelves! And read them and recommend them to friends... ;)

Anne Booth said...

I wish I had read this last week - a boy asked me and his teacher immediately told him hw was being rude - so I said 'no, it's a good question,' but then didn't really tell him - i said it could depend and some publishers paid more than others. Next time I will be much more prepared.