A disconcertingly reassuring sense of discomfort

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As I migrate from bedroom to kitchen to sun-porch, I tell myself, and anyone within muttering distance, that I will work faster, better, less effortfully just as soon as I can get my workspace worked out, gosh-darn-it. Restlessly, I seek out a good-enough desk, lamp shade, seat cushion. On a bad day, I am the Goldilocks so grumpy she scared away the bears. But as soon as I am in an airport at midnight, or jet-lagged under a mosquito net, or rattling around on a vintage bus I feel a soothing, story-to-tell space opening out in my head. Apparently, to write joyfully I need to feel uncomfortable, displaced, out of time, in flux.

Maybe it’s a psychic defence constructed during a nomadic childhood where books were a refuge, but, whatever the reason, a disconnect with the familiar starts the mechanism that makes me pick up a pencil (not a pen) Then – and this is the bit I like best – I set out to find the perfect notebook: It should have lines and it absolutely must bought in a local shop. Ideally it will be very cheap, and have a space to write my name. I am particulaly happy when there is a box or line with the words (in whatever language) ‘your name’ . I remember the beat-skip moment when the text book in which I wrote the first notes for Om Shanti, Babe appeared from behind the counter in a school supplies shop in Kerala.

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Once I’d written out my name, in capital letters, on the front, I just knew that, whatever happened on the trip, everything was going to be fine. And, for the most part, it was. I wrote early in the morning, in the middle of the day and late at night: I spent the bits between being astonished at India. When you are reading, people often assume you are lonely and try to engage in conversation. In my experience, they rarely do this when you are writing. This means I get to stop talking. If I feel bored or exasperated, I don’t have to express it – who’s listening? Who cares? This quietness – not the absence of bustle, but the absence of my own voice – is immensly calming. India, despite the constant noise, was the quietest I have ever been. I loved India and for the most part, immersed in my story for pre-teen girls, I think became a nicer version of me. Now, where’s my passport?

To find out more about the Diverse Voices Children’s Book Award see www.franceslincoln.co.uk or www.sevenstories.org.uk To find out more about Helen and Om Shanti, Babe (and the sequel, Karma Cookies see www.helenlimon.wordpress.com or facebook Helen Limon – writer.