Meet Mishana Khot. She describes herself as an author of happy cosy books. Looking at her latest release titled' Welcome To The Zoo', I would have to agree. This book sound like lots of fun. This is how she describes the book on her website. Four grubby kids bounce through a series of adventures and mishaps, accompanied by a pint-sized mob of friends and pets. They devise plots to kidnap the Tooth Fairy, dress up as Egyptian Mummies to scare unsuspecting strangers, discover the floofiness of baby rabbits, smuggle puppies into the house inside their shirts, and pummel each other in horrible wrestling matches.
Now, I don't know about you, but this sounds like lots of fun to me. Escaping with a story that can take you back to your carefree childhood sounds perfect, doesn't it? So, lets find out more.
Tell me about yourself
I’ll do the short version of this because it’s always harder for me to talk about myself than about books. I’m half British and half Indian, and I grew up in India, but spent all my summer holidays in England. When I was about 9 years old, I realized I wanted to write fiction, and I’ve never looked back. In my day job, I’m co-founder of an adventure travel company and a freelance writer, but I’ve written and published three books and am currently working on the next eight books, so it’s fair to say I spend most of my life writing.
Do you have a favourite book?
This is such a tough question! I love Jane Austen, Roald Dahl, Lionel Shriver, Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, James Herriot, Vikram Seth, the Bronte sisters, and Georgette Heyer, and it would be unfair to all of them to choose just one.
Your latest release titled ‘Welcome to the Zoo’, sounds like it transports readers to a much simpler and happier time. Can you tell me more about it?
You’re right! I wanted it to be a happy, funny read that readers could dip into when they needed a pick-me-up. I started writing it during the early lockdown in 2020, when I was re-reading all my favourites, and I was struck (for the 100th time) by how magically comforting a book can be.
I grew up in a bungalow in a small town in India during the 90s, with three younger siblings and a host of friends and pets. I didn’t know it then, but we were really, really naughty kids and we made up our own games and got into a lot of trouble. So, there are plenty of stories that readers don’t believe are true. It was great fun to write this book, but the real fun is when readers come back to me to tell me how their kids are obsessed with the characters, or how nostalgic it makes them feel. It’s been doing better than I thought it would, so I’m rushing to finish the sequel now.
Where do you draw inspiration for your story telling?
I’ve been raised on a diet of Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, and Jane Austen, and was a voracious reader as a kid, so books that meant a lot to me then are still the ones that inspire me today. I go back to 'Pippi Longstocking', 'The Worst Witch', 'Fenella Fang', and all my Dahl books when I need to remember why I love writing.
The actual stories come from some mysterious place that even I don’t understand, but the motivation and the inspiration to keep writing comes from kids’ books. I’ve always loved how funny and entertaining and exciting they were, but now I appreciate how hard it is to write a story for kids. Young readers don’t waste their precious time on boring books and have a million distractions pulling at them. If you don’t grab their interest from the first page, they’re going to wander off to put peas in their nose or something, and so I have to be on my best game all the time.
Can you tell me about your writing process?
It’s really less of a process than a whirlwind directed by whimsy, with some days spent absolutely hating my manuscript and career choices.
For my third book, Welcome to the Zoo, I created a very rough structure because I’ve learned (the hard way) that this helps me stay on track and avoid writer’s block. I put down the first few paragraphs just so I could set the mood, and then veered off to write the chapters that excited me the most. That was okay because each chapter is a standalone story, but for the first two books, I wrote in a straight line because one chapter led to the next.
When I’m writing, I’m cranky and anxious and always worried that it’s not good enough or going fast enough. But when I’m editing, I’m relaxed, happy, and creative. It’s probably because I’m a language nerd and really enjoy sharpening and polishing a piece of content but that’s my favourite phase.
I’m entirely self-published, so the pre-publishing prep starts when I’m coming to the end of my final editing phase. Cover design, ISBN applications, blurb writing, type-setting – that’s the last lap of the race and it all snowballs into one big rush until finally, the book is out! Whew!
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m re-reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr, and Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi.
I prefer fiction over everything else, but in the last couple of years, I’ve started making an effort to read some non-fiction too, and I choose authors who write about the creative space and the creative process. I always have one fiction book for my bedtime reading and one or two non-fiction books on the side for weekend reading. Thank goodness for my Kindle!
Who are your favourite authors, and how have they influenced your work?
If I hadn’t read the books I read, I wouldn’t be writing for a living today. I was a tiny little thing when I realized I wanted to be a writer, and while all my favourite authors influence the way I write today, the greatest gift they gave me was the idea of what I wanted to do with my life.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
Yes! I’m currently mid-way through writing the sequel to Welcome to the Zoo, and am hoping to release it by the end of April. I have a few others that are also in the manuscript stage at the moment, and I’ll pick those up more seriously once this is out.
What advice would you give a new author?
Write a lot and read a lot. Every writing journey is different but they’re all hard. You’ll be dealing with self-doubt, comparing yourself to the greats, worrying about sales, anxious about deadlines, and insecure about your abilities. But if this is what makes you tick, dive in with both feet!
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I am trying to make time to turn off my devices and stare into space and be bored, like Manoush Zomorodi says, so that I can be a better creative person. Apart from reading, I spend more time than I should watching TV, but I tell myself I’m learning a lot about character development and narrative arcs so it’s okay.
I have a collection of houseplants that I smother to death. I like doing DIY projects and some painting and drawing, and I do an hour of running and yoga every morning to combat the aches and pains of writing life.
Thank you to Mishana for sharing her insights. Wow, what a busy lady. I have three works in progress on the go, and I thought I was taking on a lot. If you would like to check out her books, click on the links below.