Everyone please welcome Padma Venkatraman, author of Climbing the Stairs, a YA historical fiction novel about fifteen-year old Vidya’s struggle for personal freedom that plays out against the backdrop of World War II and the nonviolent Indian independence movement led by Gandhi.
1. Hello Padma. Welcome and thank you for taking the time to stop by Damsels in Regress to talk with us. So I’m going to jump right in and start off by asking what drew you to historical fiction, and your setting in particular.
Interestingly enough, what drew me to history was a question of current relevance, which is the central question that fuels the plot in CLIMBING THE STAIRS – the meaning of violence and nonviolence and the role of each within ourselves as individuals as well as in society at large.
When I started writing CLIMBING THE STAIRS, in 2003, I was the head of a school in England. Every day, I saw students faced with different kinds of violence – overt and subtle – name calling, bullying, and caste-like cliques. At that time, I had also chosen to become an American citizen and thus was particularly concerned about the Iraq war – and the larger issue of war itself. As I grappled with the question of whether a person should ever act violently, and of when, if and why a nation or a person should ever take up arms, my mind flew back to a different era, a different circumstance, a different culture, in which people I knew and loved had debated those same questions.
India, 1941. The time of Hitler and of Mahatma Gandhi. A setting of unparalleled contrast, I think, in which that timeless debate over violence and nonviolence and the meaning of war and peace was especially poignant.
2. What type of research did you do for Climbing the Stairs?