Meet the author: They Made What? They Found What?


Photo credit: Shweta Taneja. 

In this brand new series on our blog, we will bring you interviews with some of the leading authors from the world of science. 

Author Shweta Taneja
We kick-off the series with an interview with Shweta Taneja, the author of the two-in-one book,
They Made What? They Found What?

Published earlier this year, the book covers ground-breaking discoveries and inventions made by Indian scientists in a wide range of scientific fields from molecular physics to thermodynamics, nanotechnology to evolutionary biology. Shweta resides in Bangalore and has authored seven books, along with a host of non-fictional writings about technology for leading digital outlets. 
 

Coffee Table Science (CTS): You have written fiction in the past. But this book is different. What was the inspiration to write the book?
 

Shweta Taneja (ST):  I’m a journalist, editor, and creative writer. For a decade when I started writing fiction, I focused on science fiction and fantasy, but when the journalist in me (writing articles for Mint and other newspapers) encountered scientists, she always wanted to figure out what made scientists tick. 

This book happened because I was speaking to an editor who wanted a book on science for kids and I pitched her this idea I had been carrying inside me. The focus of this book was to delve into the brains of scientists and find out how they invented things and discovered new frontiers in science. As a creative writer, I was most interested in exploring their wonder, this sheer joy in each of the discoveries. These are powerful creative stories – they just happen to be real life 

CTS: There are so many discoveries and inventions by Indian researchers. How did you go about researching them and also shortlisting them? 

ST: That was a tough one. When I began my research there were so many talented scientists doing fantastic work in their fields. There was no ‘fair’ way to decide who to include and who not to. So, I took help from the titles of this book and decided to focus on inventions (They Made Whaaat?) and discoveries (They Found Whaat?) that made me go agog with wonder. 

I did sift through the biographies to make sure that most fields of science were included so I could also build up each chapter with quizzes, boxes, and activities that helped children enjoy and learn more about modern Indian science. Of course, a lot of selection credit goes to Batty and Foxy (you need to read the book to know who they are) who were quite contrarian and so helped me by confusing me further. 

CTS: Which was the most fascinating story for you? 

ST: Each one was fun in a different way, but my favourite two stem from my deeper interest in the environment and climate fiction. Both the chapters were late additions to my book and totally enjoyable. The first was ecologist Divya Mudappa and her determination to work in reforestation for the last twenty years in Valparai. The second story was that of Sonam Wangchuk and how he built artificial glaciers in Ladakh – to help villages that face droughts every summer. 

CTS: Scientists usually have a reputation of being very technical with their comments. Was it difficult to get the stories out of the scientists that you interviewed? 

ST: Definitely. It took me multiple interviews and conversations. I had to constantly ask them leading questions to pull out colourful details (try asking scientists how they spent their childhood) that I could use to tell their story. Even after I wrote a chapter and shared it with them, I warned the scientist that I had taken creative leeways with their stories. Thankfully, most of them were generous enough to accept the dramatisations of their lives and how they invented or discovered stuff. In the end, the book’s out and all of them have loved it. 

CTS: This is a two-in-one book, printed in a different format. What's the inspiration behind that?

ST: Isn't it just gorgeous? From the beginning, I was sure I wanted to bring out the fun and wacky side of science. As I began to develop the chapters, I relied on humour and irreverence of imaginary characters in the book (Batty and Foxy). When I saw that there were two books in this – one on inventions and one on the discovery, I suggested a flipbook to my editor – again something I always wanted to write, though not for a science book! 

Can I say out loud that I absolutely love the flipbook format of the book? It’s creative and fun, but it also shows the soul of the book. That I wanted to write about scientists and science by entertaining kids. 

CTS: How do you think science communication can be improved for the Indian audience?

ST: More than focusing on improving, I think we just need more science content out there. We need more books for kids that introduce them to the Indian ecosystem of science, we need more interaction between scientists and the general public, we need more articles, podcasts, videos, and more celebrities who are scientists. The whole ecosystem where scientists and their work is celebrated, talked about in everyday mass and social media, and looked up to is missing in India. 

CTS: What are you currently working on? Is there another fiction story on the way or a follow-up book about more discoveries? 

ST: Since the book came out and I realized my deeper interest and desire to engage with the environment, I’ve joined the Nature Conservation Foundation where I run a program to encourage more nature stories in mass media. 

In writing, I’ve recently come back to a science fiction novel I’ve been trying to finish. There are a couple of non-fiction books to do - sometime in the future – I did love writing the science book after all - but it’s not something I’ll be doing in the next one or two years.

If you would like to buy a copy of the book, you can get it here. 
 
They Made What? They Found What?: 2-books-in-1




You can also follow Shweta on Twitter and Instagram

If you are a writer yourself, you can get tips, advice, insights, and inspiration right in your inbox by subscribing to her newsletter.   

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