Dev Kothari on Bringing Back Kay-Kay and books for kids set in India

Bringing Back Kay-Kay by Dev Kothari. Book cover and author photo.
Our Macaw subscribers are heading off on a thrilling international adventure this month with Bringing Back Kay-Kay by Dev Kothari. Set in contemporary India, the book tells the story of one girl's epic journey to find her missing brother. Lena is an inspiring and empathetic lead character, the setting is stunning, and the story is thought-provoking and beautifully told. We are thrilled that Dev agreed to answer our questions about what (and who) inspired the book and which other novels for young people set in India she recommends you read next.

What inspired you to write Bringing Back Kay-Kay?

Lena and Kay-Kay's story is inspired by some special things in my life: beautiful sibling relationships, an Indian childhood, eventful train journeys and magical poetry. I can't wait for children to read it so they too can discover and celebrate the special things in their lives.

Are any of the characters or events based on real people and their experiences?

Yes! Lena and Kay-Kay’s relationship is loosely based on the beautiful bond shared by my two daughters and also on my relationship with my older brother. The train journey too, is loosely based on one that I took tens of times as a youth. But there are two incidents in the book which are based directly from real life. One is from my childhood, that involved me, my older brother and his friend - a fib I was told, which had me worried sick. And the other involved my two daughters, around the time when my younger daughter was just born – an act of innate, unspoken love that still brings a tear to my eye.

What research did you do for the book and did you learn anything that surprised you?

I grew up in India and even though I live in London now, I am fortunate enough to travel to India every year. So thankfully, I didn’t have to do too much research, however there were a few things that I did look into. I read job descriptions and records of railway employees like Station masters, Railway guards and Ticket checkers and researched train faults like points and signal failures. I watched tens of YouTube videos to refresh my memory of the particular train journey which inspired the one in the book. I also read numerous articles on unusual birds. It was fun doing all the research and I learnt many new and surprising things - one of which - a bird called the bush stone-curlew - made it into my book (with a little bit of creative freedom!).

Which character do you have most sympathy for and why?

It has to be Stan. Stan the man, a little boy with a big heart. Unfortunately, Stan’s character is all too real. According to United Nations sources there are up to 150 million street children in the world today, who for various reasons end up on the streets. I still remember the complicated feelings I experienced as a child while coming across street children. I felt sad but also angry at the world and adults in particular. I felt relieved it wasn’t me and guilty for feeling relieved. I felt helpless and worried and a whole lot more. It was my schoolteacher mum who showed me by example how we can all in our own little ways help to make things better. I hope that through Stan’s character, readers can glimpse a world that often remains hidden. Perhaps Stan might even help them to start a conversation, ask difficult questions, and discover what they can do to help.

What do you hope young readers will take away from the story and how it unfolds?

Most of all, I hope that my readers enjoy reading the story. I want them to feel like a part of Lena and Kay-Kay’s world. I want them to root for the siblings and for their relationship. And I want them to discover new joys and rediscover hidden treasures. Perhaps they’ll find something interesting about a new place and culture. Perhaps they’ll discover something special about the relationships and friendships in their lives. And perhaps, they’ll pick up a pen or a pencil and start writing a story or a poem of their own.

Why did you choose to write books for this age group?

I didn’t specifically start out to write for this age group. I enjoy writing for all different ages and trying out different forms of writing. It so happened that this story turned out to be for young readers, when one day Lena’s voice appeared in my head. Immediately I wrote down what she said to me – these became, word-for-word, the first few lines of the book. The rest of story followed soon after, all I had to do was follow Lena’s voice and take a few bits of inspiration from my own life experiences. I loved writing this book. And I really hope that children enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Do you have a favourite place to write?

I write anyplace, anytime I can. Over the years, I’ve written in many different places including on trains and on airplanes, in station waiting rooms and in airports, on my sofa and in cafés, on the beach and on park benches. If I had to choose a favourite place though, boring as it may sound, it would have to be in cafés – I love writing and coffee too.

Which other books set in India would you recommend our subscribers read next?

Ajay and the Mumbai Sun and its sequel Ajay and the Jaipur Moon written by Varsha Shah are both wonderful, gripping novels set in India. I would also recommend City of Stolen Magic by Nazneen Ahmed Pathak which is partly set in India of the 1850s with a magical twist and Gita Ralleigh’s Destiny of Minou Moonshine which is set in an alternate Indian queendom.

Copies of our Bringing Back Kay-Kay pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!

This post includes affiliate links to our page, meaning we receive a small percentage of the sale should you purchase through them. Additionally, a percentage from all sales on the platform goes directly to local UK bookshops which is an initiative we're delighted to support!


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