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by Marzieh Abbas

I have been kicking off every new year (since the past three years) with awesome Storystorm blog posts! I’m happy to report, at least three of my upcoming picture books began as idea that were sparked from January blog posts! I’m super excited to be a guest blogger today. Let’s get right to it!

You’ve probably heard: “Write what you know” several times, as have I. But when I sit to write what I know, I usually draw a blank. That’s when I dip into my memories, especially photographs from my childhood and my phone’s gallery. Childhood memories are great for recalling important milestones, but everyday clicks of things which seem interesting to me and for pictures of my kids doing fun and silly stuff also bring many story possibilities.

Let’s start with childhood memories: thankfully, I wasn’t the last of four siblings, so my parents took loads of pictures of me as a child (my youngest sister has all of five pictures of her toddler years…lollll). Sometimes I open up those albums and think about all the fun we had and all the lovely memories we made. Sometimes a picture will remind me of a mood or what a specific location made me feel. It’s a springboard for more memories; even those not captured in those albums. There’s fun moments and not-so-fun moments, all great for story ideas!

A picture I came across a few years ago when my mom was cleaning out her storeroom. It had one of us sisters wrapped in a dupatta, an oversized South-Asian scarf, that had been tied like a sari. It was from the time we were visiting Karachi to see my Dadi, my grandma. She always wore saris and loved to dress us girls up in pseudo-saris, using fancy dupattas. She was a quirky grandparent who was married off at 16 and widowed at 28. She, herself, was a treasure trove of stories. A few years ago she passed away. My father, the youngest of three sons, had moved back to Pakistan to be with her in her last years. A few weeks after she passed, we noticed my dad had been sleeping with her dupatta tucked beside his pillow. He had asked my mother never to wash it, as it held her scent and helped hold her memory close.

Not only did this stay with me for a long time, it was the spark of an idea for my debut picture book, A DUPATTA IS… which releases on April 11th this year (published by Feiwel & Friends and illustrated by the super-talented Anu Chouhan).

It also made me think of all the memories that I can tap into by using a particular scent as a clue. Sometimes a waft of cinnamon will remind me of the home remedies my mother made for us when we had a flu. And then I’ll think about other connected memories– comforting vibes, or the panic I’d experience about a test I’d miss if I had to stay home due to a flu. Once Anu started sharing the illustrations, her settings, inspired by her own childhood with her grandma, resembled my own Dadi’s home, right down to the bangle stand and wooden cupboard, and subsequently brought in a flood of memories.

I encourage you to flip through your childhood memories. Does a particular picture remind you of a place or setting that evoked a feeling? Could that mood, or feeling possibly take center stage for a story. Maybe a picture in an old house would remind you of a nosy neighbor or a neighborhood friend you’ve long forgotten. Think about the sounds that you heard in that neighborhood, or the secret stash of your candies you hoped your sibling would never find. These may not be ideas in themselves, but it’s always great to jot these down for later; they may inspire a character quirk for a side character, or a specific detail for your current WIP.

Now coming to my phone gallery photos. I usually take pictures of unusual things I spot as I drive through my city, Karachi, or roam the bazaars. I also click a load of food and produce pictures. Sometimes I transfer photos and videos to an album that I’ve labeled “Story Prompts.”

When I had initially gotten married, my mother-in-law taught me lots of her secret recipes. I loved to cook and getting introduced to so many new recipes, while learning of new customs, was great. One of those recipes was a samosa stuffed with coconut shavings, sugar, cardamom, and lots of crushed nuts.

I had only ever eaten savory samosas. I recreated the sweet samosas many times. Many years down the line it was the story spark for my upcoming AWE-SAMOSAS! book that releases in 2024 (published by HarperCollins and illustrated in the most beautiful, warm hues by Bhagya Madanasinghe.)

My memories are a constant source of inspiration, and I’m sure yours are, or will be, too!

 


Raised between the bustling cities of Dubai, U.A.E and Karachi, Pakistan, Marzieh Abbas loves traveling, reading and samosas. She is a member of SCBWI, 12×12, and a graduate of the Lyrical Language Lab, Children’s Book Academy, and Storyteller Academy. She is active on Twitter where she continues to form connections with the Writing Community, runs a kidlit review group on Facebook and blogs about her author journey and life in Pakistan on Instagram. You can find out more about her at MarziehAbbas.com and follow her on Twitter @MarziehAbbas and Instagram @marziehabbas_author.

Marzieh is giving away a picture book critique (under 650-word fiction and non-rhyming manuscript).

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

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