After Amil? A Veera Hiranandani Interview About Amil and the After, a Sequel to The Night Diary!
It seems fitting that in the same week as the 2024 ALA Youth Media Award announcements, we should be talking to another Newbery Honor winning writer. When THE NIGHT DIARY won its Honor in 2019, it was one of those wins that just felt so right. It had already had multiple starred reviews, after all, with Horn Book saying that author Veera Hiranandani had a, “pitch-perfect tone”, Kirkus saying it was, “A gripping, nuanced story”, PW saying it had a, “striking intimacy and immediacy”, and SLJ saying it was a, “rich, compelling story”.
Now, it is my distinct pleasure to tell you that the story isn’t over. Not yet. What begin in THE NIGHT DIARY now continues with the release of AMIL AND THE AFTER.
Filled with hope and the idea of finding joy after tragedy, the novel picks up where The Night Diary left off following the aftermath of the Partition of India, the greatest human migration in history. Through Amil’s story, young readers will learn of the complicated physical, emotional, and psychological impact that comes from being forced to leave your home—an experience many kids globally still experience today.
At the turn of the new year in 1948, Amil and his family are trying to make a home in India, now independent of British rule. Both Muslim and Hindu, twelve-year-old Amil is not sure what home means anymore. The memory of the long and difficult journey from their hometown in what is now Pakistan lives with him. And despite having an apartment in Bombay to live in and a school to attend, life in India feels uncertain. Nisha, his twin sister, suggests that Amil begin to tell his story through drawings meant for their mother, who died when they were just babies. Through Amil, readers witness the unwavering spirit of a young boy trying to make sense of a chaotic world, and find hope for himself and a newly reborn nation.
But wait! It gets better. Veera Hiranandani herself is here today to answer my questions about this book, where it came from, and what the process of writing it was really like:
Betsy Bird: Veera! Thank you so much for answering my questions today! I think before we talk about anything else, I’d love to know if you’d always had a plan to follow up THE NIGHT DIARY with another title. Even if it was just a thought you kept in the back of your subconscious. Or was this a surprise even to you? What’s the origin of AMIL AND THE AFTER?
Veera Hiranandani: Hi Betsy, my pleasure! When I was writing THE NIGHT DIARY, I didn’t have any intentions to write a follow-up story. I was very focused on creating something that felt complete to me. Then, about a year after THE NIGHT DIARY was published, a year filled with many school visits and events where I discussed the characters in THE NIGHT DIARY often, I started to miss them. I started to wonder what they were up to. By the time I finish any story and the multiple revisions it takes, the characters feel as real to me as anyone. They’re living somewhere in a parallel universe as far as I’m concerned. But I didn’t want to continue the story exactly the way it had been-in Nisha’s point of view in a diary format. That journey did feel complete to me. I wanted to try something new with the same characters. On my school visits, students kept saying they were interested in hearing more of the story through Amil’s point of view, so I had to give it a go!
BB: Aw. I love it when kid readers have input on sequels and companion novels. You’ve mentioned that this book is about what happens after someone survives something life-changing and traumatic. THE NIGHT DIARY originally came out in 2018 and then in 2020 kids around the globe experienced, to use your words, “something life-changing and traumatic”. I think part of what makes it so interesting is that, like Amil’s experience, it was a traumatic shift in society. Was any of that in your head as you wrote the book?
VH: Yes, that was absolutely in my head! This is my third historical novel and though I always start off researching and writing about the past, I see many echoes in present events. I wish I didn’t, but things like refugee crises, conflicts and war about racial or religious tensions and prejudice, world-shifting global events like the pandemic, etc, are tragically alive and well. I try to connect the emotions I’m experiencing or observing in my life with what my characters are experiencing for authenticity. While I wrote AMIL AND THE AFTER, I thought a lot about how we’re all trying to rebuild our lives after the early pandemic years and the collective trauma we’ve all experienced. Some of us have had a much harder time than others, however, so what’s our responsibility to our community as a survivor who’s had a support system, even as we manage our own wounds? That was a guiding question for me and one Amil wrestles with in the novel.
BB: In the story Amil’s sister Nisha suggests that he draw pictures for their mom, who died when he was a baby. These pictures are created by Prashant Miranda. Did you know Prashant’s art before this book?
VH: I did! I had the pleasure of meeting Prashant during the Neev Children’s Literature Festival in Bangalore, India in 2019. I enjoyed talking to him about his work there, and after the festival, I followed him on instagram. He posts a lot of his own drawing journals, beautiful sketches and watercolors of his travels and experiences. He has this quality of hope and peace in his work and it reminded me of Amil. When I decided to write the book, I asked my editor to reach out to Prashant to see if he was available to illustrate it. And the rest is history!
BB: Brilliant! And did you have a hand in what the spot art in the book would look like? Did you decide where it would go? I’m just kind of fascinated by this inclusion in the book since THE NIGHT DIARY (as I remember it) didn’t have any art.
VH: That was all Prashant ‘s art and Penguin designer, Kelley Brady! I had art approval, but I left it up to the experts! The decision to include the art was driven by Amil’s point of view and his love for drawing.
BB: When writing this book did you plan out everything beforehand or are you the kind of writer who writes and watches where the story and the characters take her?
VH: I tend to think about a general beginning, middle, and end before I write and then leap into the manuscript fueled by the excitement of starting something new. I usually run out of gas about 50 pages in and wonder if perhaps I’ve made a terrible mistake trying to write the story at all. I start talking it out with some trusted writer friends and do some loose outlining, mostly character development notes and larger plot structure beats. Sometimes I use a brainstorming technique called mind-mapping which helps me get out all my messy thoughts, so I can see everything I know about the story visually on one piece of paper. Then I go back to the manuscript until I have a rough (very rough) first draft.
BB: Was there anything in this book that you initially wanted to include but later cut out for one reason or another?
VH: I ended up adding a lot to this book, because the earlier drafts were too spare. I think people are usually overwriters or underwriters. Overwriters write a ton in a draft and end up cutting a lot. I’m an underwriter and usually have to add a lot to the spare frame I’ve built in the first draft. I’m sure I did eventually cut some smaller things, but I can’t even remember what they were now.
BB: Nisha’s only sibling is Amil and Amil’s only sibling is Nisha but I still have to ask – is there any chance of a third book in this series?
VH: I’m not currently writing one, but never say never!
BB: Finally, what are you working on next?
VH: I’ve been working on my first picture books coming out in Fall 2024 and Spring 2025 with Random House Studio. The first, called THE GREATEST, illustrated by Vesper Stamper, is based on some special memories I have of my Jewish grandfather. The next is a story about my own multicultural background called MANY THINGS AT ONCE, illustrated by Nadia Alam. To say I’m excited about them would be an understatement! I’ve also been tinkering with a YA in verse. So glad to be able to chat with you!
BB: Me too!
Enormous thanks to Veera for taking the time to answer my questions today. Thanks too to Kaitlin Kneafsey and Sierra Pregosin for helping put this all together.
Veera Hiranandani, author of the Newbery Honor–winning The Night Diary, earned her MFA in creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is the author of The Whole Story of Half a Girl, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book and a South Asia Book Award finalist, and How to Find What You’re Not Looking For, winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award and the New York Historical
Society Children’s History Book Prize. A former editor at Simon & Schuster, she now teaches in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA Program at The Vermont College of Fine Arts
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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