Dealing with Covid-19 and starting a letter of hope

Welcome! Dear Penpal is a fortnightly newsletter by me, Shweta Taneja, to support you in your creative journey with tips, opportunities, insights and inspirations. Subscribe or read the archives here.


Dear Penpal,

It’s been a tough month for all of us. For me too.

I heard the news that all my family, six of them, in Delhi were covid-19 positive. I wanted to go to them, help out with food, logistics, hugs, anything really. However, covid-19 is such a creature that it builds walls around all of us, closing us down in worrisome loneliness.

The same week, my spouse also tested positive. Now I was a caregiver, saving up millions of advice and emergency contacts from the online world. I was heartbroken, suffocating, panicked, and unwell too. I vented online, vented to friends, worried and perhaps added to the chaos.

Then I called up my mother

My mother, who was going through the infectious disease, dealing with breathlessness and extreme body pain. I called her instinctively as I always call her when I’m stressed and need assurance. You know what she said?

“So what?“ she said. Her voice was weak, but her spirit, oh her spirit vibrated with power. “Now that we have it, we will see how it goes,” she said. “Whatever will happen, will happen. You worrying for it won’t change a thing.”

She was suffering physically as she said it, and I knew she was suffering, but the sheer mental strength of her approach to her body’s suffering, brought me out of my piteous wallowing.

Why do we always think of the worse given a stress situation? And cloak this thinking, this panicking and worrying as being realistic? And this is not limited to reality. It’s a habit. It’s a habit that I’ve decided to consciously break out by starting this newsletter.

My mother gave me strength in that five-minute phone call. I decided not to ponder on the worse. I consciously, with a lot of effort, to take the most positive, most hopeful route in the logical turn of events in my head.

That all of us will come out of it in a few months.

That it would be all okay.

Letters of hope, support and writing by Shweta Taneja

A newsletter of hope when everything is dark?

I decided to channel my frustration, my sadness into writing these letters to you.

Use the medium I love – of writing – to tell you about what I’m going through. Use these letters, as a process of collective, creative healing, for you and me both.

This is about encouraging you to make the best of your life and ambitions, as a creative person, a writer or a reader or a prodigy whose time hasn’t come. We are all together, struggling, and I want to struggle and hope and cope with you.

These letters are about optimism and delight in living our lives. About not allowing our fears to become definitions of who we are. I’ll use all my emotions and skills to fill these letters with stories that make you and me feel good.

I’ll talk about the art of writing, things that inspire me, of living life to the fullest and capturing these moments through my art. And I hope to encourage you to do the same.
I’ll be there for you all, my dear readers, through your ups and downs. We will together become our best, most joyous creative selves.

For we all need that little optimism when we’re low. And we all need – more and more – those friends who can listen without scrolling us into a void.

I’ve committed to you, fortnightly on alternate Sundays, and I’m hoping to keep that up. If you don’t get a letter from me (for I’m known to break promises), you’re most welcome to write to me and demand one. I would try to not miss one, though!

Writes science and speculative fiction

Some of my latest releases in books, articles and stories

All of 2020, my publishing plans, as with all writers, went haywire. Even though our world continues to be up and down and all the rollercoaster in between, I’m happy to say that I have had five cool things in latest releases out with different publishers in the last few months.

What I love about the collection of my recent releases is that there is NOTHING in common between any of them (except for the plant in the pink pot). They’re writings about all kinds of things, released in all kinds of geographies and meant for all kinds of people. I love #diversity in writing and even though it’s hard (it’s so much better to put you in a nice, pretty box, if you’re a romance writer or a science writer or a science fiction writer or write for adults or kids or young people or animals!) and confusing to algorithms online, I’m gleed and proud and thrilled!

Latest releases from the desk of Shweta Taneja

Drumroll, my latest releases:

  • 1. and 4. They Made What / They Found What: A flipbook for kids on Indian science and scientists. Out with @hachette_india
  • 2: Non-fiction article on exciting debut voices of India in Locus magazine.
  • 3: A #solarpunk short story about dolphins taking over the world with a new technology. Out now in #MultispeciesCities by World Weaver Press. (Buy here)
  • 5: Les Chants que L’Humanité abandonna aux (French version of the dolpins taking over the world with a new technology) published in Galaxies No 66
  • 6: Spunky Salma takes over the 1920s cantonment, Bangalore in this short historical fiction for kids which is part of Eleven Stops to the Present: Stories of Bengaluru by Intach Bangalore


What kind of a writer are you?

A linear, single genre one, easily defined and categorized by bots or a vague, flipflop one who scribbles everything and anything? Tell me in comments below.

Release: New Solarpunk short story on evil dolphins

What happens when dolphins take over the world? Create a technology that humans have no understanding of? I’m thrilled to announce the release of my new solarpunk tale, The Songs That Humanity Lost Reluctantly To Dolphins.

It’s part of an upcoming anthology on imagining an optimistic future by World Weaver Press, an independent publisher based in the USA. The anthology is called Multispecies Cities and is a collection of richly imagined tales by storytellers from the Asia-Pacific and beyond. Head to the Multispecies Cities page on the publisher website to find your favourite retailer.

Each story is on how future cities will look like, taking the positive route rather than the dystopian one that we SF writers so prefer.

Hope and science fiction?

That’s solarpunk for you. It’s positive, it’s optimistic and it’s quite hard to write in current times. When Rajat and Sarena the editors of Multispecies Cities approached me to write a story for this anthology, I sat with nothing for weeks. For I had not thought positively about the future in my SF writings. How could you, in the midst of a pandemic and a cagey nationalism wave?

Then one day, I sat on my desk, reimagining not only future cities, but science fiction as a genre that imagines these cities, I remembered how I keep wondering why science fiction imaginations of our future are so metallic and materialistic. They’re about wars and spaceships and human desires. There’s not much about other organisms (unless they’re evil aliens), though it’s a sub-genre that is now being explored.

Solarpunk the future!

I decided to reimagine future technology itself, make it organic in nature, make it something that was not created by humans or even understood by them but by another species on the planet – not an alien. A technology that will completely disrupt our metallic, materialistic way of life and replace it with something organic, like fungus or a song of empathy.

In a gist, that’s what The Songs That Humanity Lost Reluctantly To Dolphins is about. It explores what happens to us when an alternate lifestyle, that puts empathy first, erupts in future cities. When the children take to it, adapt to it, but us, adults, just cannot adapt. First we rage, then we bomb but our hearts break as fungus becomes one with our children and all the other species of the planet become one. When the next generation does not remain ours, what happens? We determinedly try to connect to the empathy songs that the dolphins have created.

This story itself is a sad song of change that is forced upon us. I suffered with helpless parents, with governments that could do nothing as their economies crashed. But this dramatic change transforms into a beautiful, new, positive future.

Continue reading “Release: New Solarpunk short story on evil dolphins”

My book on science releases on National Science day

It’s National Science Day today. That’s 28th February peeps. A little more than ninety years ago, Sir CV Raman discovered what is called The Raman Effect. To refresh your memory on what exactly Raman Effect means, you can either read its Wikipedia page, or pick up my book on Indian scientists, They Made What? They Found What?

For the book I’ve been working hard and crazy towards, all of 2020, releases today! Oops, it just released.

Celebrate National Science Day with a book on science

They Made What? They Found What? are stories of contemporary Indian scientists, their struggles, their work lives and why they push the boundaries of science and of themselves to discover or invent something (Batty Cat who plays a pivotal role in the book, suspects the brainwave happens thanks to rats).

It comes loaded with activities, quizzes, experiments and a galaxy of knowledge. It’s written for kids and most adults.

Why National Science Day is important

Though Dr Raman won the Nobel Prize almost a century ago, only eight Indian scientists have won the award for science. We need inspiration on science, we need to bring out our scientists from laboratories and make them heroes that kids can aspire to.

There’s another thing I realised while talking about the book. Science is all about asking questions, constantly, being curious about the way the world around you works. Questioning the world has become especially important today, in the times of climate emergency. We need the new generation to find unique solutions, inventions and discover new things about our fast fading biodiversity.

Through these stories of science, I wanted to bring India’s science and scientists out of the limbo they have been in into our lives, into the lives of kids.

It’s the first book where I’ve combined all my skills as a journalist with the best skills I garnered as a creative writer. This book was written during the lockdown and onwards, and kept me sane (making my editor insane) through all of 2020. But most, most importantly, it’s a flipbook! There are two covers and they open on either side. I ALWAYS wanted to write a book like that.

I’m hoping this book on Indian scientists, who live and work here, in this country, is the first step towards this.


A science book for kids with stories of Indian scientists
Click to buy on Amazon.

They Made What?


A space scientist who sent a rocket to Mars

A physicist who insisted that plants could feel emotions

An engineer who solved a water problem with an ice stupa

Meet India’s brightest scientists and read all about their incredible, groundbreaking inventions in this first-of-its-kind book. Explore the most fascinating fields of science, from nanotechnology and astrophysics to tropical ecology and molecular physics, and find the answers to all the scientific questions you’ve ever thought about. Do all scientists wear lab coats? Where do they get their genius ideas from? And how do they transform these ideas into life-changing inventions?

Bursting with activities, quizzes, easy experiments, cool tips and a galaxy of knowledge, this informative, exciting and entertaining book is sure to awaken the intrepid innovator in you!

Click here to buy on Amazon


They Found What?

A biologist who smashed cancer cells

A physicist who revealed the secrets of light

An ecologist who stumbled on a rare species of frog

Meet India’s brightest scientists and read all about their incredible, groundbreaking discoveries in this first-of-its-kind book. Explore the most fascinating fields of science, from neuroscience and biochemistry to evolutionary biology and thermodynamics, and unearth the answers to all the scientific questions you’ve ever thought about. Do scientists ever fail at maths? What tools and technologies do they use to uncover something new? Do they really have robotic assistants?

Bursting with activities, quizzes, easy experiments, cool tips and a galaxy of knowledge, this informative, exciting and entertaining book is sure to awaken the intrepid innovator in you! Through these stories of science, I wanted to bring science and scientists out of the limbo they have been in, bring them out of the hero worship cult, into our lives, into the lives of kids. Delve into their hardworking, creative lives and find inspiration for myself and hopefully for the little readers this book finds.

Click here to buy on Amazon

Gift this book to your friends and family. If you would like copies for reviews, please write to me. Order the book from an indie bookstore near your home to encourage them. If you are in Bangalore, I will even meet you to sign a copy for the child you buy this for.

Cover Reveal: New book on science and Indian scientists for kids

From fiction, I’ve time-travelled to writing a science book for kids! I’m thrilled to announce my upcoming flipbook with Hachette India.

Since it’s a book on science and Indian scientists written by a, umm, science-fiction author, expect more than a few laughs, a lot of activities and quizzes, and a rollercoaster ride through the stories of modern India’s contemporary scientists working in physics, biology and chemistry.

More about the book on science

They Made What? They Found What is a fun flipbook that retells stories of contemporary Indian scientists, their struggles, their work lives and why they push the boundaries of science and of themselves to discover or invent something (I suspect the brainwave happens when you wear a shiny white lab-coat).

The book comes loaded with activities, quizzes, experiments and a galaxy of knowledge. It’s written for kids and most adults. And you get two books in one. Of yes, you heard that right. Ek ke saath ek muftmuftmuft.

The marvellous covers, let me show them to you again, are created by Sharanya Kunnath, who is also responsible for the artwork of two madcapped characters that converse with these scientists in the book.

So, taadaa, here are the covers! Aren’t they wonderful?

How to order this science book

TMW? TFW? launches on 28th February, India’s National Science Day which marks the discovery of the Raman effect by Indian physicist CV Raman on 28 February 1928. Cool, right? I’ll tell you more behind-the-scene story in another blog on the launch day.

Meanwhile, you can preorder a copy on Amazon if you’d like by clicking on the photo below, or better still, wait for me to announce it and buy it at your neighbourhood indie store. I’ll try to list down all the stores that have it!

Click to order my science book for kids on Amazon.

Happy New Year: I had a great 2020! Here’s to 2021

happy new year!

Yes, I had a great 2020 and I wish you a happy new year.

This post is about all the little thankful things that come into our brains, bodies and soul, while the world is churning viruses. It was while developing a talk for my alumni network at Lady Sriram College, that I realized I had a great year.

Since the past few years, I had been in a kind of a slump. Possibly self created. Everything was going well in my life. I was physically fit, I had just moved to a new country (my idea) and in 2018-2019 travelled like flights would freeze in 2020 (ahem).

However, all through these two years, through mostly ups and some downs, the slump, this feeling of being low niggled at my heart, dousing everything marvellous I did was a rancid aftertaste. I sold a movie option to Anantya Tantrist Mysteries to a big producer. Nada. I founded a Swiss startup with amazing colleagues, earned well, and travelled to Dublin to speak at the WorldCon. Nada. I even waved at JRR Martin. Nada. I wrote short stories – a few of which were translated and published in French and Romanian and Dutch. Nada.

When even meeting JRR Martin does not stay with you for long, you know something’s wrong.

I was in some sort of a constant rut – constantly feeling like something was amiss when everything was perfect. Maybe it was a midlife crisis. Maybe I had finally changed too much, too frequently.  I don’t know. And it’s not someone I am! I used to be the person who celebrated every little milestone – a piddly salary increase, finishing of draft 1 (followed by finishing of draft 2, 3…), on an invite to talk at a literary festival. I love being joyous! And here I was, with a perfect life, but chugging through it.

This new year, take risks

And then the virus-created pandemic and the government-created lockdown hit us. As the world went into a crazy spur, I for some reason jumped out of mine. Early in 2020, we had settled in our beautiful home, I had a study. I became happy (though not always. My country’s people who had to walk back homes because of government-induced mismanagement was horribly tragic). All through April, I was in a flurry, writing my new book – a non-fiction which comes out in January – something I had never attempted. I was so busy, I had no time to see the Covid tickers that were everyone’s favourites or read those endless Whatsapp analysis.

Since the past few years, I had been in a kind of a slump. In 2020, as the world went into a crazy spur, I jumped out of mine. Here's how
A new wonderful project can bring a constant smile on your face. I was lucky that way!

In May, I took up a new opportunity with Nature Conservation Foundation – doing what I slowly didn’t realize that I loved – working on partnerships between organisations. I found a work-knack that I had never explored before. I also became a finalist in a prestigious French literary award – for The Daughter That Bleeds – which I had written in 2018, distracted, just for fun.

Do things you’ve never tried before

As lockdown opened up, I took on new hobbies and new way of life. I tried my hand at planting. In June, I started playing squash and lawn tennis – both games were new to me. In August, I bought a cycle, started cycling  25-30 kilometers, make a girls group for cycling in my community. All through the year, I was also working on a new science fiction novel (finished draft 1, which I celebrated just before Diwali!).

Can’t get enough to riding my bike, everyday!

I don’t know what happened to flip it, to get me out of that mood I had been in for a few years. Maybe it’s the fact that when tragedy comes knocking, really knocking – for the world – you stop feeling sorry for yourself and live your life as you were meant to do.

As we tumble into 2021, I wish this happiness and realisation and newness to all you wonderful folks. Keep travelling, keep taking risks and don’t forget that whatever you do, it’s the small joys that stay with you. Happy new year, folks!

BLF 2020: Book launch at a hybrid festival

Milind Soman and I almost met at the Bangalore Literature Festival this year, a hybrid festival.

It was a cool Sunday evening. I was to speak in the last session at the festival – a panel to launch a fantastic anthology on Bengaluru’s history, Eleven Stops to the Present: Stories of Bengaluru with Meera Iyer, Menaka Raman with Kartik Venkatesh. Formidable, sweet company. My story in the anthology is a rollercoaster tale of Salma, a fiesty 11-year-old who lives in the Shivajinagar area in the 1930s (See the walk that inspired this story).

Milind‘s panel was in audi 1, mine in audi 2. I decided to pop into his, swoon a bit, before sitting in mine. On the second flood of the Bangalore International Centre, I waved a hello to Milind’s larger-than-life screen version.

Talk on writing historical fiction

The hybrid festival version was as good as it gets considering this year. Still grinning, I headed to my panel, facing a camera and 30 odd people in the audience (sitting in real life) and more than a 100 people attending virtually (livestreamed through the camera).

Me, Menaka Raman and Meera Iyer talking about research that makes historical fiction hard to write. With Kartik Venkatesh (Don’t miss the livestream in the right corner. #Hybrid

There were three questions at the panel, all of them from the audience that attended virtually. Frankly, I’m a bit old fashioned and looked beyond the camera towards the attendees who sat masked, having navigated virus exposure and Bangalore traffic – I was all about giving them precedence –however they were okay letting the virtualees ask questions.

The unseen, listening audience

We waved a cheery goodnight to the audience and the camera and stepped off stage to go into the bar downstairs. Before that, to say a last bye to my time-sharer at the festival, I headed to the third floor, where the BIC office is and met Lekha, Raghu and Ravi, the wonderful team who was the hands behind the camera, making sure all us could entertain the attendees without any faux pas like glitches, frozen screens, or author-mutism. I hugged them all from a distance and clicked this photograph.

The devices around you. This person is responsible for me almost meeting Milind.

Because, as in the hybrid event, this part, that happens in the background is important. Our lives are populated by the machines, the phones, the cameras, the audio-listening devices and soon the drones and bots. We’re living the science fiction dream, yo. Hybrid events are here to stay as both the virtual and real attendees become important.

Hybrid’s here to stay, but meeting pals is fun

It was marvellous. The crowds were limited as most people could attend online. The fact that I was attending a festival in Bangalore after such a long time, the fact that I met all my wonderful friends (all duly masked, except for the brief moment we took the photograph below) and the fact that 2020 so comfortably has made us slide into hybridity.

Happy meeting coffee friends: With Andaleeb Wajid, Milan Vohra and Nirmala Govindarajan

Beginning of 2021, I’m launching a new book and I’m already planning both physical events and hybrid ones. Will keep you posted on that one folks. Till then, happy virtual lives.  

Book Launch: How biryani chokes a history book

What do biryani, wrestling, Russel Market and children have in common? A fantastic ride through 1920s in Bangalore! My new short story ‘The Biryani Choke’ is a rollicking tumble set around the opening of the Russell Market in Shivajinagar of the 1920s.

The story is being published in an anthology by INTACH Bangalore appropriately called Eleven Stops to the Present: Stories of Bengaluru. If you don’t know, INTACH Bangalore are folks who are known to conduct terribly entertaining heritage walks in the city. The anthology is the brainchild of Meera Iyer (who wrote Discovering Bengaluru: History. Neighbourhoods. Walks, a must-have book if you like discovering history by foot) who has also written a story in it. Other amazing writers in it include: Aditi De, Anirudh Kanisetti, Anitha Murthy, Edgar Demello, Meera Iyer, Menaka Raman, Nagaraj Vastarey, Sandhya Rao, Shruthi Rao, and of course Zac O’Yeah.

Upcoming anthology by INTACH

Eleven short stories for children, by eleven awesome writers who take you on a journey through Bengaluru and Bangalore, from about 2000 years ago to the 1980s

Releases soon!

The book is an ambitious idea to introduce the city’s history to children through fiction stories set in different periods of Bangalore (or Bengaluru, that’s also history now). When Meera asked me to write a story, I knew the place in Bangalore I wanted to write about. I had already been there….

Continue reading “Book Launch: How biryani chokes a history book”

Short story shortlisted in prestigious French awards

This is surreal at a serious level. A short story I wrote a couple of years back, The Daughter That Bleeds was translated in French as ‘La Fille qui saigne’ by Mikael Cabon and published in Galaxies magazine, an SFF fanzine in France. This happened last year and I was gleed at that point and then forgot about it.

I just found out that the translated short story has been selected for the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire Awards of 2020 in France. It has a hilarious tale attached to it.

Continue reading “Short story shortlisted in prestigious French awards”

Me: Top 50 Startup Women in Switzerland

Woah. I am in a list of Top 50 Startup Women in Switzerland. What most of you don’t know if that I founded a startup in Zurich in the #FinTech space in 2018. The idea was to do new projects and to meet people and to earn money so I could feed my mainstream career – fiction writing.

So this accolade, is completely daze-inducing and glee. I’m surprised on how the little paths we choose to walk on, send us somewhere we hadn’t planned upon at all. Life is so beautiful.

The startup, Cooby, is a global cooperative and I’m one of the co-founders. We are developing blockchain-based SaaS products, which are open source. We also create technical and white papers for clients. It’s quite fun for the geek part of me as I get to meet people and listen to stories in the crypto, blockchain and fintech spaces.

Never thought it would get me in a Top anything list. This was something I started for fun. Isn’t that the most important? I tell this to myself as I see another rejection for my fiction in my inbox. Such is life. A constant rollercoaster.