It would be difficult to dream of a more promising-sounding start to a professional writing career: a budding scribe submits her very first story, and it winds up getting published in the latest edition of a bestselling book series.
But that’s exactly what happened to Ritu Shannon, a Cloverdale mom and writer who only recently got serious about her craft.
Her story is featured in the latest edition of the publishing juggernaut Chicken Soup for the Soul: Parenthood edition that hit shelves a couple of weeks ago.
“Big Sister” is one of 101 heartwarming tales about the joys – and challenges – of raising kids.
The volume contains anecdotes and stories about raising children of all ages. As with the previous installments of the Chicken Soup series, the book is meant to uplift, inspire and offer encouragement.
Ritu’s story certainly does that.
It centres around one of those cute little moments she shared with her kids – the kind she used to think she’d remember forever, until she sadly realized they would likely fade and be forgotten in time if she didn’t record them in some way.
Originally from Victoria, where she graduated from the University of Victoria with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, Ritu lives in Cloverdale with her husband Jamie and their two children, daughter Priya, 5, and son Keegan, 3.
She used to write all the time when she was in school, but “I just sort of stopped,” says Ritu, who confides that her late grandfather is a famous novelist in India, so writing’s “in the blood.”
The realization that she would eventually lose touch with the substance of those precious, day-to-day interactions with her young children as they grew up drove her to put pen to paper again.
Inspiration struck after a long distance phone call to her mother in Victoria.
“I’m really busy, and never have time to chat with my mom without the kids interrupting,” Ritu recalls.
Her daughter, then aged three-and-a-half, was sitting quietly by her side, her attention focused on her colouring book, and her son napped; a moment of peace between the active young siblings.
As the conversation progressed, Ritu declared she was finally ready to donate all of her baby toys and infant items to charity because – with two children – her family was complete. Her mother, however, was skeptical, and kept pressing.
In mock frustration, Ritu turned to her toddler daughter, asking her, “What do you think? Do you want another baby brother or sister?”
Priya, who only heard one side of the conversation, misunderstood, and burst out crying, thinking her brother Keegan was about to be replaced with a different baby, revealing the depth of her love for her brother.
“Through the day-to-day mayhem of having two young children, you think, ‘Are these guys ever going to be friends?’” Ritu says.
Afterwards, she thought: “I’m going to write a little story about it, that was really cute.’”
So she typed it up, read it over, and showed it to her husband, who was impressed.
“He said, ‘That’s really good. It’s like something you’d read in one of those ‘Chicken Soup’ books.’”
Her curiosity piqued, she did a quick Google search, and within minutes was at the Chicken Soup for the Soul website.
Tantalizingly, there was a section calling for contributors for an upcoming edition – one on parenthood.
Submitting her story couldn’t have been simpler. “I plugged my story in.”
And then she forgot all about it.
About a year later, out of the blue, she got an email from the publishing company informing her that the story had been shortlisted, out of thousands of submissions.
That led to a succession of emails back and forth to work out various edits and to add her contributor’s blurb.
Still, she didn’t know for certain her story would make the final cut until two months ago.
She received her advance copies two weeks ago, and the other day shared her story with her daughter, who’s learning to read.
Priya thought it was “pretty cool.”
“She thinks she’s famous now,” Ritu laughs.
Her beginner’s success has rekindled her inner author. Shortly after submitting her Chicken Soup story, her husband got her a journal, encouraging her to continue writing.
Since then, she’s been writing down anecdotes, usually about day-to-day stuff involving family life.
“I find my inspiration is my kids.”
She strives to carve out time to write, after the kids are tucked into bed. Writing allows her to reprocess the day, and the amusing things her children say and do.
She’s also written a couple of short stories, and is determined to see where it leads.
“I’m going to keep going. You never know where it’s going to go.”
That plucky attitude is serving her well: just the other day she learned one of her newer stories has been shortlisted for another upcoming Chicken Soup book.
The stories written by her grandfather, Ajit Saini, are not in English, so Ritu hasn’t read them, but now, in her own way, she is continuing a family tradition.
And she hopes her story, Big Sister, will always serve to remind her children of that special bond siblings share.
“I’ve saved a couple of copies of the book for when they’re older.”
Asked to relate some advice to other parents, she pauses thoughtfully and says, “Just being able to take pleasure in the little things that the kids say and do, which is why I’ve been re-inspired to write. You think you’re always going to remember the funny thing they did or said, but you don’t. It’s nice to remember those treasured little moments.”