FINALLY! The interview you guys have been waiting for (and
harassing requesting me to write).
I’d like to Thank Faiqa Mansab for taking out the time from her busy schedule to answer these questions.
I hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as I did!
Faiqa is also working on a new book (yay!!!!) and I can’t wait until she dishes out more info about it! In the meantime you can read my review for “This House Of Clay and Water” HERE.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Not how really, but I know it was quite early. Around the age of 11 I think. I love reading. I love stories and the feeling that reading invokes in us. Perhaps that’s the how. I guess I wanted to have that power of shutting out everything else by sheer dint of the telling of a terrific tale. It’s hard work but there’s nothing like hearing someone say how much they loved what you created out of your head. Imagination is such a powerful thing.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing something?
I lost my bearings when my mother died. I just couldn’t go on living the way I had. At the time putting my dream on hold any further seemed like the stupidest thing to do. Life was suddenly a stranger. The only thing that made sense to me after suffering such great and acute loss, was to try and become what I’d always known I could be. So I went for an MFA in creative writing and wrote This House of Clay and Water.
What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling etc.?
I think societies remain humane because of art and literature. If we didn’t have language and didn’t have stories of s/heroes we would be much less civilized as a race.
I think it’s quite possible that readers are more empathic and sympathetic, more tolerant than non-readers.
Writing is an act of sharing and guidance and creating awareness and appreciation. It is what makes us see things differently. Received notions are challenged in writing. At least in the kind of writing I read and love.
You’ve previously written under the pseudonym “Zeenat Mahal”. Why did you choose that particular name? Is there an interesting story behind it?
Oh yes. See my mother was a great romantic. She was a voracious reader. Her aesthetics were visible in everything she did. From how she decorated her home to her personal style and even to how she made people feel. She really knew how to make people feel special. (I can talk about my mother for hours!)
Anyway she gave me and my sisters four names each. People joked that aren’t four girls enough for you? My mother wasn’t a perfect human being but she was truly wonderful.
So one of my names was Zeenat Mahal. I’ll keep the others secret just in case I need to write in another genre.
This house of clay and water” is very different compared to your previous works. How did you find the transition between writing contemporary romance and then shifting towards writing literary fiction?
I’m actually most comfortable writing literary fiction. The writing of romantic fiction came as a surprise. I had never thought of writing anything but lit-fic. But then one day an old school friend who is a pottery-ceramic artist by the name of Mitti and More, Khadija Zulqarnain, wrote to me about Indireads and how they wanted to publish South Asian writers. That was in 2011. It was a great opportunity to be published. So I said why not try my hand at it? I sent them a sample of a story that I wrote in a week. That was Haveli and they loved it. So I published a couple of more books with them.
I guess stories come in all shapes and sizes and I’ve just written a fantasy/paranormal romance. Let’s see what becomes of it.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
That chapter on Zoya. It was very difficult for me. I thought I was being cruel. I felt besmirched. But I realized I was being a cowardly writer. I had to be brave for Zoya and all the children like Zoya who have suffered abuse. Evil exists within us and for me, people who abuse children in any way, are monsters.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I came into myself as a writer I think. I had never before finished anything that could be called a full length novel. I had never before rewritten a story. The whole experience of breaking apart a novel and restructuring and remaking it, is so liberating. It made me feel I could write whatever I wanted. I wasn’t afraid of my creative process. I embraced it and allowed my intuition to lead me wherever the story wanted to go.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing this book to life?
It was just a difficult time for me. I’d lost my mother and was alone with my kids for the first time in my life. Nobody wanted to rent a flat to an international student. We lived in Bed and Breakfasts for two months. I had to look for schools for my kids. I had to enrol myself in university and all the works, attend classes, find a place to live….
All of that took its toll on my time and sometimes i couldn’t make university deadlines and had to miss classes in the first semester. I was constantly afraid I’d run out of money because living in a BnB meant we had to have take out everyday because the kitchen was out of bounds.
Once I had a place and the kids were in school and we had a routine, it was easier.
So it wasn’t the writing that I found difficult then but the whole new life that I had to handle with three kids all on my own was a challenge.
It is said that Pakistani authors find it difficult to publish their books in other genres (YA, sci-fi etc.) as publishing houses are only interested in literary fiction and it’s often hard to get your work published.
In your experience is this actually true?
Getting published is difficult. Period.
Many factors play into it. One of them is genre. Now that I’ve written a fantasy/paranormal romance I find that it’s a hard sell. I might have to self-publish it if no one wants to take the risk, because I believe in the story.
Lit-fic is an abused genre, I think. Not everything that sounds highbrow, actually is. And not everything highbrow is literary fiction. I just believe in good writing. I don’t really care what genre it is. I read and write many genres. I also don’t worry about getting published till I’ve got a clean manuscript. Unless it’s at least a third or fourth draft, it’s not a manuscript. It’s still a draft. A manuscript should be squeaky clean as far as the writer’s own judgment goes.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I don’t know. I haven’t gone back to it since it was published. But my experience is that whenever I go back to my writing I always manage to find something that I think I can make better.
Your book is slightly controversial. Why did you choose to particularly write about this taboo topic (i.e.: the duality of human nature,hermaphrodites etc.)?
I don’t think a writer really chooses topics. I didn’t. I chose to write about certain kinds of people. It’s always about characters for me. I don’t care about anything else but the story of a certain character who interests me.
For example some found Nida hard to swallow. Why didn’t she act? But that is precisely her story. A woman who finds it hard to make a choice, so entrenched is she in her cultural and social binds. And yet…she ends up fallin in love with a hijra…that’s how stories come to be.
How do you find or make time to write?
My dream is to be a full time writer. But precisely because I’m not, since I’m a mom and a university lecturer, I have more discipline as a writer. I know time is limited and I must finish what I’ve started as soon as possible before my excitement fades or the characters give up on me. So I make time. Whenever and wherever, it doesn’t matter. I have a notebook and pen in my bag. Always. I’ll write even in the car.
What project(s) are you working on at the moment?
I’m writing a novel. Let’s see how it goes.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I think I’m smarter about the publishing world. I learnt from the best; having been published by the biggest publishing house in the world.
I think I’ve become more respectful of my creative process. I’ve learnt to trust my instincts as a storyteller. Every decision that I stuck to, turned out to be a good one. People have given me an overwhelmingly positive response to This House of Clay and Water. I’m so grateful.
Getting published is a learning curve. Nothing is better than having faith in your art and craft. I have it now more than ever before.
What do you do when faced with writer’s block that helps you get back on track?
I read. Reading is a great anchor. It’s one of those things that will heal you no matter what. I have all kinds of genres for different moods. I love reading fantasy. It’s symbolic and metaphorical and yet so clean and clear. I love reading paranormal romantic fiction too. And of course my go-to genre is lit-fic. I also read non-fiction a lot.
What do you like to read in your free time?/What book are you reading now? /Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I want to read Elizabeth Kostova’s latest. I want to read Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire. These days I’m reading The Handmaid’s Tale. The beauty of Atwood’s prose takes me by surprise every time I read her work.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Bohumil Harabal. Milan Kundera.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Please read a lot. Write a lot. Stephen King said that without the please.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
I love interacting with my readers. You can follow me on the following links:
Follow Faiqa Mansab on:
Follow ZEENAT MAHAL on:
I’d just like to thank you Zoey and all of my other wonderful readers, bloggers, book lovers who have supported me over the years as Zeenatmahal and Faiqamansab.
I hope I continue to give you stories you love.