When and why did you begin writing?
I think it just sort of happened. I love reading and I love writing. The very formation of words just fascinates me. And then I have this sense of responsibility towards others, and I have a very good imagination. I think all of these things just made me start writing. So when I was eleven and brimming with all sorts of exciting ideas, I decided to write. Since then, I may have slowed down (I used to write at least three books simultaneously), but I never stopped.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I think it was when I had my first book published in 1994. It was more my dad’s doing than mine. He helped me publish my first novel, and the interest and success was very humbling and also very rewarding.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I love mysteries and adventures. I think as kids most of us do. The graphic novels of super heroes, the adventure stories of Enid Blyton, the mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie…they all played their part, yet I noticed I was more inclined to write about people, characters and their thoughts. To be honest, writing thrillers and mysteries, much as I’d loved to, wasn’t my cup of tea. Or so I thought, until my teacher pushed me to focus more on that aspect of my writing during my Master’s project, and I thank him for it. Because of him, I found out that I could really write thrillers and write them quite well, too. My latest work, The Mist, is political spy thriller series. I am writing two more books more or less of the same genre.
What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject/genre that isn’t so?
People seem to think that a bunch of articles and a good amount of selective research helps create the authentic political thriller, or any thriller. And although that works, I feel that that authentic element can only be brought in through personal knowledge. Simply put, a person who has never left Britain, for example, cannot write about the politics of Korea or of the in-depth details of the culture and lifestyle without stereotyping it. For that, one needs to actually have been to Korea, lived there among the Koreans, and even worked there to get that originality.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer and how does that affect your writing?
I was a part time writer but have lately been more full-time.
What are some day jobs you have held?
I used to teach French and Script-writing to graduates and post-graduates, but now I tutor/coach individuals in English, French and speech refinement/self-presentation on the side while I work on my writing mostly.
Do you have a special time to write, or how is your day structured to accommodate your writing?
I don’t have any special time devoted to my writing. My writing is spontaneous. So, for example, I am watching a show, something someone says there makes me think of a scene or an idea. I leave everything on the spot and start writing. Sometimes, I get a sudden thought that I must add into my writing, and so again I just start writing. I usually end up writing a paragraph, a scene or multiple pages before I stop. It really depends on what I am writing and how much I need to get out in one sitting.
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
This past decade I have truly evolved as a writer. I have managed to write themes I thought I never could. I have explored many ideas that I didn’t want to write about before, and I think as a writer it is good. It is progress, and it means I am open to progress.
Do you work to an outline or plot sketch, or do you prefer to let a general idea guide your writing?
General idea. Sometimes it is just one word. Sometimes it is a sentence. Sometimes it is a trail of thought. Sometimes it is what is happening around me. And I don’t stop to outline it or plot it. That breaks the flow. I do work on outlines and plots when I write scripts. But, thankfully, not with novels.
How do you feel about indie/alternative vs. conventional publishing?
I prefer Indie. It is more writer-friendly and more reader-friendly, too. Although, it means the writer has to be his own agent, so to speak, and take care of marketing etc., which is really rather difficult for most of us writers.
Is there any marketing technique you used that had an immediate impact on your sales figures?
No. I think in my case it all boils down to luck. And really, there is only so much one can do on the social media or printed media.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Every writer has his/her own way of putting ideas to pen. Discover your own, and see where it takes you. Research is important, firsthand knowledge is a gift- the combination of the two could prove lethal. Don’t worry so much about being a bestseller author. Just be true to yourself and your readers- that is real success.
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
The book recently got out in January, this year. It is the second and final part of The Mist series. Tanya, the protagonist, is all set for the second half of the mission, steering Pakistan clear from global war conspiracies and uprooting remnants of the foreign influences in Pakistani politics. She is having a crisis of faith and has doubts as to whether this mission could ever really end, or if it would end with her, or if it was even worth all her efforts. So, we really get to see how she manages through it with Burke, and what Burke goes through, what sacrifices he would have to make helping her.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing this book?
It was more an answer to all the stereotypes that were being churned out by the media. People writing about things they didn’t really know about and influencing readers unwittingly. Even fiction influences the reader’s mind, especially if the premise set upon is based on some reality.
Tell us more about your main character. What makes him or her unique?
I think the way she understands things like nobody does, the way she has these instincts that make her know what is going on before she gets any proof of it, and the way she deals with problems and with people, her attitude, her thoughts, the way her brain works, the fact that she seems to blend in perfectly and yet know that she is different, that she sees everything differently. That makes her unique. It makes people want to know her more and yet are intimidated by her.
Who is your favorite character in your book and why?
Alex, the CIA agent, was a character that I grew to enjoy writing about, so much so that he ended up in my second book as well, taking up all that space. I just couldn’t get rid of him!
Who is your least favorite character and why?
Believe it or not, none. I enjoyed every one of my characters, and I tried to have my readers see and enjoy them for what they were.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you cast?
Very difficult question, despite the fact that I did originally begin writing a similar story line in script form. If made in Pakistan, I think the choice is quite easy. But I am not naming names. [laughs]
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
The hardest thing was putting it down in less than 1000 pages. It was the second and the final part of the series, so it was a bit tricky putting all that down and intricately leading it to a fitting end without spoiling the complications and maintaining a reader-friendly book size.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I felt I had finally done what I wanted to: be responsible towards the truth, towards the readers, and towards creativity. If that makes any sense.
What role does research play in your writing?
Huge! I mean, despite the fact that I have lived in most of the countries I have written about and I had the upper hand of living in Pakistan, I still had to do tons of research. There is so much stereotyping in general by the media that to move past all that to get concrete evidence to the alternative, to the stories not told, to the other side of the truth was extremely tedious. And then once getting all that information, to apply that in the most subtle manner or the most natural manner in my book…it was really interesting!
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Proof reading and editing. I write in mixed-dialects, so you can imagine.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Hmm…there are so many good writers, you know. And indie publishing has helped with that a lot. But I confess, I like writers with original voices.
What do you do to get book reviews?
Frankly, I don’t do anything. I just request that my readers leave their feedback once they have read my books. To me that has always been more important.
How successful has your quest for reviews been so far?
Not very successful if one talked quantity. As I said, I don’t approach people to review my book. And I don’t like paying people for a review. I like an honest, unbiased review. So I send in my books to people I know will give time to it, will actually read my book before reviewing it. To be honest, I don’t know many people like that. But a couple of real reviews are better than a page full of fake ones.
Who is your favorite fictional character and why?
Hercule Poirot! Don’t need to tell why.
What one person from history would you like to meet and why?
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the legend and founder of Pakistan.
What do you like to read in your free time?
Cozy mysteries. Life today is already too complicated.
If there was one thing you could do to change the world, what would it be?
Unfortunately, there is no one thing alone that can be done in order to change the world or even to attain world peace. So I write.
If you couldn’t be an author, what would your ideal career be?
I think I would always be a writer. That was my end goal. But ideally, I would be a writer able to travel the islands, especially the unknown islands, with a simple life as long as I could call it my own.