Holy Hannah, where did August go?
Anyways, today’s guest is a talented woman from Pakistan, Nagwa Malik. She’s returned to the international stage with her newest work, A Novel, and I’m excited to have her here today! Nagwa has been writing since she was 11 and published her first novel at the age of 15 which was a success. She has written a total of 40 plus novels but has been focused-until now- on her studies and later her career as a writer/producer and teacher putting her publications on hold. Apart from that she has written articles for Newspapers like The News International. She also maintains a blog on wordpress.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I think right about the time I began writing: when I was 11 years old.
How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?
I have written over forty books, at least half of which are for children and young teens. It is difficult to say which one was or is my favourite. I can say one of my favourites was A NOVEL which is why I decided to digitize it and publish it. It is right now available on Amazon and Kindle and Smashwords and basically wherever books are sold and is currently on discount to celebrate the new book’s release and the new year, the day on which it was released, by the way. So do check it out and tell me what you think.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
It can be anything…I could be thinking something and suddenly it would make me want to write something, or I could suddenly stop at a word I have thought of, read or seen or even heard, and that word would make me create a whole scene. Or something that I have been thinking too deeply about and I need to get out of my system relating to, for example, social issues, current affairs, history…THE MIST series was a product of that: the political turmoil, the international conspiracies, the local conspiracies, the global warfare, the new era forced onto us…history, history repeating itself…humanity or the lack thereof…all those feelings and thoughts and experiences were put together to create the series. For information I had to dig deep into the archives, the libraries online, the history books offline, the news currently on air, the events happening around me…and the fact that events seemed to happen just as I wrote them right after I wrote them. For THE MIST to be created there was at least 3 years’ worth of research, first-hand knowledge of current events, much recalling and re-reading of the news, and a lot of feelings that had developed as a result of going through many of those events taking place right at home, in my own country, and abroad, where I lived in the UK. So really, anything and everything becomes a source of inspiration and information.
It’s weird that you should ask that…because really, the thing that always surprises me the most is that I actually wrote what I wrote. I mean, when I suddenly come across some of my books and start reading them it is as if I am reading a stranger’s book. Sometimes I do not even believe, especially in the previous books, that I had the vocabulary used in them…it is very strange reading my books. When creating them I am not surprised, because at that point I am just focused on the writing, and to think or pause or take a break proves fatal to my process, so I really do not even pause to think or realise anything whatsoever, not even for a second, if I can help it. Except one thing…in most of my books, the incidents that I wrote about especially related to events taking place surrounding the political world or geo-political world came true. I had written stuff regarding Iraq years ago, and they happened a few years back. In another book I had added a few small incidents regarding certain affairs/manoeuvres/behavioural patterns, and they happened.
That was when I realized we become writers because we see things that are very plain to us, but not to others: we read situations and people that we don’t think of as abnormal…we think it is obvious…but others don’t see what we see and thus they don’t assume what we assume. That is why the science fiction of yesterday is the science of today. I believe there is no imagination that doesn’t come from some form of truth, and what writers do is put those thoughts, those possibilities on the record which in turn enables them to take form if they haven’t already, or to help realise the truth behind unfolding events yet to happen, through trails and traces found in storylines. I hope I just made sense here?
What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?
Although there are a few practices in the publishing industry that I find unethical but I would say the one thing that ticks me off is the publishing industry in my country: our publishers are glorified printers here, not publishers. Like independent publishers they get paid by the writers to print their books…but that is as far as they go. So, you pay all this money to the publisher, and then you have to take care of the actual publishing: the marketing and the distribution of it all by yourself. I mean, you might as well just self-publish. That has really hampered me as a writer because obviously my target is my local readership. I lose my local readership simply because I do not want to pay so much money just to print my books. If I pay a publisher, I expect my books to be published…marketed, distributed…the works. And by self-publishing I lose my local market altogether because my country, Pakistan is not on Amazon’s or any other publisher’s market…imagine how that feels. To me even that is unethical: why is my country not covered in the distribution of amazon and others? And then I also get restricted by amazon and other book promo sites in that I cannot avail their paid marketing services or ad services. So, I ask you, where does one go from here? I basically am just wasting a huge amount of time and energy.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
As I said before when I write any form of break is fatal. Thus the delay in two of my books that should have been out in 2016 or so. The crashing of my hard drive and the losing of my data and my books set me back years. It also puts a break to all forms of writing. Just like that, I cannot write anything. To force myself to write is getting more and more difficult. To combat that I watch lots and lots of shows and dramas. I love getting back to my old favourites, and I love watching kdramas and Jdramas…even C and Thai dramas…sometimes the occasional movie. That sort of helps me stay in touch with the field as a scriptwriter, and it helps me rejuvenate my brain…to stop me from stooping to depression…after all we don’t call TV the idiot box for nothing…it does wonders numbing your brain. I really needed that: I am not an inactive person by nature so forced inactivity drove my already thought-laden brain into extreme overdrive. I had to stop myself from thinking too much and feeling all that frustration. I noticed that in order for me to write I must be in a content state. My mind must be in total peace or I cannot write. Unlike those writers who are forced to write things they feel too much about, I cannot write until my brain calms down and those feelings that are taking over simmer down. And nothing, not even my favourite shows helped numb me…until I came across kdramas while looking for an old favourite Chinese Wuxia movie. As a result I was able to manage a little comeback in my writing.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Although I do not get reviews on amazon etc…at least not much…I do get to hear from my readers occasionally. The one thing that they all say is: “Why don’t you market your book? Why didn’t we hear about it?” I wish I could go down what is beginning to become my pet peeve on amazon and local publishers but I just smile and say nothing. The other thing they tell me is that my books surprise them. The plot is never what they expect it to be, my heroines are not stereotypical, my take on otherwise common themes of popular books is totally different, challenging…and then they again accuse me for not putting my books out there on the market properly…and they do even end up giving me a whole lot of suggestions on how to market my book. J The fact that a reader who suddenly came across my book and even decided to read it is very humbling, and when they try to find me just to tell me that, I am usually very surprised and honoured. I give a lot of importance to my readers opinions of my books (I completed the second book of THE MIST series amidst a lot of input from the readers of the first book)…and I may say it here that I know that real readers, avid readers don’t usually take the time to go out there and rave about a book they have just read. At least not local readers. As a reader myself I know that I am not much of a reviewer, so I understand it when local and even international readers rather find me to tell me what they think than post reviews on sites or vlogs…I know they are the real deal and so just trying to reach me to tell me directly what they think is so much more important to me. But I do request them that if they really liked my book, could they please post a review on the site they got my book as well? And when they agree to do so and even take the time to do so, it humbles me all over again.
What do you think makes a good story?
Any story that has characters that are life-like and plotlines that grip the reader is a good story. Personally I do not enjoy too many details…I feel they derail me off the focal point, and maybe it is because I have become an impatient reader or because I am a screenwriter, but I also try to write lesser details now, compared to my older books that had a bit of poetic almost lyrical descriptions going on (which my readers loved)…as you will see in my latest book A NOVEL…I wrote A NOVEL in 1999, a time in my life when I still had high hopes and a lot to look forward to. It was a time when I wrote four books simultaneously, because I just had so many ideas and they all needed to get out. If you compare that writing style to THE MIST series, which I wrote in 2013-2015, you will see the change in style, in tone and in the genre itself.
I think recognizing that a story has a life of its own and letting it write itself out, choosing its style, tone, mood, and genre brings that whole world to life, and readers sense it. If a reader is immersed in the world you have created enough to like or even dislike that world or the people in it, you have accomplished the feat of making a good story.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I think it is the need to write a best seller…that damages the actual writing itself. Instead of creating something pure, original and uniquely you, one would end up manufacturing an artificially constructed story that can be felt by the readers: fanfiction apart, I wouldn’t write/mimic something that is popular. Not if one wants to be a writer because one loves writing and making up new worlds. I mean to me being a writer is something that I loved to do and be. I never really cared about being a best seller or famous…although of course who doesn’t want that, but it is not my priority here. My priority is to create original stories that can be enjoyed and appreciated by someone, anyone, out there. It is also to be able to bring the truth to light even if I have to make it a part of fiction…as I did with THE MIST series as well as A NOVEL…and that is what my local readers loved about them and what my international readers found intriguing about my books.
As I mentioned above about good storylines, really, bringing any character to life or any world to life is an achievement in itself: if the reader reacts to your story enough to talk about it, then you have something there. Readers can only feel so much if the story gets to them, otherwise they would just put down the book and not even talk about it. The fact that they were made to feel so strongly about something in your story means you have the ability to be a writer and you have the ability to move people through your books. Now you need to figure out how to write and what to write to move them in your favour. J
Find your niche: for example I loved mysteries and crime novels and thrillers. But when I wrote I found myself writing more about character driven stories than plot driven thrillers or mysteries. I seemed to write literary fiction oriented books more naturally. The genre, the pace, the world, the dialogues, the stakes are all completely different from your fast paced crime genre novels, and yet there I was…as I let my pen do the writing, it created a completely different world, with melodious, poetically descriptive lines and light wit, life drama, like my latest book A NOVEL, and I for the life of me couldn’t steer it to the dark, moody, world…if I tried it seemed forced and just so bad, I dropped it. But then a time came when I could and I did write a very fast paced, dark, moody and psychologically intense novel: THE MIST. This is the next trap aspiring writers should avoid: thinking they have to write only one genre and stick to it. We are writers. Creating new worlds is what we do. Creation is all about knowing when to make new rules. Every single writer in history has written books of different genres, even if they chose to do so under a different name, like Agatha Christie and her romance novels. Some writers even changed genders when writing a genre different from what was expected from them.
So: 1. Find your niche and 2. Get ready to change it whenever the opportunity knocks on your door. Mix it up, write anything and everything…see what you enjoy writing about the most and continue until something else comes along.
I began writing children’s adventure stories, then early teens, then adult related themes…it was perfectly normal as I grew up and it was natural. So go ahead and experiment and find out what is you.
A break…any break and my writing is destroyed. I was known at my university during my Masters, when I was studying script-writing, as the fastest writer ever. My teachers said they had never seen anyone produce so much content in such little time. Little did they know: once I start writing I cannot afford to stop lest the flow is broken. Once the flow breaks, it just isn’t the same: that particular tone, vocabulary, style cannot be brought back again with ease. And I could forget. So, before I forgot whatever was going on in my mind, I had to get it all out then and there.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Yes. I have been suffering from reader’s block for almost a decade. It has been a struggle reading and I found myself forcing myself to finish books that I would normally finish in 2 days or read through the night. Strangely the only books I could read were my old favourites from my Agatha Christie collection. None other. And this was right after I had forced myself to get over my writer’s block. Now I basically suffer from both and I know the only reason behind it is the lack of peace and contentment, my inner peace has yet to be retrieved for me to get anything done. Still, I manage to write something every now and then and I do try to read even if it is a little bit at a time.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
I have written over 40 novels half of which are series and the other half are just stand alone novels. So it really depends. I think what I really want is to be able to have something for everyone: for kids, for young adults, for women, for thriller lovers…because I was all those things, and am, you know. I was a child growing up and I loved reading and I felt children could use some more books especially children of my region, from one of their own local writers, and my first book that was published locally was just that. I was very surprised that it sold well. I was even more surprised when adults told me they loved it as it reminded them of their childhood and Enid Blyton stories. Then I was a young teen, in my early teens, and again it was natural that I would start writing books which had characters of similar ages to mine. When I was in my teens and late teens I found myself writing character oriented life adventure bildungsromanesque books (with a twist of crime/adventure) about women in their 30s and 40s…A NOVEL being one of them. So each book had its own story to tell, its own world and its own charm. I hope to digitize them and work on them some more and finally bring them to light. Although as a reader I love series, as a writer I seem to prefer and appreciate singles…a single complete body of work…it gives one a sense of… completion.
Well, I’m sure that you’ve won over a huge number of new fans! How can they connect with you?
I am on many social media sites, and I’d love to hear from my readers! A great venue is through my website, but I’m also on FB, IG, GoodReads…!
And now a special treat, an excerpt from A NOVEL!
Nain Tara walked alone in the dark night. It was dark yet it was comforting. The night of February when leaves stirred with rustic noises as the wind blew suddenly, wrapping everyone and everything around in its cold, but inviting embrace. She was alone, yes, but she didn’t mind it. She knew at last that she was safe. She had suffered long and severe, but she had had light pleasures too.
‘H’m!’ she exclaimed sarcastically. ‘Romance within war,’ and now she smiled ruefully. ‘But I am safe,’ she acknowledged to herself silently. ‘And I am sad.’
She choked slightly. She waited for tears to pour down her cheeks but it didn’t happen. She nodded slowly.
‘Good. I’m strong now.’ Or had her tears just dried only to be replaced by blood if she’d tried more.
‘Forty five years of my life,’ she thought. ‘Enough to have seen life itself. Enough survival to sit back and see what I’ve accomplished. Of course I’m strong. Anyone who’d gone through the struggles of survival is strong. But it’s not the realization of this power that makes one survive, it’s just the need and the acknowledgment that you either die or stay and face the consequences, be it of your acts or another’s. And dying, killing yourself is cowardice—scary, rather. Needs too much strength in that too.’
She continued walking. ‘Just because one knew my story (if I told them) doesn’t mean I’m the limelight of the situation. It only means there are many more like me—the world’s filled with them. I’ve seen two races and so I am a witness to the facts. The Indians and the British. Yet both act so superior—hollow in that.’ Then she snorted. ‘Why am I thinking of this anyway?’
But she couldn’t stop. The smell of her burning house still filled her nostrils even as the chilly breeze swept by her enticingly.
The screams that rang out were deafening; flames shot up everywhere. The screams were prolonged and were she, a little child of ten, not so scared, they would have been very irritating for they were constant; they were horror filled, they spelt death and terror.
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