Welcome to my guest page. Here, every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation, over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, if they are not driving, with a friend about their work in progress, or latest book release. I’ll be talking to all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers.
Welcome to the Clubhouse Tearoom, Azra,
I am sorry for a delay, Paula, but I was lost on the way.
It’s understandable as the clubhouse site is off the beaten track. As you know we like to keep the Clubhouse location secret. Oh yes, what drink would you like, Azra?
Can I have a cup of black coffee please, with less than a pinch of sugar. That will help me to stay awake after a long drive and all that stress of taking a wrong turn, only if it’s no a big hassle, please.
Now our orders are in lets start by asking you, when you first began your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
Well, I started writing when I was a teen, I can recall when my first article was published in a local newspaper, back in 1992, I literally read it at least 20 times, I liked my byline, but I kept thinking I would have made it better. It was on local environmental issues, amazingly that article received really good feedback. And that encouraged me to write more. Well, I studied journalism because I wanted to be a voice for may women.
I do not have any set genre, because I do write fiction and non-fiction. But I’m more into non-fiction, it may be because of my journalistic background as non-fiction is based on facts and figures and real-life stories.
What writing elements do you think is your strongest points, and what would you like to do better?
Ummm, what is my stronger point? The question is do I have one? ‘joking’ my stronger point is research, I love it, and can conduct very thorough research quickly and easily. I mostly spend my days in Cambridge University Library and just read. In fact, I create a mind-map or wire frame first, it’s like creating a jigsaw puzzle and then finding the pieces to complete the picture. This way I can do more research in a short time. I always find it very amusing.
Well, there are many, but one that I am sure is my weakest point reading and editing my own work. I find it very challenge and many times it makes me give-up the whole project. Another equally important weak point is when I am working on a fiction project, I find it hard to name my characters. I get so fussy about how their names should sound.
I am working on it, and hopefully, I will overcome these very annoying weaknesses.
Tell us a little about the latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
Thanks for asking Paula, I just published my book ‘WFH During Pandemic and Beyond, It is a comprehensive guide on working from home. This was an idea because of the present situation we all are facing and in which many people are forced to work from home. Now I am working on another project which is my second book, again non-fiction, and it’s a very unique idea, again relevant to the present conditions and a part of my profession: What is a cyber attack, and how to stay protected- it is on cybersecurity issues and it is a brand new idea.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter? (If you only writing nonfiction, short stories, or play or poetry) do you plan your story ( poem, project, play etc), or let the characters lead you.)
It’s a very interesting question, and very vast too. Let me capsule it in a few sentences. When I decide to work on a writing project, I create a linear-map, and wireframe, for example, I write down 20 questions, then I pick best ones and divide them into chapters, and sub-chapters, I research about each question’s answers, and this way each and every chapter progresses to completion.
When I’m writing fiction, I do create a linear map, which is slightly different than the one I create for non-fiction. Instead of writing question and finding their answers, I write down characters, and draw a sketch for each character, and describe in words what that character is like. What he or she will do in the story and that way it progresses to writing chapters and sub-chapters. But there’s always a space for uninvited characters who just appear from nowhere and create loads of vibration or trembling into the smooth sailing of the story.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
Yes, its something I can’t avoid, my characters are from the real world or slightly inspired by the real people.
What did you learn when writing your book (story, play or poem, nonfiction)? In writing it, how much research did you do?
Ah, I love research and do intensive research before planning my writing. It’s funny many times I over research and then scrutinize and find it could be for two different projects.
Is there anything about you your readers might be surprised to find out?
I don’t know, but there are a few facts about my life that readers from the west might find very strange, for example, when I wanted to study and my family was against it, ( I was the first girl from my family who studied to a university level- all without my parents’ consent) I was preparing for year 10 exams when my mother burnt my books because she wanted me to fail, but I still pass.
Another thing was when my family wanted me to marry I was just 18, and I wanted to study, I was made to marry with Quran- the holy book- it is a tradition in the province of Sindh- Pakistan, where a girl is forcefully married with the holy book- it is like taking an oath that she will never marry to a man, or have any relationship in her life. It’s little similar to what nuns were committed to in the olden time. I grow up with that belief that I shouldn’t marry because I have sworn on the holy book.
Up to the age of 30, I believed that I was married to the Quran and was not allowed to think about marrying a man. Even though, I was very independent back then. However, I was working as a journalist and had visited many countries too. My elder sister who is like a motherly figure to me was the one who changed my mind by calling it a fake tradition and preparing me mentally for having a normal life.
Well, please allow me to tell you that such Quran marriages are prohibited in Islam, but, it’s just a man-made tradition in many societies, to deprive girls’ from their fundamental rights. I am thankful to my sister who supported me in my education and enabled me to be what I am today. Now every girl from my family is studying freely and is supported by their family.
(You and I, Arza have spoken before about how important it is for girls to be educated.)
Did you uncover things about yourself while writing your books, whether that be a long-forgotten memory, a positive experience etc?
No, I don’t, because I have a fear that other people, like my family and friends, might not be pleased about it.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I do write in the morning, I find it more creative, and can write for hours, and before going to bed. It’s very therapeutic and helps me to unwind at the end of the long tiring day.
How long on average does it take you to write a book ?
Well, my last book ‘WFH during Pandemic and Beyond,’ I wrote in one week, but editing took three weeks. Non-fiction doesn’t take much time, as it’s mostly on facts, but fiction, oh, I haven’t completed my novel yet, and its more than two years.
It has been lovely to be able to sit here and chat with you, Azra. We must do it again soon.
Thank you so much for having me, I really enjoyed it. Also thank you for my black coffee it was just right to my taste.
Azra Syed’s website is found here