Welcome to Clubhouse Chat page. Those of you who are not a member won’t be aware that the location of the Clubhouse is shrouded in mystery. The only way to visit it is via membership or an invite to the tearoom. Every few days, I’ll be sharing a conversation with all sort of writers and authors at different levels of their writing careers. Over tea and cakes, or maybe a glass of something stronger, I shall be chatting with my guest about their work in progress, or latest book release.
Today in the tearoom I’m talking to Umair. Umair Mirxa lives and writes in Karachi, Pakistan. He is the Creator/Editor-in-Chief of Paper Djinn Press, and has had his stories accepted for publication in several international anthologies. He is a massive J.R.R. Tolkien fan, loves everything to do with mythology, fantasy, and history, and wishes with all his heart that dragons were real. When he’s not writing, he enjoys reading novels and comic books, playing video games, listening to music, and watching movies, TV shows, and football as an Arsenal FC fan. Welcome Umair. Let’s order our drinks first. What would you like to drink?
Thank you for inviting me, Paula to the clubhouse tearoom. It’s quite the journey, getting here. Especially during winter. I think I could shake off the cold and be ready for a chat if I could have a cup of strong, black coffee without sugar, please.
Now we have our refreshments let me ask you when you first begun your writing journey what drew you to your chosen genre?
For me, I think, it was the other way around. Of all the stories and books I read early in my life, if I hadn’t discovered the fantasy genre, I might not be an author today. I write, more than anything else, because I was fortunate enough to read the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The elements involved in fantasy writing – all the characters and creatures, the epic adventures, and entire worlds sprung from an author’s imagination – are still as astounding and awe-inspiring to me as they were when I first stumbled upon them.
Consider dragons, right? To me, they are the greatest product of the human imagination, right up there with the written word itself. Where most people marvel at scientific/technological innovation and advancement, and all the “progress” humanity has made, I remain forever in awe of what the ancients accomplished: the stories and ideas in such mythologies as the Egyptian, Greek, Persian, and Norse. So, I’ll write a bit of everything now and then, from sci-fi and horror to crime and romance, if I fancy a particular anthology/submission call but my first and greatest love will always be the fantasy genre.
Tell us a little about latest writing project. Is it a new idea, or one you have been mulling over for some time?
I work on several projects all at once, so if I’m stuck on one [which happens rather more frequently than I like to admit], I can always switch to another, and hopefully [ideally] make steady overall progress. The latest project, I guess, is a coming-of-age story about two people who begin on separate but somewhat parallel paths, even as circumstance conspires to bring them together for a series of shared adventures. It’s not really a new idea but fairly recent compared to some of the other projects I’ve been working on for years now.
How many unfinished projects do you have on your computer?
Oh, I have lost count, haven’t I? Let’s see. There’s my magnum opus, of course. I have a sci-fi/fantasy space soap opera. There’s the one with the vampires. The coming-of-age story I already mentioned. A pre-historic family saga. The alternative-history Viking account as defined by magic and fantasy. And there are always a few short stories here and there, some of which I manage to finish and submit just before the deadline expires.
Do you write a synopsis first or write the first chapter? If you only write short stories, do you plan your story or let the characters lead you?
A bit of both, really. It is extremely rare for me to know how my stories are going to end when I begin writing them. I have a few projects for which I wrote an entire synopsis first but never for a short story. At other times, a random thought or a song lyric or a piece of dialogue will spark an idea, and I’ll write down a scene which spawns an entire story.
One day, I woke to the line, ‘Balthazar had never really been attracted to redheads’, playing on my mind like a half-forgotten song. The next day, it had transformed into a flash fiction story eventually published in an anthology, and then a magazine. Today, it is a novella near completion, which I hope to publish soon.
Were any of your characters inspired by real people?
Several, I think. Most often, it’s a deliberate choice but it has happened subconsciously too. I’ll give my characters traits and habits I’ve observed in the people around me, and on occasion, one character will turn up too similar to a specific, real individual. Of course, I have characters modelled entirely after real people too. A few of my closest friends have insisted on making appearances in my epic fantasy story, and I’ve obliged by giving them the coolest characters I could imagine.
What did you learn when writing your book? In writing it, how much research did you do?
More things than I could ever have dreamed of learning. I have studied mythology, history, geography, physics, law, politics, art, and music, and so much more – all in the name of research, and so I could create a credible fantasy world. I’ve read books and watched documentaries on how medieval life worked, how to build an impregnable fortress, which military strategies to use in specific battle scenarios, and what plants and animals might be found in various regions and climates.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Oh, I’m afraid I am not disciplined enough to have an actual schedule but I do make a point of writing something, anything, every single day. It could be one line or several, a few pages or a complete short story. If the mood takes me, I write for days on end with nary a break, doing just enough of everything else necessary to keep me alive. Conversely, I can procrastinate for weeks, and have to drag myself kicking and screaming to the keyboard so I can jot down random ideas.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Yes. Long and hard, and quite often. It was “suggested” to me how I will never be successful as an author if I used my real name, and that I should adopt a white, Christian name as a pseudonym to have any chance. And I did consider it for a long while because being an author is all I have ever wanted. Still, I’ve never been one to conform, especially to such ridiculous ideas. I hate it when I see people doing just that or when female authors use initials and/or pseudonyms to hide their gender.
I figure if you’re not going to read my work because of my name, I don’t want you reading my work under any name. So, I might earn a little less or fail to be “successful” in the final telling but I wouldn’t have bent to hate and prejudice.
How do you select the names of your characters? Do you know everything about them before you start writing their story?
I maintain a database of names I’ve created by stringing together random sounds and syllables, and each name is assigned a culture/nation from my fantasy world. Additionally, I trawl websites for baby names and use fantasy name generators, collect them all in a spreadsheet, and use them accordingly. Some names I’ll tweak to make them more appropriate for fantasy stories or I’ll use a name from Greek mythology.
My characters and I usually have a chat session, much like this one, over a few cups of tea and coffee where I learn about them everything I can. On occasion, however, a complete stranger will show up, and barge their way into a story, only slowly revealing tiny details about themselves along the way.
How long on average does it take you to write a book or story?
The fastest I’ve ever written a published story, from idea to submission, was a 5k-word piece in 30 hours. On average, I spend 2-3 days on each short story – from when I decide what to write to final edits, and submission to a publisher.
If I could bring myself to stick to a single project at a time instead of several, I reckon it would take me 3-4 weeks to write a novella. Instead, given my process and workload [which has included launching my own publishing house 5 months ago], it has taken me almost 8 months to bring my current novella to near completion.
Thank you for joining me today, Umair. If you want to know more about Umair’s writing or books click on the links below.
If you want to find out more about Clubhouse Member’s Books don’t forget to check out the Clubhouse Bookshops too.