Interviews

“Don’t let your fate decide your destination”: Lareb Soomro

Lareb Soomro is Sindh’s youngest novelist. She is a student of matriculation (tenth standard) aspiring to qualify for Chartered Accountancy and to earn a Nobel Prize in the field of Literature. She talks to MOIWrites in this exclusive interview

Lareb Soomro lives in Larkana and studies at the Indus Girls College, Larkano. She says, “I am ambitious in whatever I do and love to read, write and deliver motivational speeches. I have earned many accolades in debates, writing, hosting and singing competitions. When I was in seventh grade, I had a dream to show my abilities to the whole world. At the age of fourteen, I started writing when I gradually began knowing myself. That is my life’s greatest achievement yet. My great supporters are my parents. I do not have that much experience but some of my words inspire me and one such sentence is: “Don’t let your fate decide your destination.” Contact Lareb at: Lareb Writes

 

 1. How does it feel to be the youngest novelist of Sindh?

I want to thank Daastan for giving me the platform to display my skills. At an age when people are not aware of their abilities, I am blessed to have found a purpose of life and the title of Sindh’s youngest novelist.

2. What is the name of your novel? Share a brief synopsis of it?

The name of my novel is “The Secrets of Spring.” It is a horror and suspense novel, which is based on a girl named Spring. It is a magical story and the horror part does not include ghosts. You need to read the novel to find the reality. The story will take you to the world of broken mirrors where you will find it difficult to find the path back home. It has six episodes with each episode ending on a question. The biggest secret of the novel is about a Diary, which is always with Spring, but no one knows what is in it.

3. How did you develop an interest in writing?

Since my childhood, I had been hearing ‘do not become a writer’ because one cannot lead a comfortable life in this field. I decided to modify their thoughts. I began reading Daily Dawn’s Young World and started writing my poems, articles, and poetry in English. I continued my writings and then decided to create a page on Facebook where I can share my words. My passion to write led me to write a novel.

4. Which novels did you enjoy reading?

There would be a huge list of novels so it is better to share my thoughts about one novel. My favorite novel is “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho for it gives a great lesson to believe in your dreams, to learn from the nature of the universe, and to think about things in a different way.

5. What motivates you to write?

A spark of inspiration from my soul is enough to motivate me. I observe the world and I find the inspiration. My mind is free to wonder—to focus nothing else but silence and the words and ideas stumbling, swirling and dancing in my mind. Most of the times I just need a word or a phrase to think about as it deepness and later I use it in my writing.

6. What are your academic and writing plans?

I will complete courses in literature and want to achieve the highest level of studies in this field. Moreover, after matriculation, I will work to gain admission in CA. I will continue writing to console the depressed souls, to inspire the wondered minds, to encourage the hard workers and to eliminate the roots of negativity.

7. What message will you give to aspiring writers?

Rule your thoughts or they will rule you. Always try to understand the power of words because words have the power to make, shake and destroy the world. Always replace your negative thoughts with positive ones and believe in yourself. Be confident about what you think and spread the sparkles of light with your words in the blank pages of the world.

Sajal Shaikh has co-written “The Secrets of Spring” with Lareb Soomro. Sajal’s interview will be featured at MOIWrites next month.

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Interviews

The future Electrical Engineer of Pakistan: Roshaan Shaikh

An intelligent 12-year-old boy, Roshaan Shaikh from Karachi, who aspires to become an Electrical Engineer, has created a remote-controlled car with the guidance of his father. He talks to MOIWrites in this interview.

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1. Tell us about yourself?

My name is Roshaan Shaikh. I am 12-years-old. I live in Nazimabad, Karachi Nazimabad. My hobbies are cycling and reading books.

2. Where and in which class are you studying?

I am studying in ‘O’ Levels at the Army Public School, Saddar, Karachi.

3. What are your favorite subjects?

Mathematics and Science

4. What was your inspiration for making this car?

My inspiration behind building my own remote-controlled car was the new Honda Civic 2018. I was inspired by its brake lights and the exterior design.

5. From where did you learn to join circuits and create a remote-controlled car?

I gained information from the Internet. My father also guided me and supported me by providing necessary equipment and materials required to build this remote-controlled car.

6. What do you want to become when you grow up?

I want to become an Electrical Engineer.

7. What is your message for students of Pakistan?

Always take interest in studies, respect your teachers, explore your hidden talent and polish your skills.

MODIFYING HIS BICYCLE

Roshaan Shaikh also altered and modified his bicycle. The alterations included installation of Ignition, Headlight, Backlight, Stand buzzer, Horn, and Indicators. These all are operated by 4 volts battery. And all the circuit are joined by his own efforts. Roshaan looks forward to one day convert his bicycle into a motorbike.

Interviews

“Ignite the passion to educate the masses in your hearts”: Mahnoor Naseer – Editor-in-Chief, Daastan.

Mahnoor Naseer is a Citizen Historian at The 1947 Partition Archive. An electrical engineer by academic qualification but with literature filled in her heart, she talks to MOIWrites in this exclusive interview about her life and career, passion and plans.

1. Tell us about yourself?

So, as you know already, my name is Mahnoor, it is from a Persian-Arabic origin which means Moonlight. As beautiful as it sounds to many, my name is not unique at all, but I personally believe that it is not the name that makes a person unique but the characteristics they possess. Therefore, I find myself inimitable in my compassion of doing every single thing in life as if it matters the most.

I come from a middle-class family and was brought up in the shelter of unconditional love of my hardworking parents, for whom self-respect was more important than money. My parents are a real-life example of the ideology that what you cannot achieve for yourself, provide it to others. They have given me more than anything that I ever asked for. All that they lacked in their lives, they have given it to me.

Professionally, I am an Electrical Engineer and serving as a research intern in Military College of Signals, Rawalpindi. Besides that, I am also the Editor-in-Chief, Daastan and a Citizen Historian with “The 1947 Partition Archive”. I very recently started working on a collaborated project of UNDP and SIL as a research writer and transcriptionist.

Apart from these boring details that build me up, I am an avid reader and an aspiring writer. At times, I even play with colors and try my hand at painting. I enjoy sketching. I also collect stamps, coins, and naturally, bookmarks. I would also define myself as a foodie who loves testing out new cuisines. So far, nothing has won me over like Chinese food.

I am rather a “pick-and-choose” kind of a person when it comes to making acquaintances or befriending people. One of my strongest policies is being straightforward to the point that sometimes, I feel I will end up hurting someone but I try to be as careful as possible.

2. You are the Co-Founder of The Ancient Souls. What are The Ancient Souls about?

In August 2016, along with a group of friends from abroad, I decided to do something different, something that would be outside the limits of the mainstream. To set up the platform that not only promotes written works but literature as a whole.

Presently, many people have restricted the definition of literature to possessing good writing skills and having read the well-known books. The concept we wanted to nurture through our platform was rather broad: “Anything that involves words, art, and the true colors of humanity is to be known as literature” — not talking of the genres or the major forms here but sticking to the basic definition of it.

Therefore, we had three sub-goals; to protect the said definition of literature, to promote peace through literature by dissolving all the human barriers, and to innovate. The three sub-goals combined to serve one major goal that was to create a platform to empower aspiring writers, photographers, and artists across the globe.

Currently, we are operating as a community of around 15,000+ members across the world. We also published our first annual anthology in 2017, which secured the honor to be Daastan’s very first international publication.

3. As the Editor-in-Chief at Daastan, what are your prime responsibilities?

Besides editing, I have to review all submissions in the light of Daastan’s set policies. I have to coordinate with my sub-editors in assigning them tasks, reviewing those tasks once completed, have the final drafts ready and pass them on to our website management team.

Overall, I have to ensure that the team stays as hospitable and encouraging towards the authors as possible; because it is the budding talent that we mostly deal with, and that they do not overstep any of the company’s predefined policies.

4. Which authors from Pakistan and abroad are your favorite?

Talking of the international authors J.K. Rowling will always be at the top of my list for obvious reasons. I really enjoy reading Sylvia Plath, Khaled Hosseini, Stephen King, Elif Shafek, Sydney Sheldon, Sarah J Mass, Sabah Tahir, Nicholas Sparks, and the list goes on.

The Pakistani authors that I really like are Abdullah Hussain, Hashim Nadeem, Omar Shahid Hamid, and Nimrah Ahmed. I know people have different views about Nimrah’s writing style but I love her scenic portrayals and the choice of words. Here, I have mentioned the authors from modern literature only because those from previous generations, as far as I have read them, were all maestros in my view, like Manto, Patras Bukhari, Bano Qudsia, Ashfaq Ahmed and many others, and I am yet to discover that era of literature in a broader way.

5. Which are your favorite novels?

Okay, I will not mention Harry Potter here because that is like blood to my body. I love “The Kite Runner”, not just for the sake of the book, but also because of all the book-based movies that I have watched,” The Kite Runner” seemed to be the best one of them. Even Harry Potter movies did not approach me on that level of perfection.

So, reading a book and loving it, and then watching a movie based on it and loving it the same way, has an impact on the way my imaginations works after I finish reading it. You know, I just wish we opened a book and all characters danced in front of us. It is a childish thought, but I am a firm believer in miracles! My other favorites include; “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath, “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank, “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi, “Rose Madder” by Stephen King, “The Throne of Glass Series” by Sarah J. Mass, “Forty Rules of Love” by Elif Shafek, and “Amar Bail” by Nemrah Ahmed.

6. You have been responsible for editing manuscript entries in Daastan’s Stories Untold competition. How has the experience been for you?

Season 2 of the Stories Untold was the point where I officially stepped into this literary world as an Editor. Roller Coaster is the best word to describe my journey during those days. My main role was that of a project manager. However, later I became an Editor, a job I had never thought of being capable to do. On a minor level, I was already doing it at TAS, but this was different as at Daastan, here I had  to mentor  the aspiring authors.

In my life, my biggest advantage has always been my perseverance. When I decide to do something, I do it. There is no turning back or quitting, I never quit unless something is hurting my self-respect.

So, when Daastan offered me to be an Editor, I said okay, I can try it but expect errors because I am new to this, and the errors did occur, I have learned a lot from them and still am learning. To my surprise, everything worked out well. Three of the four people that I mentored during that season made it to the top six, and the fourth one is an exceptional author, Muhammad Omar Iftikhar, who keeps on exploring various genres, he is also the winner of NaNoWriMo 2017. I am lucky to have been associated with such remarkable talent as Bhaskar Paul, Neeraj Brahmankar, and Abhirun Das.

Here, I would like to thank Aimen Siddiqui, Director Content, Daastan, I have learned a lot from her. I would like to thank Sidra Amin, Co-founder, Daastan, for my professional training. Syed Ommer Amer, Founder, Daastan, is also a great mentor and I am blessed to have these people in my life.

7. When editing manuscripts, what key problems did you realize the aspiring writers were facing?

Talking of the writers from Pakistan, here I will start counting the issues from the root to stem level i.e. from what is wrong within to what is wrong on the outside.

The first and foremost problem is writing for the sake of becoming famous or earning money. I personally believe that one should write because they love it not because they want to earn through it. That “Greater the reward, the best the input” philosophy does not apply here. It is a different world with unpredictable possibilities. Therefore, restricting yourself to a monetary reward is not a good idea.

Second, is overconfidence. It prevents them to absorb criticism down their skin. Therefore, talking of my experience here, I did come across some new writers who were not able to accept any kind of criticism on their manuscripts just because some XYZ friend said they have written a masterpiece. I would like to tell those friends that you are not doing justice with your comrade; you are rather becoming a core reason for their downfall when they step into the real world.

Thirdly, coming to the stem level now. There are good writers who open-heatedly accept criticism but lack professional guidance. Most of the publishing companies have proficient degree holders in literature from foreign universities who lack the sense of commitment to educating. In that case, where should a writer with a brilliant story idea but weak language and grammar skills go? Because, you know, the parameter set here to judge a story is not the story idea, it is rather the language skills.

In a society where to be able to speak English is considered as a massive feat, people who go abroad for studies return to Pakistan and look down upon the locals who have yet to develop their English communication skills. Why cannot they return to Pakistan and educate those who aspire to become better?

It is my request to everyone, especially the literary squad, that instead of demotivating the local talent by pointing their language mistakes, try to figure out how this issue can be resolved. In addition, in the quest to do so, even if a manuscript with a great storyline but with a few errors goes in the market from your hand, never hesitate. This is the same ideology that we are working with at Daastan and The Ancient Souls. A lot of criticism does come our way, but that is okay when the authors are satisfied. We are trying to educate them as best as we can and will continue to do so.

8. As an editor and a mentor, what message will you give to aspiring writers enabling them to become better writers?

Read books, lots of them. Reading is the fuel to a writer’s mind; it will keep your imaginations in constant motion and will let you create brilliant stories. In addition, it will help you improve your language, familiarize you with new words, help understand the tenses and narrative styles in a better way.

Also, make it your habit to learn one new word from the dictionary per day with its meaning in your native language. Install Merriam Webster Dictionary on your smartphone and learn new words on the go.

Make yourself comfortable at rough writing. Do not get into the formalities of editing right at the time when you start writing. First, write what you want and do not let the thought of making mistakes hinder your flow. Once you are done writing, read the whole thing at least 10 times — trust me the new aspects that you will come across are limitless, and after finalizing it from your end, ask at least three people to proofread it for you. For the most productive reviews, look for people outside of your friend circle.

Last and most importantly, open your doors to criticism, be it good or bad, no matter what people throw at you make yourself habitual of grasping something fruitful out of it.

9. Your message to the youth of Pakistan?

Ignite the passion to educate the masses in your hearts, never look down upon anyone, never allow anyone to crush your self-respect, make empathy your greatest tool to deal with any challenge that life puts ahead, don’t promise someone something you cannot do for them, grab the opportunity when it knocks your door — don’t ever think of any job as little no matter how higher a qualification you have achieved. Never stop thinking, creating and trying.

Never quit, remember if you did, 20 years from now, when you will see a friend who despite of failing a hundred times didn’t give up and achieved something big out of sheer hard work, you will hate yourself the most. Quitting in my view is shameful. So, never do anything this shameful in life that in your future it makes you hate yourself, see you are not aware of the day you wake up and all this guilt from the wrong things you have done in your previous life will clasp your throat to suffocate you in all the unwanted ways.

Do what you love, don’t compromise your ambitions, and if you are not able to achieve one thing set a new goal for yourself. Explore, the universe has a lot to offer, you never know which string is bound to be your way towards success.

Interviews

“Sometimes, simple concepts when written from the heart can be impactful too”: Safwa Mir

Aspiring to be a Criminal Psychologist, Safwa Mir, Editor at Daastan, CEO of SafwaMirWrites and Research Writer at UNDP Pakistan, talks about her career goals and her journey as an editor in this exclusive interview to MOIWrites

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1. Tell us about yourself?

I am a final year student of BSc Psychology, who aspires to be a Criminal Psychologist one day that has her name in the literary world as well. I am the fourth born to a military father and a house wife mother. I belong from Islamabad, but have Kashmiri roots. Since, I was a young girl, I have been an avid reader courtesy my parent’s love for book reading. I have always been of the belief that one’s life should be spent productively, so that whatever minimalistic act they do, it is worthwhile. Personality wise, I am a conscientious and an extrovert person with a love to know everything about anything.

Due to this, my academic and professional life has a good amount of achievements. These include, straight A’s in my IGCSE’S and A Levels, merit scholarships throughout my university life, two research publications underway as a co-author, Editor at Daastan, CEO of SafwaMirWrites, which is my  own private company and Research Writer at UNDP Pakistan.

I like sketching in my free time, reading articles, learning languages and collecting quotes from the books I read.

 2. As a freelance research writer for UNDP Pakistan, what are your prime responsibilities?

My work as a Research Writer at UNDP Pakistan involved different duties that were dependent on the social project I was doing. Some projects involve transcriptions of interviews of leading CEO’s and owners of businesses in Pakistan or entrepreneurs as part of a research survey. Other projects include writing research-based articles on the leading social issues in the developing country and proposing suitable solutions for dealing with them. Recently, a project involved following up a case study of a young victim of domestic abuse.

I believe that by being a part of an international organization such as, UNDP Pakistan, it is a big step that I have initiated towards the betterment of my society, even though currently it is equivalent to a droplet of water in an ocean.

 3. You are an editor at Daastan. What aspect of editing do you like?

I like to point out the potential in any manuscript that is assigned to me and incorporate ideas with the writers/authors to discuss the prospects of how a certain storyline can be further improved, instead of rejecting it. I have always been of the belief that any written piece or manuscript should never be rejected. Also, I like to point out the importance of the use of contextually appropriate and correct vocabulary in any written piece. One thing I have recently began pointing out is the difference between a written narration and a spoken narration writing style, that a lot many Pakistani writers and authors confuse between.

 4. How has been your experience of working with Daastan been so far?

Daastan was the first literary platform that I joined, almost 3 years back and I have since then been in a two-way learning process with Daastan’s team. I have learnt about professional behavior and the work-related issues that arise in an online space, and also, to understand the different perspectives and ideas one has towards the same area of interest. But, most importantly, I have learnt that there are people out there who have beautiful ideas, exceptional story line and an eye for the simple, cliché yet extraordinary things in the otherwise mundane routines however, they lack the proper guidance in penning it down. I am glad that Daastan gave me the opportunity to work with such people, to teach them and in return learn from them to0.

5. You were an editor at Daastan’s “Stories Untold” competitions. Which stories did you like reading or editing the most?

I was an editor as well as a content reviewer for the two of the three “Stories Untold” competition, and to be honest I cannot pinpoint any one story that I liked the most. There were certain stories that left an impact on me more than others. However, all stories in their essence were a pleasure and real delight to read.

There were certain stories that I liked editing and putting in effort, not because they were full of erroneous areas but only because I felt they needed a bit more polishing just because the storyline was new and something I haven’t come across in a while. The stories that I still remember are all of different genres but still impactful, include, “Talismore’s General Store”, “Kingdom of Dereya: Aitmaad and the Clan of Seven”, “The Blemished Perfection” and “The Glass Ceiling.”

6. Editing requires concentration and diligence. How do you keep yourself focused when editing?

It is true, that editing is a work that requires one to have a scrutinizing eye yet to be open towards any sensitive topic or storyline that is being used as a central theme. It is hard to keep one’s biases aside but not entirely impossible. I always prefer to do justice to any manuscript assigned to me only to respect the feelings of the author/writer who has put in their heart and soul in that work. This is why I always go through any written piece at least three times.

I make time for the work that is assigned to me, I free my mind of any queries and perceptions and then I read the entire manuscript initially once just for a general impact and to assess whether there are any confusing areas or unanswered questions. I put it aside for a few hours and then get back to it again the second time to correct the sentence structures, grammatical errors and any basic editing that is required. This is because, I believe when you fix the correct English or narration, the story automatically brings the flaws to the surface and highlights the transition of scenes.  The third time, I go through the manuscript is with the intention of suggesting any plot changes or character descriptions and any other addition or deletion of content. However, I keep the true meaning of the writer/author because at the end of the day, they are the ones who envisioned it and know better how to express it, while I am there to facilitate them. Again, I never intend to reject any work or any manuscript solely on the reason that, ‘it is not good enough’, or ‘it’s not unique’ or ‘it’s too basic’, which mind you I have come across a lot of such comments from within the editorial circle.

7. Which novels/novelists have inspired you the most?

The list, my friend, is endless about the novels that have inspired me and the novelists who I aspire to become. My inspiration is divided in two phases. One involves the period where I had begun reading novels including Enid Blyton series and the classics by Jane Austen, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, etc. which were my first companions. I can proudly say that my love for being a writer sprang from reading these stories. The second phase involves the period where I graduated from the Enid Blyton series to Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings series, etc. to all the novels by Dan Brown, Jeffery Archer, John Grisham, Mario Puzo, Luke Delaney, Elif Shafaq, Khaled Hosseini, and many more.

The way these writers made you envision exactly what they had in mind and to experience the same feelings is what I believe makes an incredible writer. This is what I aspire to do too.

8. What do you think are the similarities or differences between writing and editing?

The two overlap one another in many aspects but I believe that everybody can be a good editor but not many can be good writers. It’s true that to be able to edit something, one needs to know the basic rules of writing too but it’s nothing impossible or difficult to do. However, to be a good writer, to be able to make the reader imagine the same things that you have while writing, to be able to relate the reader with their character is something exceptional and to be able to inculcate the same feelings that the writer felt or the character feels is extraordinary which is a talent in itself. Not many are capable of this.

Major confusion that many of my mentored writers had was that to edit a manuscript is equivalent to re-writing the entire plot or storyline, or to re-write the whole scene again. To me, editing is a compound of two words, correction and suggestion. An editor corrects the grammar, sentences, tenses and vocabulary use, furthermore, suggesting any changes in plot or scene improvisations. In no way, does the editor become the writer while performing their duty.

A writer is someone who is the content generator. He/she is the author of the original idea, the plot, the story line, the characters and the scenes, and only they have the discretion of accepting or rejecting changes as suggested by the editors. There are always exceptions depending on what company policies there are and how sensitive is the central theme at hand.

9. What are your plans?

My plans in the near future involve higher education in Forensics studies, Criminology and Literature, alongside, expanding my freelancing business. However, establishing my own literary agency and working on more on ground social projects in the distant future is another goal I wish to achieve.

10. As an editor and a mentor, what message will you give to aspiring writers enabling them to become better writers?

My message would be for them to firstly, acquire humbition in themselves. By having humility and ambition in their attitude and as part of their personality would not only help them be more open to observe their surroundings to get inspiration but will also provide them with the opportunity to learn more. I have seen countless aspiring writers with exceptional writing skills yet they lack in humility and are less open to learning from others. Humility alongside ambition will be their driving force for success in the literary world.

Secondly, to be open to criticism from people on their written work. I will not classify the criticism as healthy, because sometimes crude criticism gives the added oomph for the writer to work better and harder however, chose certain individuals as constant critiques and even ask a stranger who has a little bit of experience for a third opinion too.

Thirdly, to know your forte and your strength areas. If you are better at fiction writing then polish that, or if you are a master of non-fiction and more factual/history related areas then go for that. This will only be possible if you test out each area and genre. Hence, don’t be afraid to test the waters, and write to the best of your ability. But do get it reviewed! Reading more and diverse literature can help too.

Lastly, do try to keep things real and simple while writing. You don’t always have to be unique in choosing the storyline or to have a novel plot. Sometimes, simple concepts when written from the heart can be impactful too.

Contact Safwa Mir:

Work e-mail: safwamirwrites@gmail.com

Work account: https://www.meraqissa.com/SafwaMir

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/

Interviews

Dr. Shema Bokhari: “Learn to evaluate your surroundings and apply that knowledge to evaluate your own soul!”

“All of us are traveling through different phases of our lives. A good traveler is the one who understands all the mechanics of this journey” says Dr. Shema Bokhari in this exclusive interview to MOIWrites

1. Tell us about yourself?

I am an Assistant Professor. My doctorate is in Communication and Media Management while Masters was in English Literature. I had been teaching for more than 18 years now. Currently, I am teaching at a university in North Cyprus. Earlier I used to teach English language/literature to O/A Level students in BSS and LGS in Lahore. At a personal level, I am a writer. Although I do not have many publications to my credit, I AM a writer! It is not just writing that defines me. Many ‘hobbies’ actually drive me and do not let me sleep at times. I guess that is what makes me a helpless romantic.

2. For how long have you been living in Cyprus? What are your activities there?

It has almost been 7 years now. Since it is an island, you cannot indulge in many big city-type activities. However, if you are an adventure lover then this place is heaven. Normally on the weekends, I go for long walks. These walks sometimes turn into an hour-long hike or just a stroll down the beach. I am so lucky to have my apartment in such an ideal location: there are mountains at the back and the beach just down the road.

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3. Share with us about your teaching experience at the Girne American University?

This university has given me a diversified international experience. I have students from Asia, Europe, Africa, Africa and Central Asian states. Sometimes it becomes overwhelming. Sometimes we have to face the issues related to cultural differences. However, the most amazing part is when you interact with people from different regions and you practically see all the stereotypes shattering right in front of you.

No! Indians are not bad people. No! Russians are not cold-hearted people. No! Arabs are not shouting all the time. No! Not every African country is living under the poverty line.

Therefore, teaching these kids and interacting with international colleagues has taught me a lot at a personal and professional level. I have learned to accept and respect the basic human differences. No single human is supposed to be better than the other. My religious beliefs are not supposed to be imposed on others. I must not judge any other individual based on any feature which does not conform to my society. We must embrace the beauty and diversity of life.

4. In which subject have you completed your Ph.D.?

Communication and Media Management

5. Researchers are also avid readers. Apart from academic reading, which novels have you read?

Ahhhh!!! That is a wrong question from a reader who was labeled as a “reading freak” even when she was a kid. I have read from Chaucer to Shakespeare, Milton to Hardy, Lawrence, Zadie Smith, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Kurt Vonnegut, Huxley, Golding, Nabokov, Kerouac, to Elif Shafak. I really cannot name all the books that have left a mark on me.

In any case, I can never do justice to what runs in my mind. When I read ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ I was blown away by the exquisite beauty with which Thomas Hardy described everything. And I ended up reading all his books. My first essay of Huxley was such a learning experience that I had to read every possible work by him. Reading short excerpts of Khalil Jibran was never enough. I ended up buying a book of his complete works. I still have the full collection (BIG books) of Shakespeare and Wordsworth. So, you see I cannot mention only one book.

6. Which novels and authors are your favorites from around the world?

Elif Shafak, Mohsin Hamid, Arundhati Roy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez…… Again a wrong question from a nerd like me!

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7. For someone visiting Cyprus for the first time, which tourist spots you would recommend them visiting?

As I said earlier, it is an island. There are beaches. We have beaches that you have seen in movies like ‘Ma Ma Mia’ and all those Indian movies. We have five strategically located castles, which were built centuries ago. And of course, there is trekking, walks on the beaches and water sports. The old city centers are the reflection of the Ottoman culture. Some ruins like Salamis reminds you of great Roman and Greek empires. Camping on the sandy beaches and turtle beaches are also a fun activity.

8. Share with us your writing journey and your plans?

I have been writing for as long as I remember. The first acknowledgment I received was on my poems and essays. Thanks to Daastan, my first short story, “Earthlings the Weaklings” was published. Now I am working on few projects but I will keep them confidential.

This writing journey came naturally to me. I guess if you are interested in reading then the writing part comes naturally to you. Another important factor that contributes positively to a writer’s life is the personality. If an individual does not have a sensitive soul, if he has not felt the life around him, if he has not taken the negative events of his life and turn them into opportunities; then that individual will produce writing like a mass product coming out from a factory. If readers are unable to see the ‘life’ in your writing then you are really wasting your time.

I believe, my life and circumstances have contributed a lot. It’s not a small feat to survive in a very limited environment with such an open mind. It’s not a small feat to leave the secured environs of your home as a single girl and survive in a totally different world. I am eternally thankful to my Lord for letting me experience every single hurdle of this life, which has nurtured the writer in me.

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9. What are your hobbies?

Travelling, photography, some sketching, sometimes doodling and of course, reading.

10. Your message to the youth of the world?

All of us are traveling through different phases of our lives. A good traveler is the one who understands all the mechanics of this journey. Learn to evaluate your surroundings and apply that knowledge to evaluate your own soul! The rational balance of internal and external journey will give you eternal happiness. And what are we working on in our lives? Simple, finding happiness out of every situation.

Interviews

Sidra Amin: “When you love what you’re doing, you never really get tired!”

Sidra Amin, Co-founder, Peshawar Book Club and Overseer, Young Women Writers’ Forum (YWWF) – Pakistan, talks about her career, passion and various literary activities she happily indulges into in this exclusive interview with MOIWrites

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1. Tell us about yourself?

It is very hard to talk about yourself when it is not being done in metaphors and there’s a word limit. I am just a 22-year-old, trying to impact everyone’s perception of planet earth and earthlings by focusing on empathy and kindness. I talk a lot, and I am very loud when I know I am making sense. I usually smile a lot, and it is not on purpose.

Currently, I am leading Young Women Writers’ Forum, Pakistan which is working to empower women writers in Pakistan. I am also a co-founder at Daastan, an award-winning literary platform working towards promoting and publishing literature. I co-founded Peshawar Bookclub and Words & Metaphors, KP’s first spoken word platform. This seems like a lot of responsibility, however, when you love what you’re doing, you never really get tired. I write and read most of the time. It is what keeps me happy. As a person, I am always cheerful, and always laughing. God is kind to me. Also, I am a healthy food enthusiast but I end up eating cakes and chocolates whenever I am sad.

2. How did the Peshawar Book Club come into existence?

We arranged a Bookay meet up in 2016, and a mutual friend told me he would like to do this more often. One month into it, and I found myself and Sameed, someone I was meeting for the first time, sitting among a book readers talking about “Forty Rules of Love”. This is how the book club came into existence. We did not have a plan, just an agenda of adding value to our meetups. Today, we have come a long way, my co-founders Sameed and Zarak have been the constant force behind the growth of this Book Club. We have arranged 22 book meetups since April 2016. We are just a bunch of people trying to bring some sane thoughts on the table over a cup of tea while the entire world is in chaos.

3. As Co-Founder of the Peshawar Book Club, what are your responsibilities?

My only responsibility is to talk and talk and talk. And trust me, the members hate me for this! I am usually moderating, and trying to get as many book readers on board. Peshawar Book Club is the chilliest place, my safe home, my escape from the everyday mundane routine.

4. You are also Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief at Daastan? Share your experience of working with this publishing platform?

I am no more the Editor-in-Chief at Daastan. Someone who is way better than me, my mentee Mahnoor Naseer, is now the Editor-in-Chief. I am Director Events now, focusing on managing activities on the ground. I joined Daastan when I was kick-starting my work with non-profit companies. And this was a step-up for me in every capacity, both personal and professional. I was 20, young, and just unaware of what was out there in the big bad world. Daastan was where I encountered things. Ommer, the founder grilled me by making me do things I did not have any experience of completing. He exposed me to work that has helped me learn more about myself. He put his vision and my ideas together to create Qissa– Pakistan’s first online self-publishing platform. My journey with Daastan has been nothing less than an adventure, nights of insomnia, and a lot of happy moments. Daastan gives me a reason to be happy every day.

5. Share your experience of working with Young Women Writers’ Forum (YWWF)- Pakistan?

Let’s accept it, in this society, a woman expressing her thoughts sounds like an oxymoron. When I joined Young Women Writers’ Forum (YWWF) back in 2014, it was just Young Women Writers’ Forum, Peshawar, a sister concern of Pak Women Writers’ forum. The aim of the forum was to empower women writers to voice their thoughts. A few months into joining the forum, I was selected as Press Secretary. We worked really hard, and in 2016, I was selected as Overseer to lead Peshawar, Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore chapters. That was a huge step for me. I was very young, and the presidents of all these chapters were way more experienced than me. YWWF, Pakistan is real work. We are a non-profit, so the work here is really hard. Our team comprises four cabinets, each consisting of different volunteers working day and night to make a positive difference in Pakistan. In my tenure in YWWF, we have arranged over 50 events on the ground all across Pakistan, including nationwide story writing competitions, international mentorship programs, and national and international mushairas. We have a huge network of women writers. And the forum is nothing less than a blessing for me because I can start all my initiatives here as all the four cabinets are extremely strong, and the writers in each cabinet are very passionate.

6. You were awarded the “Innovative Initiative” award at the Innovative Youth Awards 2017. Tell us about this achievement and for what project were you given this accolade for?

“Innovative Initiative” award was a surprise. I did not know I was nominated by my co-founder and my mentor Syed Ommer Amer. God is kind and always blesses us with the best. We need to keep moving forward.

7. Your future plans?

I do not plan my future. I have never done that. I just make impulsive decisions based on facts and figures and usually they fall in place. I do not say it is a good approach, but this is just how I am. I do not have any future plans for now. I am just going with the flow.

8. You earned a degree in Mechatronics, Robotics, and Automation Engineering from the University of Engineering And Technology, Peshawar but your heart is in writing and reading. How do you manage to work in these two distinct fields?

I did NOT want this question here! LOL I think when you know where your heart is, it is easy to work. Earning a degree in Mechatronics was a passion, and Alhamdulillah, I have been able to put that dream into reality. Writing and reading cannot parallel it as they are a part of me. There is no competition between the two even though at every stage of my life, I have been made to feel there is. Both are equally important. I love automation. I love working in the field. And if God wills, someday I might pursue a career there.

9. As Editor-in-Chief of Daastan, what do you think are your top 5 picks of short stories submitted by writers to the three editions of “Stories Untold” competition?

I will be very honest, I only read the stories of season 3. And I absolutely loved every one of them. We had over 50 stories, I believe. And so many of them had potential. If I had to pick 5, I would go with these:

1. Memoir of a Lost Odyssey by Bhaskar Paul
2. True Justice by Naveed Shehryar
3. The Mirror Trials by Rachel Kallembach
4. Kingdom of Derya: Aitmaad and the Clan of Seven by Muhammad Omar Iftikhar
5. The Mulberry Murders by Abhirun Das

10. Your message ton aspiring writers?

Two things keep me going in life.

1. Write every day. No matter how bad you write, do not stop writing, and never let anyone stop you from doing so. Writing every day only improves your skills, even if you are just writing about your daily experiences in your diary.
2. God and the universe always rewards you for your hard work. If not in the ways you want, then in ways you can never imagine. Keep working, keep taking baby steps, and see how good things will come your way.

 

 

Interviews

Sonia Mukhtar: “When my imagination envelopes me, unknown characters become alive!”

“When you write, reflect who you are. This is the respect we should give to our writing” says Sonia Mukhtar, an author, and a practicing Counseling Psychologist.

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1. Tell us about yourself?
I do believe in operational definitions and that if we can define ourselves, we might be able to get on the journey of ‘know thyself’. I am a practicing Counseling Psychologist by profession and by person I am a disciple of minimalism and functionalism in body and soul. I am a practitioner of mindfulness with meditation especially sketching, Yoga and Gyan Mudra. I am a motivational trainer usually conducting workshops and in groups. I am a debater and a writer of essays, poems, short stories, novels. I believe in climate change and nature taking its course. Nature offers serenity to me: greenery of forest, blueness of sky and water, darkness of mountains and airiness of breeze freely touching my spirit – ironically its déjà vu as I am far away from these features but I live with hope of experiencing this one day. I am passionate, compassionate and dedicated in whatever I do.

I am a certified counseling psychologist with certifications acquired from UK, Australia and Pakistan. I am currently serving as a visiting faculty at the Institute of Clinical Psychology, University of Management and Technology, Lahore. I am also a consultant counseling psychologist at DIN News program ‘Crime Watch Daily Live’. My 7 years work experience encompasses from mainstream schools, colleges, universities, organizations, drug addiction and rehabilitation centers to children residing in slum areas, IDP’s and street children, runaway teenagers, juvenile delinquents, and destitute women residing at Darul-Aman.

2. Since when are you writing?
Writing is a streaming reason for living, rest is just living! I was an avid reader and I liked reading when I was 5-years-old, I remember when my Pakistan Studies teacher, Ms. Sadaf, gave me a book and the first time I get to know that “oh, there are other books besides course books.” It did trigger something in me, I kept reading my brother’s books, I picked up a newspaper and read it, I bought books from the little (literally little) money I used to have. I wrote my journal at the age of 5, I wrote poems by the time I was 15 and I have been participating in writing competitions since 2010. Since 2016, I am writing awareness based articles on psycho-social, cultural or global issues for different magazines. I believe I am an apprentice in a craft where I am merely a learner and it will take long before I become a Shifu (Master).

3. How was it to be the winner of the Stories Untold Season 3 by Daastan?
I live and breathe words. The ecstatic experience I felt I cannot explain. My first book “Fall of Autumn” was published by Daastan which was the story about the struggles of a woman suffering from PTSD and striving towards Post-Traumatic Growth. The book I wanted to read was not written yet so I decided to write one. It was not the winning story but I felt a winner for it was my first first published effort. However, the winning story “Kahan Jibrail Ki” was about grief and bereavement. If you once had a tear in your eye or a smile on your lips, then the story serves its purpose. When my imagination envelopes me, unknown characters become alive, strangers become friends, unshaped objects form into thoughts by the readers reading my words.

4. What was the name of your winning story and what was it about?
“Kahani Jibaril Ki” was my 2nd short story published by Daastan and won the first prize in the “Stories Untold” competition held by the publishing house. It was about the grief and bereavement, the story of which revolved around a child who began a journey of 5-stages of grief and bereavement from denial, anger, bargain, depression (sorrow in laymen) and settled at acceptance. Grief is a magical emotion out of all emotions, as it does not change anyone, it reveals the inside out.

5. You also completed 50,000 words at Nanowrimo 2017 and were a winner. How was the feeling?
75, 000 words to be exact! Writing this novel made me feel that I own a galaxy inside of me. A galaxy of characters, plots, stories, imagination, fantasy, creativity, empathy, regard, truth and congruence. I was honest with my emotions and characters. Reading my own words makes me feel the warmth and existence of unexplained things in this world: sometimes afraid, sometimes brave and mostly feeling of gratitude for the gift Allah has bestowed upon me.

6. Briefly share with us the story you wrote for Nanowrimo 2017?
The title of my novel was “Our Exile is One”. It was a psychological-thriller. It was a story about three handsome young men living together who were polar opposites of each other. This story provides a perspective of issues faced by men but hardly acknowledged in society. Men too face abuse, molestation, rejection, abandonment, grief and bereavement, hurt, pain and trauma. How men too are put down, expected to maintain the perfect concept of masculinity and the struggles they have in their lives. This story shares a unique perspective discussed not often but it does exist.

7. As a writer what do you like doing? Writing or editing? And why?
This is a very interesting question! Writing is my passion. It is what I do! Writing makes me feel alive. We all have different purposes and different reasons to write. For me, writing gave my life a purpose, I feel like I am not born to spend days and die. I have an obligation and this commitment is even bigger than the ultimate responsibility of a counseling psychologist as ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. If Almighty Allah bestowed me with this ability and enabled me to express with my words then I must do it. For me, editing has a different dimension because while editing I have to think from the writer’s perspective. As a counseling psychologist, I guess I am equipped with sympathy and empathy simultaneously so it assists me in editing other’s written work.

8. Who are the authors from Pakistan and from abroad are among your favorite?
I have different dimension of fondness in literature and art. I am a science-mind and art-heart person so my taste in music, literature, arts and performing art has idiosyncratic attributes. Raja Gidh might be my first book of Pakistani authors and I immediately fell in love with Bano Apa. From Bano Qudsia I got to know about Ashfaq Ahmad and his Zavia changed my zavia about life. Fouzia Saeed’s ‘Taboo: The hidden culture of a red light area’ was one of the most intriguing books I ever read from a Pakistani author. Khatija Mastor, Kishwar Naheed, Iqbal, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Wasif Ali Wasif, Parven Shakir, John Elia, and Obadullah Alim are one of the best authors I have read so far.
I have never liked anyone more than Shams Tabrez and Rumi. There was a time when I was an avid reader of only Rumi but then it dawned on me then his light was burned from Tabrez. Paulo Coelho, Nicholas Sparks, Stephanie Meyers, J. K. Rowling, and Jane Austen’s every book I have read. Shelley’s Frankenstein; Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Dostoyevsky’s Crime And Punishment; Doyle’s series of Sherlock Holmes; Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Boyhood; Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles; Bronte’s Jane Eyre; Brown’s Angels and Demons, Da Vinci Code, Inferno; Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, The Curios Case of Benjamin Button, Tender is the Night; Henry’s The Last Leaf, The Gift of the Magi; Flynn’s Gone Girl; Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird; Moyes’ Foreign Fruit. Woolf, Bronte sisters, Wordsworth, Angelou, Wilde, Frost, Cummings, Poe, P.B, Shelley, Mary Shelley, Eliot, and Rossetti are who I adore and have read so far.

9. You are also Associate Editor of The Clinical Psychology Magazine? Tell us more about the magazine?
I was an Associate Editor of The Clinical Psychologist Magazine. We aimed to raise awareness regarding psychological and social issues of the Pakistani society. Being an article writer, my focus is to write about issues that are overlooked or are not talked about openly. Previously I wrote on Domestic Violence and Shadows of Perception, an article and a poem respectively in volume 1. In volume 2, I wrote about Parent-Child attachment and the eminence of this issue. Currently, I am taking a break from editing in this magazine, I will re-join for volume 4.

10. What message will you give to aspiring writers?
If they are aspired then they already are writers. I would just say ‘when write, reflect who you are’. This is the respect we can give to writing.