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.

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Interviews

Tooba Arshad: An emerging author; an aspiring editor!

“It is true that one should write for themselves, and I do, but there are times when that just is not enough. There are times when you need people to understand why you do what you do” says Tooba Arshad in this exclusive interview. 

Image source: Tooba Arshad

Tooba Arshad is the author of “Unveiling the Unknown” a mystery thriller and dark fiction, which revolves around a 16-year-old Pakistani girl, Reeza, who has been kidnapped owing to a case of mistaken identity. The setting is spread over two continents, and the plot deals with international crime, intelligence agencies, crime mobs, self-discovery, family ties, and most importantly, character building. The novel has everything; from nail-biting suspense and reality-based action sequences, to a rather dark yet warm theme.

Tooba’s novel has been published by Daastan Publishing.

Click here to view Tooba Arshad’s Facebook page.


1. Tell us about yourself?
I think of myself as a passionate individual with diverse interests. I am a dedicated writer, a student, an unorthodox teacher, a motivational speaker, an aspiring editor, a born skeptic, and an obvious ambivert, with a strong personal moral code.

2. When did you start writing?
As far as I can remember, I have always been a writer. I do remember the first time I was appreciated for it though. I was 10 years old and studying in grade 6. I wrote seven short poems in a fortnight to impress my English language teacher. Although that was the only time I tried my hand at poetry until recently, I have been writing since then.

3. Share your experience of when you became a published author?
It was a long, exhausting, and frustrating ride…but in the end, I guess it is always worth it. I have been luckier than most, because I no longer feel that all my efforts are for nothing. It is true that one should write for themselves, and I do, but there are times when that just is not enough. There are times when you need people to understand why you do what you do. And I have never felt so accomplished as I did when my work finally got published.

4. “Unveiling the Unknown” is your debut novel. What is the story about?
“Unveiling the Unknown” is a mystery thriller, it is dark fiction, which revolves around a 16-year-old Pakistani girl, Reeza, who has been kidnapped owing to a case of mistaken identity. The setting is spread over two continents, and the plot deals with international crime, intelligence agencies, crime mobs, self-discovery, family ties, and most importantly, character building. The novel has everything; from nail biting suspense and reality-based action sequences, to a rather dark yet warm theme. In a nutshell, “Unveiling the Unknown” is not your usual mystery novel, but a life and death kind of story.

5. What challenges did you face when writing the story?
I was in a dark place when I started writing that novel. I had recently finished college, and my family was going through some tough times. Writing was my distraction, and probably the most selfish thing I have ever done. My biggest challenge was disconnecting myself from the fictional world, and making time for my loved ones. And when I finally did, it took me days to get back into that mindset again. Another challenge was continuing to write, when I was sure there was no point to it. When I was halfway through my novel, I had started searching for platforms to showcase my writing and was severely discouraged by the experience. But, it was the timeless love and endless support of my friends and my family that kept me going despite everything.

6. You were writing a book and focusing on studies. How did you manage these two distinct aspects of your life?
It is always a matter of priorities. For me, they keep cycling between the two. It is hectic, for sure, but I am determined not to give up either one of them. It helps, though, that I have been a multitasker all my life.

7. Who are your favorite Pakistani authors?
To be honest, I have not read a lot of literature written by Pakistani authors. But pieces by Ibn-e-Insha and Mushtaq Ahmed Yousfi are a welcome sight.

8. Where do you see yourself ten years down the road?
Life is unpredictable, and so are my choices. That is probably why I have not thought out my life that far. It does not matter how far I would have come then, or what I would be pursuing. All that matters is my passion, which I hope will grow as my personality does.

9. Writing requires persistence and imagination. How do you find the inner peace to write?
It is the other way around for me; I write to find that peace. My mind is constantly raging conflict, and writing helps settle it down a bit. That is all the motivation I need!

10. What message will you give to aspiring writers?
Keep at it. Even if you do not see a possible future, even if the process is frustrating, even if the circumstances are discouraging. Find it in you to rise above all that. Because, trust me, there is always a silver lining. Writing can work wonders in helping you grow as a person, and that should be your best accomplishment. Do it for yourself!