Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Interview With Shaheen Ashraf Ahmed: An Author With A Superb Cause

She has three books to her credit, published in 2012. She is an avid reader and belongs to literary fiction/ historical fiction genre. She is none other than Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed who is going to interact with us today talking about her life, philosophy and aspirations.

Hello Shaheen, tell us about your journey from India to England.

I spent the first few years of my life with my grandmother in India before moving to England to rejoin my parents. Since my first language was Urdu, I had to consciously learn English as a young child; this deliberate effort made me someone who studies and collects words carefully. Over my childhood and adult years, I have made several trips back to visit family, but my last trip was a long time ago, before my grandmother passed away. The separation makes me feel like I am missing an old friend.

How was your literary bent as a student visible during your school days?

I started writing poetry in my primary school and was selected to join a gifted creative writing class. It was incredibly affirming to be in a community of readers, as young as we were then, who felt as passionately as I did about language. In my secondary school, I won a national essay competition about life in India, which was held by the Indian High Commission in England; my prize was a tour of India and my essay was published in the cultural magazine Nadopasana One. Later, I had my poetry published in the Cadbury's Book of Children's Poetry and, as an adult, in Tomorrow magazine.

You have lived in many countries. Where have you finally settled now?

I have lived in India, England, Scotland and France before moving to America, where I currently reside with my family. I feel as if I have a visceral connection with each of these countries now; each former home has left a trace upon my heart. I'm very excited to go back to England this summer and am planning a detour to Scotland. I am looking forward to sharing the incredible sights of Scotland that I grew up with as a child with my own children. I hope to take them to spend time at the bay near Edinburgh, where I spent countless hours skipping stones in the water, watching sea-lions basking in the early morning or sitting quietly to spy on the hermit crabs and anemones in the rockpools.

You write for a very noble cause. What is that?

I work as a grant writer by day, raising funds for a social service agency that serves victims of domestic violence. It is a difficult but very rewarding job, and it really puts my skills as a persuasive writer to the test. I am honored to work with people who are so passionate for the rights and dignity of survivors of domestic abuse and they inspire me to instill my writing with that same passion.

I began writing fiction fairly late in life, after focusing on raising my children.  My daughter nudged her into returning to creative writing, my first love, by questioning whether I had fully explored my potential in this arena. That is a difficult thing to hear from your child, but so galvanizing. I realized that I had to set an example to my children, by exploring my talents to their fullest. In addition to feeling fulfilled by giving my love of writing its fair due, I have been overwhelmed by the positive response I have received, both from readers and other writers; they have kindly extended every help possible to me, from sharing advice about how to build my author platform in social media, to inviting me to make a guest appearance on their blogs. I want to thank you too, Jaideep!

How your parents influenced you and that got transformed into your writings?

My parents' generation was made up of the doctors and engineers who resettled in the West in the 1950s and 1960s. After witnessing their sacrifice, I became interested in the cost of emigration to the West for Indian and Pakistani citizens and the repercussions for ideas of identity, community and connection among second- and third-generation Indians in the Diaspora. In A Deconstructed Heart, I consider the strain which emigration may place on family structure and social support. In The Purana Qila Stories, I explore the impact of exodus on the loyalties and identities of my characters and the intended and unintended betrayals involved in leaving loved ones behind. My parents' love and longing for India influenced my writing in another way: my mother always told me stories about her childhood in India, and those stories sparked a love in me of telling my own. India is figuratively my "Mother country" because of how my mother's experiences have colored and shaped my response to this warm, colorful and rich place.

Tell us about your work as an author?

I am the author of three works: my debut novel, A Deconstructed Heart (literary fiction, available in print and for the Kindle, published October 2012) and a historical fiction short story series: The Purana Qila Stories (available for the Kindle, published November and December, 2012), which includes A Change in the Weather and The Dust Beneath Her Feet. I am currently working on the next story in the series and hope to complete it in the next month or so. My work is currently under consideration by literary agents.

What are your goals for 2013?

I hope to complete The Purana Qila Stories series, and release the combined stories as a single collection in print and in ebook form. Then, I'm very excited to consider my next novel, which will be a more contemporary work. I have not fleshed out the idea yet, but I am looking forward to losing myself in a long story with multiple subplots. I hope my readers enjoy it too! I also have work to do to continue to gain exposure for my writing. As a classic introvert who loves to sit "under a rock" and get lost in my stories, this is certainly a challenge for me, but it has led me to cross paths with some wonderful people, so I look forward to enriching my life with new connections.

Book links
A Change in the Weather (The Purana Qila Stories)

The Dust Beneath Her Feet (The Purana Qila Stories)

Other Links

Twitter handle@hailandclimb


From Amazon:

A Deconstructed Heart:
"The "deconstructed heart" of the title concerns the disconnection between a husband and wife, but could also be a stand-in or metaphor for the disconnection within a family separated from loved ones in a former homeland, or between old and new cultures. The author has a fine sense of style, with a wry sense of humor, rich images, and skillful use of simile and metaphor. Writing this good is rare." O. Barnack


Shaheen Ashraf-Ahmed is the author of A Deconstructed Heart and The Purana Qila Stories series, which includes her e-book titles: A Change in the Weather and The Dust Beneath Her Feet. Shaheen won a national essay competition about life in India held by the Indian High Commission in England and has had her poetry and prose published in the Cadbury’s Book of Children’s Poetry, Nadopasana One and Tomorrow magazine. Shaheen lives in Chicago with her family. To follow her blog, click here

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