Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Author Interview: Zeenat Mahal: Author of Haveli and The Contract

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(Intro as taken from Goodreads) Zeenat Mahal (@zeenat_mahal) is an avid reader and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She has an MPhil in English literature from Government College Lahore and is currently doing an MFA in creative writing from Kingston University, London. She won a BBC short story competition in 2001 and has been a regular contributor to newspapers. 
Running out of Ink, another international online magazine has published her short story, The Accidental Fiancee in their August 2013 issue.
Zeenat has eclectic tastes and an insatiable desire to learn. Her romances are a heady mix of the traditional and the contemporary, old world values face the challenges of a shrinking globe that impinge upon and help shape South Asian sensibilities.

‘Haveli’ and 'The Contract' are Zeenat’s first two published novellas. Currently she is working on a novel.
Indireads is an e-publishing venture and they have published two of Zeenat Mahal's romance novellas.
Your real name and pen name?
I'm Faiqa Mansab. Zeenat Mahal is my pseudonym.

Please share some of the best memories of your childhood.
Watching movies, and binging with my younger sister. In those days we didn't have DVDs, so we watched the programs on TV, like Remington Steele, Mission Impossible, Tanhayian and Dhoop Kinarey. Spending the day with my best friends Sehr and Fatima. Talking to these two on the phone for hours on end about complete rubbish that was life or death for some reason. Having the new year's eve annual bonfire at Sehr's place, dancing and laughing like crazy over every little thing.

About your education?
I did Senior Cambridge from Convent of Jesus Mary, Lahore. I took Bachelors in Arts from Kinnaird College and was awarded The Amjad Chaudhry Gold Medal in English Literature. I went on to do Masters in English Literature from Punjab University. I took an Mphil in the same from Government College University Lahore. I'm currently doing the MFA in creative writing from Kingston University London. 

What career did you plan during your education days?
I always dreamed of being a writer but as a compromise with reality, I was an English teacher for several years.

What languages you can speak and write?
I'm fluent in Urdu, Punjabi and English. However, I cannot write in Punjabi.

What is your biggest source of inspiration in life.
My faith and my amazing sons.

What hurts you most in this world?
Betrayal of trust. I find disloyalty an appalling trait.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced? Were you able to overcome it? How?
I lost my younger sister to cancer in 2006, and then my mother passed away in 2010. I didn't realize it then, but I've been struggling with psychological and emotional upheaval for the last ten years. The discovery that Arooj, my sister, had cancer and then the five years of chemo, hospitals, surgery, sometimes seven in a year was traumatic. Coming to terms with her deteriorating state and the knowledge of her impending death was very hard. It changes you. The pain never goes away, you miss them every day. How do you overcome something like that? I'm grateful for the people whom I love and I still have in my life and I've learnt how important it is to value every good thing in your life because nothing lasts forever.   

If you had to live a day of your life as anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
It would be Jacqueline Kennedy. I admire that woman so much, for her style, her courage and the dignity with which she coped with everything in her life. She lived a very full life and she lived it with grace. 

What is your favorite genre and why?
There isn't just the one. I enjoy fantasy, children's literature, romance and literary fiction. I have no idea why, I just do. 

When did you start writing? What is the purpose of your writing?
I started writing seriously around the age of fifteen, and I used to send my stories to newspapers and magazines. I don't think art needs to have a reason to exist, and anything that is creative, is art. Perhaps, art exists to give pleasure and to touch something within us that craves recognition outside of itself.
This novella is written in first person and introduces a lesser known face of Pakistan.
Which of your work has been published so far? 
I've had two novellas published by Indireads. One of my short stories was published in The Missing Slate, in June and then another piece in September. Another short story was published by Running Out of Ink in their August issue. They later selected the same for their Best of Anthology.
The Contract is Zeenat's second romance novella published by Indireads.
What are your forthcoming writings?
Indireads has another of my novellas under consideration. I'm also writing a full-length novel in the strain of literary fiction. An excerpt from it was published in The Missing Slate.

What are your future plans?
There's nothing I enjoy more than writing and reading. I hope to continue to do that. I'd like to travel a lot more around Europe and Central Asia.

What are the four top most things you take care of while writing a book?
I think point of view is crucial. One must choose the most effective voice to tell the story. I like my characters to be strong people with a sense of humour. My heroines must achieve self-knowledge if they don't have it already. I try to avoid adverbs and adjectives because they're used only when the verbs and nouns aren't strong enough. I try to show rather than tell the story, which means avoiding exposition for one.

Your dream destination on Earth?
That's difficult because there are so many, depending on my mood. I love travelling and seeing new places. I love Tuscany, Paris and Rome. I'd love to visit Jaipur in India.
The marriage of convenience plot is one of Zeenat's favourites.
Your origin of birth and other countries you have visited/ stayed. What were the things you liked in these countries around the globe?
I'm from Pakistan. I've been to Italy, France, Dubai, Austria and a couple of other European countries. I lived in England for a couple of years and then in Australia as well. Architecture fascinates me. The older the better. Art museums were my favourite haunts. I practically lived in The National Gallery, Tate Modern and the Courtauld Gallery in London. The entire day I spent in the Louvre wasn't enough, of course. I admire the way culture and history is preserved and guarded in the Western world. It's not something we see in our part of the world, which is a shame because our architecture and art is worth fighting for and preserving. We have a very rich heritage of both. 

Your favorite time of the day?
Mornings. The day is still full of promise. It's like a monochrome picture to do what you will with it and fill in the colours of your choice. Daunting and exciting at the same time.

Your zodiac/ sunsign?

Your favorite color and why?
Red and cobalt blue. Polar opposites I know, but that's just me. I guess they're both happy vivacious colours.

Your favorite book and why?
It's impossible to name one, when so many have left their mark on me. The few that spring to mind immediately are Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, The Solitaire Mystery, by Jostein Gaarder, Faulkner's The Unvanquished and The Last Samurai by Helen Dewitt. These are the most important landmarks in my intellectual map.

Your favorite celebrity and why?
Audrey Hepburn. That woman personified class.

Your favorite food?
I love our desi food. Sarson ka saag is my absolute favourite.

Some quickies: Sun or Moon? Sun. 
Laughter or Smile? Laughter.
Morning or Evening? Morning.
Coffee or Tea? Coffee.
Mountain or Sea? Neither.
Long Drive or Short Drive? Long Drive.
Silence or Conversation? Silence.
Water or Fire? Fire.
Air or Earth? Air.
Mars or Jupiter? Jupiter.
Tulip or Rose? Tulip. 
Red or Blue? Both
Left or Right? Right. 
Glance or Stare? Glance.
State your signature line/ tagline/ best quote.
Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. (Confucius)

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