Please join hands with me to welcome, our second author from Pakistan – Natasha Ahmed. She is the debutant author of the novella – Butterfly Season, published by Indireads. This is a ground-breaking story. Though, I have yet to read this novella but experts have been praising the efforts of the debutant creation since the date of book release.
I am confident by the time, I will publish the book review for Butterfly Season, she must have earned manifold fan following by then. Wish you luck Natasha.
BNI: Tell us something about yourself and your background.
Natasha: Natasha Ahmed is a pen name. I created it to avoid awkward questions of religion and morality that I expect to arise once my book is released. I’d like, therefore, to say as little as possible about myself. I will tell you that in real life, I’m a graphic designer, an editor and a businesswoman, and I live in Karachi with my husband and several cats.
BNI: So, What all you have written / published till date?
Natasha: Under my own name, I’ve written several articles and art and book reviews for magazines in Pakistan, a few blogs, and one short story. As Natasha, this will be my first book. However, I will also be featuring on Illiterat.com and have been blogging regularly for the past month on my own blog: dearrumi.com
BNI: What inspired you to write your first book and or this book?
Natasha: Naheed Hassan. If she hadn’t pushed me, I would never have tried. She has a way of breaking obstacles down and giving you the confidence you need to do something as challenging as putting together a whole book.
BNI: A 30 word tagline for your book
Natasha: If you had a choice between giving up your family, going against tradition and culture or giving up love, which would you choose?
BNI: How did you come up with the title?
Natasha: It’s based on a Pakistani ghazal: A Journey Through Sand by Ahmed Shamim. The song is in Urdu (Kabhi Hum Khoobsurat Thay) but I have a translation at the back of the book. One of the defining lines in the song is ‘let us depart to the land of butterflies and fireflies’. The title just came naturally once I decided that butterflies were the book’s leitmotif.
BNI: Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
Natasha: Everyone should. Well, women over 25, for sure. I hope Muslim and Pakistani women will identify with it, whereas others should find it an entertaining love story (fingers crossed).
BNI: Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
Natasha: My main character is Rumi. She falls in love with Ahad, and because she sleeps with him, she has to choose between a family that will no longer accept her, or a man who may or may not stay with her. In the end, she creates her own third choice, which is something that takes a lot of courage.
BNI: What was the hardest and easiest thing about your latest release?
Natasha: Marketing it, by far! Getting reviewers to read it, getting readers to notice it. These are ebooks, not as easy to stumble on to as a physical book in a bookstore.
So we authors have to shout in the chaos of the Internet just to have a reader give our book a second glance. We’re not just competing with other books, but also with information-overload in general.
BNI: Is there a message in your book/novel that you want readers to grasp?
Natasha: That our personal, religious convictions aren’t open to debate or censorship. How I choose to conduct my life has nothing to do with anyone else, unless it harms him or her in any way. Then my choices matter. Otherwise, give me advice, but let me make my own mistakes.
BNI: Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Natasha: It’s my first book. Thus far, everyone has been very kind and encouraging.
BNI: When and how did you decide to become a writer? Do you write full-time or part-time?
Natasha: I write in between work. I don’t know if that qualifies me as a writer. I’m still a designer in the real world, so it doesn’t feel like it! I think I won’t become a writer until the book is released.
BNI: Which writers inspire you?
Natasha: So many! Asimov, Tolkien, George Martin, G. B. Shaw, Anne Rice, Ayn Rand; nearer to home, Amin Maalouf (who is brilliant!), Naguib Mahfouz; I even read Orhan Pamuk, though I’m finding it tough going. But ‘My Name is Red’ is brilliant.
There are too many to list, and if I ever write a full-length novel, I don’t know if it will be sci-fi, fantasy or literary fiction.
BNI: What draws you to this genre?
Natasha: That I can write it! But seriously, romance is deeply rooted in our culture. Our poetry, our prose, our music is all about love, from Ghalib to Parveen Shakir. Qawwali, while it has religious overtones, is about love for God. The bulk of the movies coming out of this part of the world are all romances. Writing a romance seems completely natural.
BNI: According to you, What is the hardest thing about writing?
Natasha: Variety. We each have a style of writing, a favorite word, a phrase, a reference. I struggle to rephrase, find a different style or a new and unique way of describing something. Everything always sounds depressingly the same to me.
BNI: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Natasha: I’d love to take up writing full time. I have already started another novella for Indireads, and I hope to complete an epic fantasy novel by the end of this year.
BNI: What will be your one favourite tip to get through the writer’s block?
Natasha: Read a book. Works every time.
BNI: Any advice for writers budding or established?
Natasha: Two things: accept advice when you get it from an editor. At the same time, stand firm for what you believe in. If you let someone change your work so completely that it’s unrecognizable, then it’s no longer your work.
BNI: Did you learn anything from writing your book? What was it?
Natasha: That I have tunnel vision when I’m writing. I thought my first draft was perfect until I got feedback from the first round of beta readers. They pointed out so many holes in the plot, I was floored. I just couldn’t see them myself.
BNI: Any amusing story about marketing this book, so far.
Natasha: One of the tips that Indireads suggested was to set up Google Alerts for the title of your book, so if anyone mentions it anywhere online, we get notified. Great tip, except I now know every time something happens with butterflies, swimming (butterfly stroke) and seasons, but nothing about my book!
BNI: How about a snippet from your book that is meant to intrigue and tantalize us?
Giving her a quizzical look, he held the door open for her as he took in her appearance. Her silky hair was pulled back in a chignon, though a few errant strands had escaped to frame her square face. Her full lips were a deep, dark maroon, matching the skirt he could see just below her coat.
“We match.” She pushed back her coat to show him the color of her clothes, gesturing at his shirt.
He looked amused at the coincidence. “In more ways than one, honey.” She had dropped her lashes at that. Even with such clear skin, he realized that she never blushed. She did, however, have several tells triggered by embarrassment, or when she was stumped for an answer. He laughed now, enjoying her reaction.
This past week, he had spent as much time with her as his work would allow. The more he did, the more insatiable his desire for her became. He found himself leaving work early in anticipation of seeing her, and had even brushed off several long-standing engagements to take her out, including Sunday dinner with the family. He recalled Catherine’s advice about getting her out of his system, but he was beginning to wonder if one night with her would stem the fierce attraction that seemed to have him in its grip. They had already been out five times since that first meeting at Faizan’s house. Things had only just begun to heat up.
By their third date, they had found a matching equilibrium in their desire to spend time together. He was surprised at the number of things they had in common, but their disagreements were equally diverse. They fought over movies but both agreed that The Godfather was the definitive movie series. Ahad liked classic rock and metal; Rumi’s taste ran to ghazals and qawwali, but they had to admit that both Eddie Vedder and Iqbal Bano were a cut above the rest. He read non-fiction and science fiction voraciously, while she preferred fantasy, romance and mystery novels; the maestro, though, was definitely Tolkien.
Above all, they both loved cricket—it was in their blood, explained Ahad. South Asia was cursed with an undying love of the game, and no amount of reconditioning among the world of expatriates was going to take that away. Solemnly, Rumi agreed; but, she wanted to know, who did he root for when Pakistan played England?
BNI: What are your expectations for the book?
Natasha: That it will establish me as a writer. Anything on top of that is a bonus!
BNI: Do you think book cover an important role in sales?
Natasha: Yes, of course. I think book covers should be professionally done. I’m a designer, so this is very important to me.
BNI: According to you, what is the top most advantage / disadvantage of self publishing?
Natasha: Self publishing and indie publishing don’t have the marketing engine of traditional big publishers, so it’s a lot harder to get the word out there about new books. As a self-publisher, you don’t even have editorial or basic design support, which indie publishers, at the least, manage to offer.
On the other hand, as a self-published author, you reap in full profits from the book sales and you have creative control over the content. If you’re an established writer, that’s a huge advantage. For first-time writers, though, it’s probably better to go through a professional editing process a couple of times before attempting it on your own.
BNI: ebook, pdf, mobi, kindle or printed hardcover book, what’s your pick? (must answer)
Natasha: Paperback, without a doubt. I like the feel, the smell, the sight of a real book, though if I really want to read something, I won’t quibble about format.
Thanks so much Natasha, for accepting the request to be interviewed. It was really nice to earn yet more about you as a person and as an author as well. I welcome the changing aura in Pakistani literature circle as more and more authors are coming forward and exhibiting their writing skills. I pray and wish that may you achieve success and your novella be declared an undisputed – bestseller.