“I don’t know if I have a lot of Indian fans, though I hope I do! I think they like the glimpse of Pakistani life more than anything else.If I do have a lot, then I think that’s testament to the fact that we have more in common than we realize”; says Natasha Ahmed, author of acclaimed novella, Butterfly Season, in a conversation with Team WordBite
Team WordBite (TWB): You recently published an article on your Blog identifying the way the English Language is being treated in the Indian Sub-continent and it was really appreciated. Tell us something about it.
Natasha Ahmed (NA): Thanks to my apathy in getting back to you about this, that post is now several weeks old, but I am so glad you enjoyed it. I wrote it because I heard a news anchor on a US channel use the word ‘conversate’, which isn’t a word. The correct word would have been ‘converse’. I was shocked because I thought until then that the mangling of language was limited to social media (where, in my opinion, shorthand is ruining language). I thought it would be funny to point out how ESL (English as a Second Language) speakers seem to be no different from those for whom it is a first language.
It’s also a pet peeve of mine that words like ‘gift’ are used as verbs. Please note, you can’t ‘gift’ someone a book (for example). You can ‘give’ it to them, or present them with a ‘gift’, which is a noun.
TWB: Being in an industry which is not at all related to writing for over long time, what inspired you to write Butterfly Season and when and why did you decide to really sit yourself down and start writing?
NA: I have been writing art/book/movies reviews and opinion pieces all my life. In school, I loved writing essays and short stories. Writing a book just seemed like a herculean task to me, so I never really tried it (except once when I was 16. I started and abandoned a Nancy Drew-style mystery in collaboration with my best friend. We lost interest by the fourth chapter, I think).
I wrote Butterfly Season as a favour to my publisher, Naheed Hasan. She was looking for writers from South Asia, for new books to add to Indireads’ shelves and she asked me to give it a try.
Once I started the process, I couldn’t stop. Writing is addictive. It’s fun to create characters, to make them do what I want them to do. It was really exciting to give the book the ending I wanted and to manipulate my protagonists so that they weren’t stereotypical or boring—something that’s always annoyed me about formulaic romance novels.
So it was a bit of a fluke, really. But now that I have started, I hope to keep going.
TWB: The protagonist of your book, Rumi is shown as a free-spirited, open-minded and a rooted way, is she in any way like Natasha Ahmed herself?
NA: In most ways, I hope, she is like me. I hope I am that open-minded and sensible. If I’m not, I need my husband to tell me, because I don’t think anyone else will! I may be a little more stubborn than Rumi, and we don’t share backgrounds much.
The thing about fiction is the freedom to explore new characters. My next protagonist is much more social, more aggressive, less inhibited. If I don’t pull it off, I may be stuck recreating Rumi forever, which is a death knell for a writer. I need to be able to slip into different personalities, in order to make them believable and to avoid writing stereotypes. So while it’s okay for now that Rumi is like me, my next protagonist cannot be.
TWB: The book is now in stores, it is being acclaimed by one and all, what are your feelings about it?
NA: It’s a mixture of pride and apprehension. I am glad people like it (though I do, on Goodreads, have at least one 1-star and 2-star rating each), but I should be able to exceed expectations with my next book. Rave reviews really raise expectations, which is very scary.
TWB: You have mentioned at many occasions about why you have chosen to not to disclose your real identity of being the author of this book. Isn’t this just the opposite of what the book’s protagonist believes?
NA: Yes, but that’s fiction. It could also be a subconscious desire to tell the world who I am, but I’m sticking to the ‘it’s fiction’ defense for now. J
TWB: You have lived your life in many different places and now you are finally settled in your home town in Pakistan. Tell us something about this journey and its influence on your life.
NA:I traveled when I was very young, in my pre-teen years. I lived in England, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria—three very different societies, and radically different cultures. I don’t remember Nigeria much, but living in Saudi Arabia and England was a bit schizophrenic. I had complete freedom of movement in England, and complete restrictions in Saudi Arabia. Ironically, we were very well-off in Saudi Arabia—big cars, big houses, expensive schools. In England, I was just another middle-class kid with an American accent (a legacy from Saudi Arabia).
It gave me the tools I needed to deal with new situations, to be open to new ideas, and to be tolerant. It also taught me to question everything, a necessary component to being a writer, I believe.
TWB: Whenever something about Pakistan is mentioned, something about India is also mentioned with it. Have you visited India? You must have got a very good number of Indian fans now. Tell us something about this.
NA: I haven’t visited India, unfortunately. However, my parents were both born in Hyderabad Deccan, and we cook many of the same foods, wear many of the same style of clothes (khara dupattas, for example, which I wore at my wedding) and some of my family members still speak with a Hyderabadi accent. It made me very popular in Pakistan, I should tell you. My friends especially love the foods we cook and can’t get enough of our very simple khatti daal. It makes dinner parties very easy to cook for.
I don’t know if I have a lot of Indian fans, though I hope I do! I think they like the glimpse of Pakistani life more than anything else.
If I do have a lot, then I think that’s testament to the fact that we have more in common than we realize.
TWB: What’s next? Tell us something about your next book, if any.
NA: Ah, the next book. There are two, actually. The first is a second romance for Indireads. It’s currently untitled and way behind schedule (it was due in September, but I haven’t finished it yet, so the release date is unknown at the moment). It’s a love story, this time set entirely in Pakistan. It will be a longer novel, unlike Butterfly Season, which was a novella. A little confidence goes a long way, and I am ready to tackle the larger word count.
The second does not yet have a publisher. It’s an epic fantasy, along the lines of Dune, but without the worms. 🙂 This is a much larger project, and I don’t expect to finish the first draft until June of next year. It’s set on a completely imaginary planet, not even in our solar system (this planet has two suns). It will be an analogy for Earth and the tension of first-world/third-world conflict, broadly. My hero is female, which is surprisingly rare in the fantasy world.
TWB: When was the last time you did something for the first time? And what was it?
NA: In February 2013, I wrote my first book!
In January 2014, I used Twitter for the first time—to market Butterfly Season.
TWB: Do you ever imagine yourself writing something with a male point of view?
NA: The problem with that is understanding the male mind enough to make it credible. I have yet to master that. For instance, my husband rarely reads fiction, and I just don’t get that. Is that a male thing?
But this is a challenge, especially writing a romance novel from a male perspective, so I will be doing it, sometime in the future, when I have a little more experience!
TWB: Your favorite Book(s)
NA: So tough to choose! I have read Lord of the Rings several times, and a little-known novella called The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. Little Women, The Machine Stops (a novella by E. M. Forster), The Vampire Lestat, almost any of G.B. Shaw’s plays (especially Arms and the Man).
TWB: Your favorite Author(s)
NA: This is transitory. At the moment, it’s Amin Maalouf, but John Wyndham and G. B. Shaw are eternal favourites.
TWB: Describe yourself in three words
NA: Daydreamer, introvert, intense
Thank you Natasha Ahmed for this interview, your book is very beautiful and we wish it to be read by one and all. ☺
Read the book’s review
Buy her book, Butterfly Season, online