Today we continue our series of Spotlight interviews featuring writing around the world. Our aim is to chat with a few of the Flash! Friday writers from all parts of the globe to help us know our own community a bit better. Current judge IfeOluwa Nihinlola kicked us off with an honest and compelling look at his writerly life in Nigeria (read his interview here). Today it’s a true pleasure to welcome to the mic Flash! Friday regular Firdaus Parvez, here to share about her own writing journey in India. Welcome, Firdaus!
Tell us about your writerly journey: how did it all begin?
I was about six years old when I was packed off to a boarding school, Wynberg-Allen. Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, this Anglo-Indian Christian school is where my reading and writing journey began. Being a shy child, I had few friends and perhaps to get over my homesickness I buried myself in books. The school library was a wonderland. Though English was a new language for me, I just sat in the library with a book, looking at the pictures. Slowly I learned to read. I still remember the large book on ‘Sindbad’s Voyages’. Magical and amazing.
Eventually, I was devouring Nancy Drews and Enid Blytons. That’s about the time I started writing too. I got really good at writing essays in class and I would write stuff, especially poems, in my rough book, but tear it up so no one would see. I still have a diary from my school days with some silly poems.
Sadly, my writing and reading journey came to an abrupt halt when I got married in my final year of Law. I then had two children in quick succession. No time for anything other than diapers and baby formula. Luckily, the writing bug was still alive and kicking, so, when my children went off to their respective boarding schools, I started writing. I have a little collection of short stories, some unfinished, languishing on my computer.
Then one fine day slightly over a year ago I stumbled over an app called Ku. That’s where I met Grace Black and other wonderful writers who were very inspiring and encouraging. I started writing on her blog Three Line Thursday (TLT). From there I was introduced to other writing sites/ blogs, 101words.org, Microbookends and finally Flash! Friday. At first I was lost in the jungle of stories. It was a totally new thing for me. For two weeks I read every single story (I still do) and then I took up the courage to post one. I’m glad I did.
How do you balance writing with your responsibilities?
I’m a simple housewife and a total recluse. I just write when I get the time. Inspiration hits me usually between 3am-5am. I know that’s terrible timing, but that’s how my brain works. So I’m up and scribbling away at that ungodly hour.
Please introduce us to writing in your part of India.
I live in a small town located close to the capital, New Delhi. I haven’t come across any writing groups here (not that I’ve looked for them). I usually write in my room, on my bed. I like to write in silence. I get ideas at the weirdest hours, especially while walking my dog at 5am. A sentence or two typed into my phone helps me remember. I usually don’t show my writings to anyone. It’s very recent that I’ve started participating online. Though now I have several writer friends online with whom I’ve started sharing my writes and I’ve been thinking about submitting stories to online magazines too. Let’s see where that takes me. Maybe I’ll let one go through #Pyro here. (Gulp!)
What’s the publishing situation for new/aspiring writers in your circles — is it “easy” to get published? What trends do you see, and what challenges do writers face?
There are around 82,237 newspapers and 49,000 magazines printed in English and other local languages in India. We are more of a newspaper and magazine reading nation, though there have always been avid readers of books too. Recently due to the surge in reading, publishers from around the world have been rushing to our shores. Despite the immense potential, getting published is not a cake walk. The scene here is pretty much similar to that of America.
Publishers usually have 700-2000 unread emails a month, and large piles of scripts. This ‘slush pile’ is assigned to fresh recruits to sift through. Even if this 20-something person likes your script he/she will still have to convince the decision making authority. (See where I’m going?). It’s better to submit through a literary agent, and publishers even prefer that, because they know the script would have been thoroughly screened already. But literary agents too have a ‘slush-pile’ and their rejection rate is up to 90% or more. Sounds dismal, but that’s the way it is. I guess writers are taking the self publishing route here too, though I haven’t read any yet.
One other trend I’ve noticed over a few years is the amount of books coming out with dumbed-down language. These books target the youth who are starting to learn and improve their English, as usually it isn’t their first language. These books are being snapped up so fast and these writers have such a large fan base. Good writers willing to compromise on the language can really hit big time. Though as a person who loves to write, I like reading books that tickle my brain and secondly we write as well as we read.
Tell us about a book and/or author who’s particularly inspired you, and why/how.
I love reading the classics. My favourite is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I can read it again and again. I don’t know why though; I’m sure there are other better ones. But Jane Eyre catches my imagination. Recently I’ve started reading Haruki Murakami. You can just pick up any book of his and it’s going to be brilliant.
Who are your favorite Indian writers (of all time, and today?)? For someone unfamiliar with Indian writers, which authors/books would you recommend starting with?
There are so many incredible Indian writers. One of the best writers of all times is R. K. Narayan. I grew up watching the televised version of his book The Malgudi Days, and his book The Guide is a good read and has been made into a film. The other writers and the books I’ve read and liked are:
Anita Desai – Fasting and Feasting
Kiran Desai – The Inheritance of Loss
Vikram Seth– A Suitable Boy (it’s very thick though)
Jhumpa Lahiri – The Namesake
Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things
Khushwant Singh – Train to Pakistan
And my favourite author who I grew up watching and reading, Mr Ruskin Bond. He was a regular visitor of our school and I had the honour of meeting him in person. He’s India’s very own ‘Wordsworth’. His The Train at Deoli and Other Short Stories is a must read. It gives the reader the rustic feel of the mountain life in the Himalayas. This list is not exhaustive; there are several others I’ve not read as yet and they might be even better.
What are you reading now?
Right now I’m reading Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. It’s very different from anything I’ve ever read. The narration bounces from one character to another quite quickly, weaving a web of reflections. It’s interesting and initially confusing. I really have to concentrate, but once you get the hang of it, it really sucks you in. If you haven’t read it already, I’d say you must.
Tell us about a teacher who has inspired you.
I was in middle school and was on my path of ‘discovery’. I had just been introduced to the ‘romance novels’; these books had very ‘inappropriate’ covers. I still laugh when I think of this. It was study time just before dinner. We were supposed to be completing our homework. The teacher on duty making the rounds of the study room was Miss Sara Tomas, a young British lady. Miss Tomas was our English teacher. Instead of studying, I was reading this book hidden in my text book. Miss Tomas caught me and confiscated the book. As the cover was torn, I hid it. She demanded the cover and when she saw it, her face went red with anger. She muttered under her breath,”Oh! What literature!” I wanted to melt into the ground. I was supposed to be the good one. A week later she summoned me to the staff room. She handed me the book and made me promise that I wouldn’t read this ‘trash’ again. If I wanted to write well I should start reading well. I guess that was the turning point in my reading history. Though I did not completely give up those books (come on, I was just thirteen!) I did start picking up good books from time to time.
How can we, as your fellow writers, support and encourage you?
Recently I googled ‘Flash fiction in India’ and I was glad to see a long list of sites and blogs holding competitions. I haven’t visited any yet because my net has been crawling, though I do hope to soon. It looks pretty exciting. But at present, Flash! Friday is the highlight of my week. I would like to thank every person who takes the time to read my stories and comment on it. It’s very encouraging and pulls me back every week. Thank you for this great platform Rebekah. You’re doing a remarkable job, bringing such brilliant writers to this literary watering hole. Every week I take back something new. It’s really helping with my longer stories. Thank you so very much. May this grow from strength to strength.