Tag Archive | Spotlight

Spotlight on India: Firdaus Parvez

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!

Firdaus Parvez

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 SethA Suitable Boy (it’s very thick though)
Jhumpa Lahiri The Namesake
Arundhati RoyThe 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.

Spotlight on Nigeria: IfeOluwa Nihinlola

Today launches a new angle of our Spotlight interviews: writing around the world. Over the next few weeks and months we’ll be chatting with a few of Flash! Friday writers from all parts of the globe to help us know our own community a bit better. Up first: the brave IfeOluwa Nihinlola, current FF judge with Dragon Team Seven, and writer from Lagos, Nigeria. Welcome, IfeOluwa!

IfeOluwa Nihinlola

Tell us about your writerly journey. 

I often say my writing journey started mid-2013 when I started a blog while living in Anambra, but I realise that answer is a bit misleading, if not downright untrue. I grew up in a house of books and had a dad who wrote, actively, everyday. I have always had the ability to put my thoughts into words with some level of clarity, and for a long time took that for granted. But 2013 was the year I really took to reading and writing with a deliberate aim to improve in both. I’m the guy who read Shakespeare and Hemingway in his early teenage years, but can’t remember a thing from those books. This is perhaps why 2013 is still a fair time to begin the calibration of my writing journey. 

I found Flash! Friday around that time and started to write fiction at least once a week in addition to blogging. I wrote lots of short stories in that period, many of which are useless and I’ve discarded, and many others that I’ve been editing forever, hoping they’ll one day be fit for publishing. Many of these stories were experiments borne out of reading. I would read a style and attempt an imitation. This often ends in failures that makes it difficult to put all of my work together as indicative of any kind of style I possess — this I’m choosing to see as a kind of success. I can’t say I prefer any genre of writing (really, what is genre?) but writing non-fiction is my comfort zone. I’ve done more of that and less of fiction this year.

You’re a massively busy person, with a full school schedule: how do you balance it all, and writing? 

Can’t say I am that busy. I know working mums who still find the time to write. Lately, however, the approach I’ve taken to writing is to pen lines and ideas on the go: use One Note in Danfo (yellow Lagos buses), pull out my notebook in the middle of a sermon or lecture, and just capture the things that flit through my mind. Then, depending on what I need to accomplish, brood over the scraps and join them all into something with some form of coherence. (That’s the way this interview got written.) Other times, I just block out huge chunks of time, stay in the room to read and write, and read and write, then return to life to catch up with what I’ve missed.

Introduce us to writing in Lagos. 

My thoughts on writing in Lagos are restricted to my experience — as it should be. And since I’m a socially awkward, near-reclusive person, those thoughts are quite limited. The best way to have a glimpse of what writing is going on in Lagos, and any other part of Nigeria, is to get on the internet. There’s a huge community of writers who are always creating and interacting online. Writers also meet at art events — festivals, exhibitions, readings — that happen across the city.

I’m just getting to see more of the places where people work in the city: small cafés, privately managed libraries etc., but those are few and hidden. A writer typing on a Mac in a Starbucks-like cafe is not an image that you’ll readily get in Lagos. I do my own writing in Danfos and kekes, or in my room, or in-between lectures, and I know lots of other writers just find their own space to write amidst the bustle of the city.

I have friends who are brave enough to allow me see their work, and comment on them, and there’s a particular group of five whose stories were the guinea pigs of my bid to understand the workings of good stories.

Many of the writing relationships I’ve formed have come from the three workshops I’ve attended over these two years of writing. And I understand workshops are how many writing relationships are formed, so that’s not strange. A few writing workshops occur from time to time in the city, the most prestigious of them being the Farafina Trust Creative Writing workshop that is led yearly by Chimamanda Adichie, and is one of the ultimate goals of many young, aspiring writers in the country. Contests also abound on the Internet, and many writing contests are open to international entrants.

Here in the U.S. writers struggle to get published; traditional publishing houses still churn out books by the big names, but it’s increasingly difficult to get noticed by agents, and many writers are abandoning that traditional effort in favor of publishing books themselves via Amazon or the like. 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?

It’s impossible to compare publishing in Nigeria with the US. Our biggest publishers are  at best the equivalent of American indie presses, and they number less than five. It is a widely accepted thought that many young writers hope to get published outside the country so they can be properly recognized back at home. This often leads to questions about how writing primarily for an outside audience affects the kind of stories that are told and how they are told. These questions then lead to round discussions and loads of pessimism about writing and publishing opportunities in Nigeria, so I’ll try to avoid that.

Talk of writing in Nigeria is usually centered on literary fiction but, lately, there has been an increased interest in writing outside of the established realist fiction traditions. This year, Cassava Republic, one of the country’s best publishers, started a Romance fiction imprint called Ankara Press and published 6 books on it. Omenana, a journal of speculative fiction, also opened more opportunities for quality speculative fiction to be published in the country. And a manuscript project by Saraba Magazine, one of the best literary magazines in the country, is also open to well-written genre entries. So, the writing space is widening.

Publishing in Nigeria thrives electronically more than any other form, and OkadaBooks, a self-publishing app, is the best representative of this. Now, while self-publishing is still largely a mess because of the lack of regard for good editors, it is an option many pursue with varying degrees of success. How many books get sold, and how much profit is lost to piracy is another topic that can’t be properly discussed here.

Tell us about a book and/or author who’s particularly inspired you, and why/how.

My answer to this question changes with the weather. Today, I’m finding it difficult to choose between Dostoyevsky and CS Lewis, so I’ll just lump them together. Finding a dusty copy of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot in a library three years ago, at a time I was going through Lewis’s oeuvre, was the catalyst of my transition from an engineering student with modest career goals to someone who agonises over sentences.

Who are your favorite Nigerian writers (of all time, and contemporary?)? For someone unfamiliar with Nigerian writers, which authors/books would you recommend starting with?

Favourite Nigerian Writers of all time: Chukwuemeka Ike and Mabel Segun. They were the Nigerian writers of my childhood.

More contemporary writers: Rotimi Babatunde for his short stories, Teju Cole for his essays, and Chimamanda Adichie for Half of a Yellow Sun.

Anyone interested in Nigerian writing can start with Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon, a book that has an alien invasion set in Lagos, or Igoni Barett’s Blackass, another book set in Lagos, but like a reverse-Samsa where a man wakes up and finds out he has become white save for the patch of skin on his buttocks. Then they can also google Nigerian books and follow the links.

As a introduction to newer Nigerian writers and stories that I like, the following is a reading list: Lesley Nneka Arimah, Chikodili Emelumadu, Bunmi Familoni, Wole Talabi, Pemi Aguda, Ayobami Adebayo.

What are you reading now?

I just finished reading Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, which took me longer than usual due to a combination of illness and school work. This extended time I spent with it probably affects how I view it. There’s something about experimentation with form that excites me, especially when the writer is able to take it beyond being merely art-for-art’s sake, into a story that moves me. I laughed in some parts, took pictures of some pages to send to a friend, and lowered my hand in a bus after some chapters just to catch some fresh air and view how the world around me fared. Books I read recently and liked: Diane Cook’s Man vs. Nature; Nell Zink’s Wallcreeper.

Tell us about someone who has inspired you as a writer.

I’ve never had a teacher who inspired me into any kind of writing. None. For a while, however, Timi Yeseibo, who runs Livelytwist, where she blogs about life and posts  short fiction occasionally, has been a huge inspiration. She’s one of the first people I met when I started blogging who, while being very skilled, interacted with my work without any hint of condescension. The grace she takes into her conversations with strangers over the internet is the kind of thing that I keep in view in a world where brilliance is taken as an excuse for douchebaggery.

What words of encouragement/advice/suggestion do you have for the FF community? 

I have nothing but admiration for the FF community; I really can’t suggest anything to improve on what is happening already. The warmth in the interactions I see and the mutual respect these writers of immense talent have for one another is something I enjoy watching from a distance. Sure, part of this is because of Rebekah being a great host, but I know that’s not all there is to it. I can only ask members of the community to continue whatever they’re doing to make FF such a wonderful place of/for writing.

Anyone who has been writing for upward of two years can just ignore the advice I have to give here. But what I’ve found helpful, over anything else, is immersing myself in good writing wherever I see it. So I’ll say, read everyone: the dead Russians, the reclusive Brazilian and Italian women, the Jamaican prize winner, the racist British men, the brilliant black American essayists, the prolific Japanese men, the loony Irish short story writers. Take in as many experiences outside of your own, through books, as you can. Then write. Someone somewhere is reading you, and even if it’s not obvious yet, your best efforts are noticed and admired by them.

Spotlight: Andye – Reading Teen

As a flash fiction writing contest site, it makes sense that we at Flash! Friday spend most of our time with writers and writing industry-related professionals. After all, we want to become better writers, so who better to talk to than really really good writerly people?? At the end of the day, though, writers make up only half the relationship: books also need readers. So I thought it would be a lot of fun to explore The Other Side of Books for this week’s Spotlight. Which made me think of book bloggers. Which then made me think of my friend Andye, who, I am relieved to report, endured my begging with patience and humor and, ultimately, capitulation. 😀 

And so it’s with a great deal of pleasure and gratitude that I welcome Andye to Spotlight.

Andye

Andye

Hiya, Andye! Please introduce yourself to our writers.

Hello to all of the amazing writers reading this right now! I’m so in awe of what you do, and so grateful! I blog/review over at ReadingTeen.net. I’ve been reviewing for about 6 years, and I can honestly say that it has drastically changed my life for the better. When I first started blogging, I had no idea that this huge community existed. I was just trying to talk about the books I was reading, mostly to connect with other people who were reading Young Adult. I never expected to find such a huge, amazing,  supportive group of people who were just as excited to talk about books as I was.

What’s your book blogger life like??

Nowadays I usually only read 1-2 books a week, but when I first started I was a reading machine. I was reading close to one a day, but things have gotten busier around here, and I’ve gotten much more picky about the books I read. I finally decided that there are too many amazing books out there to waste my time on anything that isn’t. If there’s a book I don’t feel like reading, I ask one of my reviewers, and someone is usually willing to give it a shot. We mostly review books that are sent to us, or books I’ve grabbed at conventions. There’s also NetGalley and Edelweiss, where you can request eBooks you’re interested in reviewing. If something is very popular, chances are one of us is interested in it, so we almost always cover those as well. There are SO MANY Young Adult books released every week that there’s no way to cover them all, but we do our best to review as many as possible.

I think I read an equal amount of print and eBooks. It just depends on the situation, and which format I have. I have a hard time remembering my eBooks, but the print books are just sitting here staring at me, so I tend to pick them up quicker. There are often times I’ll switch to eBook, though, because they’re easier to read when I’m doing other things like eating, treadmilling, or traveling. Also, reading at night. I can’t imagine that print will ever be dead. Books are just too pretty. Book lovers want to display them, pet them, smell them; you can’t get that in eFormat.

Tell us the truth: as a YA book blogger, how do you feel about traditionally published vs indie published books?

I’d love to say that I’ve had a lot of good experiences with indie published books, but honestly it’s been rough. The feel of the book is usually just less . . . polished? The most luck I’ve had has been through indie publishing companies like Spencer Hill, Entangled, Month 9 etc. I think having the guidance of people that are around the industry can be invaluable, just so you know how to get the support of bloggers/reviewers, and don’t do anything that puts people off. Bloggers can make or break an indie book, and being informed about interacting with them is crucial. Jennifer Armentrout is an amazing example of this. I do have a reviewer (Elisa) who will read self-pubbed/indie authors and has had incredible luck. Usually she will just find those books on her own, as we don’t accept review requests from self-pubbed authors. I totally understand that trying to get your book out there is tough and you have to do so much to try to get it publicized. But reviewers have hundreds of books to review, and accepting a book is not a promise to review; the more pressured a blogger feels, the less likely she is to read the book, or accept more in the future.

I do think the industry is moving more and more toward self-published books, and that’s great! However, if a major publishing company has picked up a book, as a reviewer you know that it is usually going to be edited well, available to your readers at book stores, and has impressed a company that gets constant submissions. Indie/self-published books are always a gamble, both with the book and, sadly, sometimes with the author as well.

So what convinces you to give a new author a try?

I am sad to say that I pay a lot of attention to the book’s cover and title. If the cover is pretty, I want to know what’s in it. If the cover is hideous, I have a hard time thinking the inside will be good.

I read new authors all the time. There are so many debut authors every single month and I’m always up for trying someone new. There are a lot of things that will convince me to try a new book. Like I mentioned above, if the cover is awesome, I’ll give it a look. Also, if my friends (usually on Twitter or blogs) are raving about a book, that will convince me. One of the best things is if a book is labeled “for fans of . . .”. If someone says a book is for fans of Graceling, The Demon King, The Winner’s Curse, you can bet I’m going to be all over that thing. Of course this can backfire sometimes, as everyone is sick of seeing “For fans of The Hunger Games“.

Have you “always” been an avid reader? What YA trends do you see that you love? -loathe? 

I actually have NOT always been a reader. I used to (think) I hated reading. I think it’s because of the books that were forced on me in schools. I was so bored with them, so I just thought all books were boring. It wasn’t until Harry Potter that I realized that I actually loved books, and it opened up a whole new world to me. I think I was 32 years old before I picked up a book voluntarily. I haven’t stopped since.

People are always trying to figure out what genres are trending in YA, but the thing I like so much is that there’s such a wide variety. I don’t think people are really wanting any specific genre as much as they’re just wanting a great story. You’ll see people say they’re sick of dystopian, for example, but if there’s a new dystopian out there that is written well and is something different than the Hunger Games cookie cutter format, people will be all over it. I do think people are sick of insta-love. That the one thing, across the board, that I hear complaints about. Insta-love is boring, unrealistic and lazy, and no one wants that in their book.

You once wrote a couple posts on8 Reasons I Visit Your Blogas well as8 Reasons I Won’t Visit Your Blog.” Care to translate those into reading books?

Like I mentioned above, if there’s insta-love, I’m out. I also (and this is personal preference) don’t like a book that has a lot of crudeness in it. I usually avoid contemporary books told from a guy’s perspective, because I just don’t want to hear what goes on in a teen boy’s mind. Gross. Most of the time, if I put down a book, though, it’s because I’m bored with it. If the writing is too choppy, or nothing is really happening, I start to notice I’m choosing to do other things besides read. That’s when I know the book isn’t compelling enough to continue. I used to read a book to the end, even if I didn’t like it, because I had to know how it ended. I’ve gotten over that, though. There are just too many good books to waste my time on one I don’t love. I’ll usually give an author a couple of tries. There are plenty of authors who write one series/book that totally fits me, then another I don’t like at all.

How important to you (as a reader) are author appearances?

I love going to author events, if I’ve loved a book, or if I think I might be interested in one. I do think that having an online (Twitter especially) presence is more important. If you’re interacting with readers, they’re going to want to read your book more than if you’re absent. You have to stay in people’s peripheral, so they don’t forget. The books that are the most successful are the ones that are well-written AND the author interacts with the community. But people still want to meet you in real life. Fans get so excited if you actually know who they are, from Twitter, or another encounter they’ve had. They want to feel a special connection with you, and author events are a great way for that to happen. The best events I’ve been to are the ones that have multiple authors. It helps with the flow of the event, and it brings people in that may not have been interested in your book, but after hearing you talk about it, they’ve changed their minds.

What are your all-time favorites that you return to?

My all-time favorite books are the Harry Potter series. I don’t think that will ever change. I read (listen to) them over and over. I’m a huge fan of fantasy, so the books that I love tend to be in that genre. The ones I’ve read multiple times are: The Seven Realms by Cinda Williams Chima, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Elemental Series by Sherry Thomas, The Seven Kingdoms by Kristin Cashore, anything by Victoria Schwab.

The publishing world is SO crowded now: do you see any gaps, stuff that you’ve noticed no one’s writing about but you wish they would?

Honestly, I really wish that trend writing would go away. I know it won’t, and that’s mostly the publishing companies’ fault, but when authors try to write in for a trend it almost always sounds forced. The best books are books that authors have said they just HAD to write because the story is bursting out of them. My favorite books are almost always the ones that aren’t in “season” right now because they’re different. I just read Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo and it was absolutely amazing, and there’s nothing like it out there in YA right now. That’s also why I mentioned Victoria Schwab above. Her books are always so original, and she just completely ignores what everyone else is writing about. It makes her books timeless and always relevant. People aren’t going to say they’re sick of reading the genre she’s writing in, because she makes her own genre, and just writes an incredible story. 

What a gorgeous note to end on, and what powerful advice for us writers. Andye, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us!

♣ Follow Andye on Twitter, Tumblr, and her book review blog.