By Aminah Sheikh
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?
I write because I can. In the sense that I have something to say and I can say it in an interesting and engaging way. Or so I hope…
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
I just came out with my debut novel Nobody Killed Her (HarperCollins) which is the story of two powerful women focusing on how an outsider infiltrates the world of political dynasties. It’s a court trial centering around the assassination of a female political leader, and each question throws up memories of the past, dragging the reader deeper into the narrative — except that the narrator is unreliable . . .
Up next is a book of short stories titled Hijabistan, out early next year by HarperCollins again. It is a collection of short stories on the theme of the veil, both as a garment and as a psychological barrier. I’m told I have a quirky outlook to life! I love challenging the existing perception of things and that is what I want to explore in these stories. Looking at things from a fresh perspective. What does the Hijab mean to the wearer and to the onlooker? Is it a threat, a weapon, a safety net or an entrapment? These stories explore the garment and its psychology in a very different way and I’m super excited about it. Also, the short story form is my first love, so it’s like returning home.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
Less is more.
Who are your favourite authors?
Ismat Chugtai, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Judith Hermann and Gillian Flynn. I’d read anything by them.
Chugtai for her boldness (she was writing about feminism before the term was even coined) Hermann for the simplicity of her prose, Al-Shaykh for being a natural story teller and Flynn because she’s a master plotter. And also Javier Marias, I suppose, for his insights into human behaviour. His short stories move me.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
A very short story called “The Session” about a difficult moment between a therapist and her client. It was an exercise in narrative tension told very much through what was left unsaid. It was challenging to create such a pregnant atmosphere with minimum words.
What’s your idea of bliss?
To read uninterrupted.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
Karachi’s traffic. I find myself turning into a raging ball of fire that I cannot relate to after I step in the car.
What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
None. I’d write my own.
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
My kids. Everything is replaceable except human life. I’ve seen my mum being forced to leave her house of many years at a moment’s notice, I’ve heard my father’s tale of leaving everything behind at partition, I myself have left my life in London behind . . . One thing life has taught me is not to get attached to anything. So if it burns, it burns. As Elsa would say, “Let it go!”
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
Ab jo bhi ho so ho / whatever will be, will be . . . It’s tattooed on my wrist.
Sabyn Javeri is an award winning short story writer and the author of the bestselling crime thriller, Nobody Killed Her, published by Harper Collins, India. Sabyn’s short fiction has been published in The Oxonian Review, The London Magazine, The South Asian Review, Bengal Lights, Wasafiri, World Audience, Trespass and Sugar Mule amongst others. Her short stories explore issues of gender, identity and displacement. They have been widely anthologised, and her essays on craft have appeared in Creative Writing textbooks in the UK. She has won The Oxonian Review short story award and was shortlisted for Meridian, Leaf books and the first Tibor Jones South Asia Prize.
Sabyn holds a Masters from the University of Oxford and has a PhD in the pedagogy of Creative Writing from the University of Leicester. She currently teaches at Habib University, Karachi.
Aminah Sheikh is the Online Editor of Kitaab