First things first: how did you take up writing?
Thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be talking to you. Writing is something I’ve always done and it’s not something that I started doing consciously, rather it is something I knew I was meant to do so I did, you know? My first published piece was at the age of thirteen. I wrote a story about a soldier and it appeared in The News. Many such pieces followed but I wanted to write novels but I lacked the discipline. In 2012 I went to do Masters in Fine Arts Creative Writing from Kingston university London. While I was there Haveli and The Contract were published by Indireads. I found out about Indireads through a dear friend from school. She is herself a pottery artist. I followed up and Indireads loved my stories. It was great to be published.
What was your very first attempt at creative writing?
Oh, please don’t ask! It was atrocious. It was a love story, as you can imagine. I was sixteen and it was about a prince who is part-Arab and marries this Pakistani girl. There was no plot to speak of and it was tacky and cheesy and all sorts of face-palm inducing scenes. I made all my friends read it. They loved it of course. Poor things.
Where did you get the ideas for your stories?
From my head. It just happens. A character will pop into my head and the story begins. Sometimes it takes a few false starts to oil the machinations of the story enough for it to start running smoothly. But mostly, my experience has been that if a character is interesting the story writes itself, as happened with Haveli.
What in particular gave you the idea for Haveli?
Again, it was a character—or two in fact. Chandni and her grandmother. First C. popped into my head, a sassy, brilliant brat who feels caged. Caged by whom, I asked. The Broad she answered. And it rolled from there on. I loved writing Haveli. It came about at the time I was staying in Bahawalpur. I fell in love with that city, its history and its ambiance. It is such a rich and beautiful place. The desert, Cholistan, is stunning. And the story and the place all came together in a colourful fusion. It’s a very atmospheric story I feel.
You’ve published quite a number of titles with IndiReads. Which one of them is your personal favourite?
Well, all of them are special. She Loves Me He Loves Me Not went up to number 1 on Amazon Asia and stayed there for weeks and weeks. That was so wonderful! Haveli was in the Top 10 for months. The Contract has always stayed in the Top 20. I’m very happy that readers have loved my books so much.
And which seems to be a fan favourite?
I think The Contract. People just loved the second chance romance. Three of my books are marriage-of-convenience plot: The Contract, She Loves Me He Loves Me Not and Yours Truly in Twice Upon a Time, which is a two-in-one novel with my friend Jazz Singh, whose story Sunshine Girl is the second novel in the book.
I think romance readers rather like the marriage of convenience trope—and so do I 😊
Do you have particular schedules or writing routines when it comes to your work?
I wish. I’m always struggling with discipline. I can never bring myself to follow a routine. I have a Writing Room. Yes, with capitals, and I sit there often to read and get into the mood for writing. It doesn’t always work, sadly. But I love the room. It’s lilac and has a vision board with pictures of my favourite women icons like Jackie O. Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel and quotes from writers and postcards of paintings by Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh.
A lot of authors are taking the indie publishing route. What’s your view about it?
I’ve tried it. I prefer the traditional publisher, because they take a lot off your shoulders and I like all the expertise that comes with a traditional publisher. Each to her own I guess. I have a huge amount of respect for self-published authors. They’re super heroes. They take on a lot on themselves but it’s not for me.
If any of your stories got turned into a movie, which would it be and who would you like to see star as leads?
Actually, a Canadian filmmaker was interested in The Contract but she couldn’t raise enough money for her project. So, I guess that’s the one that got picked. I think Shah Rukh Khan would make a great Hussain.
What are your future plans for writing? Can you give out a teaser or two for your readers?
I’ve actually just finished a new manuscript. It’s a bit of fantasy, a bit of romance, there’s some paranormal activity mingled with some history. Set in Lahore as always, and I am very happy with it. I hope my readers get to read it soon.
Do you have any particular authors who inspire your work?
I love Nora Roberts, Julia Quinn, Jude Devereaux, Judith McNaught, Victoria Holt. I love reading their stories when I want to relax and be entertained. I hope to be the same kind of euphoria-inducing magician for my readers.
What would your advice be to aspiring authors?
Believe in yourself. Read a great deal and write a great deal. At least that’s what Stephen King says. I trust him.
What would be an ideal gift for you?
I am one eccentric person. I prefer giving gifts to receiving them.
And finally, if there was a book you could turn into a movie, what would it be and why?
The Riddle Master series by Patricia McKillip. I love these books. This trilogy is just amazing. It’s fantasy and romance and heroism all thrown in. What’s not to love? If you haven’t read this author you should. I just love her books. I’m collecting them all.
What’s next for you? And when will the next Zeenat Mahal book be available in the market?
I will continue to write. I hope that the next one is picked up soon by a great publisher and my readers get a new Zeenat Mahal book soon. They’ve waited for two years.
Thank you once again for talking to BUZZ Magazine. We wish you all the best with your current work and future works. ☺
Thank you so much and same to you and your team at Buzz.