A Pakistani Down Under – 3

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By Faisal Sayani

Date: October 9, 2014. Time: 5.40pm. Place: yes, where else but the Mitchell Library, Sydney, New South Wales.

“The novel is taking place in a world where democracy has turned into a farce of an ideal throughout the entirety of the world; where governments are held at gunpoint by military powers and political leaders are dictators selected through false elections.”

This backdrop rings several bells for a Pakistani, but is intended to describe a fantastical novel about characters that have been living with humans for a very long time and now coming out to fight for their real freedom. “At the centre of the novel is a trio of leaders — the Helldog, the Empress and the Usurper — working together and sometimes against one another to mould the rapidly growing Empire and eventually, the world, into a perfect stage for their individual agendas,” explains its Sydney-based co-author, Cait, as she talks about her epic book-in-the-making. (That the images that cropped up in my head while I was listening to her were of Pakistani news bulletins is neither her fault nor mine.)

Cait tells me that she’s collaborating with a Houston-based person called Adolfo on this project. Between them, the two co-authors have committed to write at least nine books of 100,000 words each in order to tell this story. That’s a lot of words. The authors think it should take them a couple of more years to finish and I can personally vouch for her dedication: I see her often, sitting across the room with her laptop, oblivious to her surroundings, typing away with a childlike anxiety on her face.

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Ironically enough, getting a book published in Pakistan is both extremely difficult and awfully simple.

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By now, many of us have seen or read The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. And so, Cait’s sci-fi fantasy magnum opus won’t offer something very different or new. But that’s not the point: the amount of seriousness she invests in her writing draws me in, makes me want to look forward to the work. I ask her why she chose such a strikingly quiet library as her workplace. “Personally, I love the quiet of the library,” she says. “The times I came with the original [writers’] meet-up [group], it was quiet and I felt like I could hear myself think for the first time in ages. There’s a calm that comes with the library; I think it’s something all writers are familiar with in some way or another and I thought that a two-hour intensive every other week would be perfect for those of us who need and want that quiet.”

I wish her good luck and immediately wonder how one would organise such ‘meet-up and write’ sessions in Pakistan. While the last decade has seen the emergence of many new voices from Pakistan, we can definitely use something like this. A Facebook page inviting aspiring writers to gather at a library or a cafe and write for an hour or two could be a good start. Someone with little bit of experience could conduct short, creative writing exercises to set the mood. Who knows, it could spark a bunch of great books from our region?

Ironically enough, getting a book published in Pakistan is both extremely difficult and awfully simple. Difficult, because even if you find a publisher who likes your work, the publisher wouldn’t know how to make any money on it for himself, let alone sharing some of it with you. But also simple, because you just have to pay the printing and distribution costs (of course, including the publisher’s fee) to a publisher of your choice and bingo. (I am, of course, talking about publishers of Urdu books only). Isn’t it time we considered online publishing?

But first, let’s get some writing done! I offer the Karachi Press Club’s Literary Activities’ Facebook page for the purpose. Any takers?

Published in The Express Tribune, November 7th, 2014.

 

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A Pakistani Down Under – 2

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By Faisal Sayani

It is September 25, 2014. I am at the Mitchell Library in Sydney, which was established in 1910 and is based on the collections of David Scott Mitchell, Australia’s first and greatest collector of Australiana — items of historical or cultural interest of Australian origin. It has more than 800,000 items, books mostly, but also a variety of literature in other formats like CD ROMs, pamphlets, government reports, performances, sheet music, even invitations and menus. If you’re researching anything Australian, be it historical or contemporary, this is the place to spend most of your time in. The Mitchell Library is part of the State Library in New South Wales, which dates back to 1826.

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Writing is so pleasurable when it’s effortless. It is so frustrating when you are trying too hard.

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No, I didn’t end up here because I was researching about Australia. After coming to Sydney, I signed up for various writers’ meet-up groups. Members of one group, called ‘Write Together’, assemble in this remarkably quiet Mitchell Library room on alternate Thursday evenings and write in absolute silence for a couple of hours. And this is what they and I are doing right now.

The organiser of this group is a young girl who works as a data analyst and is passionate about writing. Caitlyn is writing three books currently, yes simultaneously. Her science fiction fantasy novel with 130 characters appears to be the centre of her attention these days.

Dr Christine Williams, who is the author of several biographical books and a number of short stories, organises another such group, ‘Sydney Writers Circle’, but the members don’t just write quietly there — certainly not in silence as the meetings take place in a pleasant, and at times noisy, cafe at Redfern, a Sydney suburb. She shows each of the participants an image, an illustration or an unfinished sentence, then off they go scribbling or typing. It feels like a race sometimes. I often find myself getting frustrated over the time my laptop takes to be switched on. With a pen, I can only fill out forms as my handwriting is so poor. Then, Dr Williams shares her feedback. Next, the members share their manuscripts/writings followed by a critique and advice session. Dr Williams teaches memoir classes and her books are published not only in Australia, but also in England and India.

While toiling with my writing, I ended up writing a scene for one of my many fantasised short films. That felt good. Writing is so pleasurable when it’s effortless. It is so frustrating when you are trying too hard. I think the cause of my recent writer’s block was that I was trying too hard.

The story of the impressive Mitchell Library would be incomplete if I didn’t talk about another library I spent a few hours in. Located in the suburbs, a couple of kilometres from my place, it has a very hospitable and friendly staff. The library has quite a large collection of books from many genres, placed neatly on the well-organised shelves. I didn’t see anyone going near them though, or any of the library books on any table. Instead, there were food, cans and very loud conversations. This was also the place where I heard people talking in Urdu.

This led me to ponder over the fact that there are contrasts like this everywhere. In every city of the world perhaps, be it Australia; be it Pakistan. In the DHA library, in the pricey neighbourhood of Karachi, it’s very quiet and nice too, very library-like. Whereas the Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai Library in Old Golimar — now almost a slum in Karachi — was not as calm and peaceful a place when it was functioning as a library.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2014.

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