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