BEYOND PAPER: BETWEEN THE PAGES
Interview of: Sarim Khan
Conducted by: Ali Tariq and Mahnoor Abdullah
Ali: So Sarim, you’ve written a novel recently, as was also emphasized by our faculty sponsor, who really loved it.
Yes. I started writing it last February and finished it in June. It’s called ‘Lies and Sorrows’, and it’s a crime thriller.
Ali: Well, could you describe the novel, and what it means to you?
As I mentioned earlier, the novel is a crime thriller. I was just wondering how I should start writing in general. I was like, “the first step would be a good and relatively short book which has a strong story going for it”, but then I decided to go upon this story to just get things started.
So, it’s basically about a detective who witnesses a crime. When he goes to investigate it, he finds out it’s a killer who disappeared over a decade ago. And now, he understands that the killer wants a chase, and he wants to get caught, so he’s kind of waiting for how things will proceed. And, the detective himself has been waiting for a good mystery like this to happen, because he usually finds things easy. That’s the general gist of it.
Ali: I also noticed that you put nuances of symbolism in your novel, in regards to the killer especially.
Yes, actually. there’s this spade sign associated with it. When I did some research on the symbol, I found that there’s an element of grief and mystery associated with it, and I wanted to explore that. That’s also why I named it ‘Lies and Sorrows’, with the lies we face everyday around us, and the ones we tell ourselves, and how they make us feel sad at the end. I wanted to do even more with that, and so there’s explicit meanings and implicit meanings throughout the book.
Ali: So, what works have generally inspired you from the crime thriller genre, or even other genres?
Uh, I guess when I was very young, I was just inspired by storytelling overall. I think over time, I just learned to build it up within me naturally. I didn’t really write creatively before I started doing all this stuff, but when I started writing, suddenly I knew how to express things in a way I never did before. I guess it was just within me that I wanted to tell stories, and now almost every day, I get ideas, and I want to explore them more and tell them in my own style. Like I just wanna take my inspirations and interests and write them in a way that’s only mine, and build something new from that.
Mahnoor: I’m assuming writing energizes you.
Yes, it does actually. It has become a kind of a blessing and a curse at the same time because I keep getting ideas, and I’m always like should I write it?, and if I can’t write it properly, how do I feel about it, and how will others feel about it? Because I just wanna do this well and create something really great. But I feel like at this point, it’s really good because it’s something really unique and special for me, and it’s something I can foster in the long run.
Ali: You also run a Facebook page, and I hope I get the name right: Fantasiliam? (proceeds to pronounce it the wrong way)
It’s actually Fantasiliam, (pronounces it the right way, of course), and it’s based around the theme of fantasy. I wanted a word that would represent that, and I went for Fantasiliam. It’s mainly my Instagram page, but I also have the Facebook one just to be on both platforms.
Ali: How has that been for you, and what advice would you give other creative enthusiasts to express themselves on social media?
I’ve learned mainly through Instagram that people are actually really supportive of your work. I just try to put out unique stuff in any form. I don’t wanna limit myself in my expression. It could be psychological stuff, philosophical stuff, general stuff you face every day, simple thoughts and stories, or just a few sentences for different things I’ve learned. I’ve also learned that different people like different things, so I enjoy that I can put out all sorts of stuff, and many different people can relate to the things that I put out. It is interesting for me what content other people like. It’s all a part of me, but it just resonates with different people differently so that’s interesting to me.
Ali: Haan that is very interesting, actually. You have made efforts to get the book published, I believe?
I’ve been trying for months and months, and I’ve come to learn that the new English fiction publishing in Pakistan is, like, almost non-existent. The best way to get this done is by getting a literary agent – who can mainly be found in the US and UK, but getting to reach out to them, and getting them to respond to you is very difficult, and it’s been so hard to get this actually published.
Ali: In that regard, it’s obviously necessary to get an agent to establish your presence. As a young writer, what advice would you give to people seeking to become authors in Pakistan?
I think you mainly need your inspiration and your interest. Before you go for a career or anything, you need to know why you’re doing this, and why it interests you; and I think you need to have something solid first. You are your primary audience initially, so you’re doing it for yourself first. And, I think you have to stay true to that image and interest. Then, just hope it works out, and expand, and try to keep making it better, and just doing it well.
Mahnoor: What does literary success look like to you?
That’s an interesting question. I mean, I think I personally want to reach a point where I can just keep telling stories comfortably. Like, I wanna take my time, and I wanna do this well.
Mahnoor: You must have a lot of half-finished books as of now.
I mean the one I finished writing was the second book, and then I had some other stuff, but I felt like they were way too early for a first book and way too ambitious. So, I wanted to take my time and explore them more, but I have started writing another book, hopefully, which I can finish. That’s the plan for now – just taking baby steps. And if publishing is not working, just keep giving good content, and keep building myself up.
Mahnoor: What’s the most difficult thing about writing about characters, especially of the opposite gender?
It’s not just about the other sex. I think there’s so much stuff involved that even if it’s the same gender, so many people are so different yet so similar in a way that we can take their stories, take simple things, and expand upon them and give our view. No matter what we do, we can’t ever truly understand the other person, so all I can do is try and take my view of it and express it in a creative way that resonates with people emotionally. In that way, take my understanding of what I think they would feel, and try to make it work in a more meaningful way that makes conflict resolution make sense emotionally and logically.
Mahnoor: How long does it take to write a book on average?
That’s a hard question because it depends on the book and what I want to write. Usually, I think having an idea for the beginning and end helps. So, if I know where I want to end up, and how I want to go there, it helps. I don’t know how I’m going to get there, but I know I’ll get there. It depends on how big the scale is, so with my book, I knew what my ending would be and what it meant, so I just slowly worked towards it, and it took me 5 months. I ended up with 66,000 words, so I thought that was a relatively fine amount for a first book.
What interests me is crime-thriller and fantasy, so I just usually take these two concepts. And if it’s a crime-thriller, it takes a shorter time to write, while a fantasy takes longer. But I think it’s about enjoying the journey while you’re writing it, and rather than rushing it, just working in the path to the ending you decided on.
Ali: Coming to that, I also wanted to ask that since you’re a person who is expressing themselves through literature, and also online, what do you think about the platform online forums have given to artists in terms of providing them an audience and outlet. Especially with the current situation.
I think the current situation has given people a lot of time on their hands. It’s best to take the positive out of any situation, so I think this gives us more time to create things and experiment with them. Because you can keep dwelling on the situation and take all the negativity from it, but if you truly want to take something positive out of it, you can use it to experiment with something you’ve been wanting to try. You can also interact with people and get to know them. In terms of creativity, I wouldn’t force something. I think it will come naturally, but I think you should try to be positive in any situation.
Ali: So I guess now we have some rapid-fire questions for you. Just answer with what comes to your mind first.
Ali: Author or figure you would like to spend a day with?
Eiichiro Oda, the mangaka of One Piece.
Ali: First thing you would do with a million dollars.
I think I would invest it.
Ali: Oh! That’s actually a very common – and a very smart – answer. Best place to hang out on campus?
Ali: Favourite superhero or other fictional character?
Luffy from One Piece.
Mahnoor: What’s your favourite under-appreciated book?
I don’t think I have one. I mean there is a lot of stuff out there that is under-appreciated, but it’s difficult to pinpoint one. Maybe those under-appreciated things are meant for certain people to enjoy, and that’s just how it is. But I feel I see things that are under-appreciated, and then they just blow up, and I think they have more value in that sense.
Mahnoor: Well, thank you so much for this interview!
Ali: Yeah, I think this is a good time for reading and other healthy activities in general because we have a lot of time on our hands now.
Sarim Khan is a budding writer and content creator. You can find him on his Instagram page www.instagram.com/fantasiliam, and also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fantasiliam! He is currently looking for a literary agent(in the US/UK) to publish his debut novel ‘Lies and Sorrows’, and is also working as a Publications Executive at NUST Media Club.
(Parts of this interview have been edited for the sake of conciseness and clarity. All efforts have been made to preserve the original opinions and intent of the interviewee, and the authors apologize in advance for any errors made in this regard, if any.)