Drowning Shadows by Umair Naeem was handed to me on a lazy Sunday morning by a complete stranger in a coffee shop. In my head, fate had sent a book my way and now it was up to me to do justice to it by reading it at least once. And so I did. I spent the wee hours of the night consuming every page of this spiritual thriller.
A Google search of the writer, a Facebook like on his page, and a private message to him later, Naeem and I were sitting in a coffee shop discussing his first published novel.
When did you start writing Drowning Shadows?
I started in 2007 when I was still studying at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA). From then on, it was two years of writing, and another three years going through the process of getting it published.
How would you describe Drowning Shadows to a stranger?
It’s really difficult to describe something you’ve written. Once I was put on the spot by someone and all I could come up with was “its fiction”. It’s a dramatic thriller about a man’s obsession with control, and how underneath every success humanity can still remain unsatiated.
Your book was published by an Indian publishing house. Were Pakistani publishers not receptive to the book?
I contacted a few Pakistani publishers but the interested publisher wanted complete intellectual rights to the book which I thought was a bit unfair. Months later, my literary agent informed me that Amaryllis was interested in publishing the book and since they were letting me retain all rights, I went ahead with it.
You work as a marketeer professionally. How do you manage to take out time for writing?
It’s really tough. I really envy writers who can just work full time on their novels and just immerse themselves in the worlds of their characters. For me, weekends are dedicated to my writing and it’s always a struggle to get in the flow of things.
When writing, do you tend to be structured and write from outlines or go with the flow?
When I’m writing, I have a vague sense of where my story is headed and an even vaguer sense of the ending. As I write and as I change, in terms of my thinking and experiences, the story and the characters evolve and begin to exhibit a more concrete direction. Somewhere along the way I know where it will all end.
Did you find encouragement from published Pakistani writers?
I really feel that it’s really tough to break into the mainstream society of artists/writers and creating a space for yourself. It’s a huge learning experience in terms of thickening your hide and batting down to criticism. But I found a few, like Bina Shah and Musharraf Farooqi, who helped me with the publishing process. There were also a lot of people from outside the industry like Rabia Garib and Yasmin Qureshi who were a huge help to me.
Why do you write?
When I write, I feel like I’m actually doing something substantial and fulfilling in my day. I can’t imagine how people go through their lives just stuck in their daily routine. So it makes me feel very happy that I’m able to do something that I love apart from working. If I were to stop writing, the world might lose its colour for me.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I love music and that directly channels into my writing, as I draw out feelings and emotions from songs and transfer them into writing. Travel and films are also great sources of inspiration for me. Also, Mohsin Hamid’s Moth Smoke is pretty much the reason why I started writing.
What are you currently working on?
I finalised another manuscript last September which took me four years to write. It’s called The Runaway.
What would you advise young Pakistani writers just starting off?
Keep at it. Persevere and persist, and don’t give up.
Limited copies of the book are available at The Second Floor (T2F) in Karachi and Saeed Book Bank in Islamabad.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2012.