“Do you have an itch, Ali Sethi?... Yeah man, I do.”

No, this is not a locker-room conversation but part of a discussion on the nature of the creative urge.

Batool Zehra February 06, 2011

KARACHI: No, this is not a locker-room conversation but part of a discussion on the nature of the creative urge.

Pakistan’s literary stars revealed their sources of inspiration, their writing quirks and their routines in what was the most highly anticipated session on the first day of the festival. Though organisational issues pushed the session back more than an hour, the avid crowd had packed the hall for the session titled “Work in Progress”. The panel consisted of Pakistan’s favourite novelists, Mohammed Hanif, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Ali Sethi and HM Naqvi, all of who have successful first books, and are working on another - though Mohammaed Hanif promptly debunked that myth.

“I think there has been a mistake because I have no sort of novel in progress . . . I have disqualified myself from this session,” said Hanif in the manner that Sunil Sethi later described as “cagey, shy, pretending to be neurotic.”

Sunil Sethi added insight to the discussion and Marilyn Watt acted as moderator.

Attendees were regaled with details of how Mohammed Hanif scribbled paragraphs and plotted chapters during editorial meetings, how Daniyal Mueenuddin sailed through a couple of hours of effortless writing each day and how Ali Sethi was trying to figure out his place in the world. HM Naqvi gave details of his nocturnal routine: “I’ve spent the last 7 years working till 6am in the morning,” said HM Naqvi. “I wake up at 2, have breakfast at 2:30, my first bout of writing lasts from 4:30 to 6:30, my second session is from 9 to 11. I have lunch before midnight and continue working till 6:30.”

As always, the theme of exile soon cropped up, not surprising considering that all the authors had lived in the US or UK. While other writers tended to romanticise exile, Ali Sethi, excited, breathless, unwaveringly earnest, said “One doesn’t have to leave a place to experience exile. I’ve felt exiled some way or the other my whole life.”

Readers got an insight into the subject matter of the writers’ second books. Ali Sethi was moved by the Gojra revolt to do research for his second novel. Daniyal Mueenuddin has shifted gears and is now writing an American novel. “The galvanizing event was my mother’s death in New York. I was working on another book but found the impulse was always to write the New York one.”

Though disappointingly little time was left for the question-answer session, there were some interesting queries. One man wanted to know how much money could be made in writing since he was deliberating a shift in that direction from being a businessman. But Hanif neatly turned the tables on him when he asked how much money he made in his present profession. Daniyal Mueenuddin quashed that dream when he told him, “It pays 50 cents an hour.”

Responding to a question from the audience on how to deal with writer’s block, Hanif said “I used to watch the Nadya Khan show. Glad I don’t have a book to write any more.” HM Naqvi was more helpful when he revealed that he had run into a three-month long writer’s block in the middle of Home Boy, and it was just one of the things that he’d had to deal with. “There’s no pat reply to that, there’s no strategy,” said Naqvi.

When a gangly A’ Level student mused on what to do when you stop believing in something that you were writing about, Ali Sethi reached out in earnest brotherhood and comforted him, “Sometimes writing is just a way of figuring things out.”

“This was the funnest, most entertaining session,” said Khizer, an investment banker, after the session.

Another guest was overheard telling someone over the phone “You just missed the best session of the day.”

However some attendees were disappointed, “The discussion focused on the obvious. The writers didn’t even share anything,” fumed Rayan.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2011.


Ahsan Khan | 10 years ago | Reply It doesn't seem like the writer enjoyed this session herself. I was there too, and felt that the speakers could have added so much more if they had been better prepared for the discussion. It seemed like they were just going with the flow of the conversation. I expected some more talk about the writing process from them.
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