Debut novel: ‘Invest in a steady source of caffeine’

Published: February 21, 2014
Author Saba Imtiaz speaks about her writing process, advice to aspiring writers.

Author Saba Imtiaz speaks about her writing process, advice to aspiring writers.


Saba Imtiaz, the author of the funny and breezy Karachi, You’re Killing Me! will be one of the speakers on a panel at the Lahore Literature Festival. The Express Tribune caught up with the former staffer.

Saeed Rahman: The book has a strong female protagonist and a female friendship that runs throughout. Have there been strong female mentors in your life? Did you make a conscious decision about how the friendship between Ayesha and Zara would play out?

Saba Imtiaz: I wouldn’t say mentors, but I’ve always had strong female influences in my life, such as my mother. I wanted to base the friendship between Ayesha and Zara on the friendships I have and have seen in Karachi, between independent and strong women whose social and professional lives are intertwined.

SR: How has Karachi treated you as a city? I gather you grew up in Lahore, what made you move to Karachi?

SI: I only lived in Lahore for a year, but it was a fairly formative as I had just moved from the Emirates. Lahore is where I learnt Urdu properly, discovered a love for food, and went into the deep end of Pakistan. My family decided to move to Karachi in 1995, which was one of the worst years for the city in terms of violence. Karachi has been brutal at times, it has killed my soul but it is also home and where I’ve made a career.

SR: There is always speculation that a debut novel is just a biography. Granted that you were a journalist and this book takes place in a newsroom, is it discouraging to find that people are unable to recognise this as a work of fiction?

SI: I expected those kinds of reactions and questions. That said, I would reiterate that the book is entirely a work of fiction. While it was inspired by many people I have met, the book is not about me. The protagonist and I had fairly little in common by the time I finished writing.

SR: How did the idea of this book come about? And how useful were your editors while you were writing this?

SI: Faiza Sultan Khan, who is the editor-at-large at Random House India, asked me if I was interested. Even though I had never seen myself writing fiction, I thought it would be interesting to give it a shot. Faiza is the driving force behind the book. Without her – and her incredible support and edits – I would have been stuck at about 300 words.

SR: What is your writing process?

SI: I have no process! I worked as a freelance journalist when I was writing the book, so I wrote it in bits and pieces. I have always been a night person so I would start around 10 some nights and finish at four in the morning, or write through the afternoon.

SR: What advice would you give budding authors?

SI: Invest in a steady source of caffeine.

SR: How have your former colleagues responded? What kind of responses are you expecting? Is there anyone you would want to avoid?

SI: I wouldn’t want to avoid anyone: the book’s fiction. Some of my closest friends are former colleagues, so they have been very excited. I’ve worked at two newspapers in Pakistan (The News and The Express Tribune), and Karachi’s media set isn’t very large and I see people I work with socially. I was very fortunate to have worked at two papers where I was encouraged and allowed to give all sorts of feedback and criticism, especially at the Tribune. As I had such an honest relationship with my colleagues, I don’t think there’s anything to hide or avoid.

SR: How do you feel when books written by women with female leads are dismissed as ‘chick lit?’ Why are they considered a light weight category? Is it just sexism at work?

SI: It is mostly sexism, and comes alongside the perception that women can only write about ‘light’ things like fashion or music. These assumptions have infiltrated journalism and TV shows as well

SR: Are you working on anything else?

SI: I’m currently revising a long-pending manuscript for a non-fiction book on the conflict in Karachi. It is called No Team of Angels and will be published by First Draft Publishing.

SR: How do you feel about debuting the novel at LLF?

SI: I’m very excited to be in Lahore and with such a great coterie of authors, some of whom are doing very exciting work.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2014.

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