Our book personality of the week, Raashida Khan, recently won the 2018 Minara Aziz Hassim Literary Award for her debut novel, Mirror Cracked. Raashida published her first book (an anthology of poems called Happy Birthday, Raashi) with Kwarts Publishers in 2017. She is currently working on a follow-up novel to Mirror Cracked, called Fragrance of Forgiveness. She answered a few questions about herself and her love of writing.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
South Africa, but a re-imagined South Africa. One where every child is able to live his/her full potential because we provide the basic necessities. This includes food, water, clothing, safety, a family, education, and books – many, many books. One where the crime rate is reduced to 0%, where we can walk freely to enjoy our beautiful country, meet our diverse people, learn and share with and from them. One where our politicians are there to serve the country and its people and are accountable and responsible. I love South Africa and South Africans.
What do you do when you aren’t writing?
I read. I spend as much time with family and friends. I’m actually quite a home-buddy and am loving this time that I am able to write full time. I read, research, watch and listen to news programmes (I love current affairs), take long walks, go for coffee and chats with girlfriends (essential to keep sane). I read. When time and budget allow, I’ll go for a massage. And if I have nothing left to do – I read some more. There are always at least three books at my bedside. I’ve also become very brutal – if a book does not grab me immediately, I’ll toss it and start another. Previously, I’d have the patience to wait for a book or the characters to develop, but not anymore. There are so many books and so little time, so I feel justified.
How would you define a successful writer?
One who actually sits down every day and writes. Even when he/she is not in the mood, suffering from ‘writer’s block’ or is feeling lazy, the writer shows up at his/her laptop or notebook and writes. Even if the words are deleted the next day. A successful writer is committed and disciplined. I admire them very much, and that’s what I am aspiring to. I am the supreme procrastinator.
What is the first book that made an impression on you?
I cannot remember the first book – that would have been when I was a child. Probably a mystery story, that made me think or had a surprise twist at the end. Anything that is intriguing can surprise or can keep me reading until I know what happens next, that would impress me.
In school, I loved Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (only nerds enjoyed their set works. Don’t tell anyone, but I loved Shakespeare too!).
Recently and in no particular order: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (the characters pulled at my heart until I cried with them), The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (There was a sentence in that book that made me envious – I wish I could write as beautifully), A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (a long book with many characters so I was forced to concentrate – always good for me who is so easily distracted), Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (the honest telling of a love that covered time and distance), Period Pain by Kopano Matlwa (a prose that is almost poetic in its simplicity and rawness).
I’ll stop here, otherwise I could be writing this answer all night!
What is the most difficult thing about writing characters of the opposite sex?
I haven’t found this difficult, or any more difficult than writing for women. The personality of the person, although influenced by their gender, is unique. I think their humanity and individuality is more important. I spend time and effort on creating, understanding and developing my characters. I love them all, and there is a little bit of me in each of them.
Where is your favourite place to write?
In bed, or at my desk in my little study with a view of the back garden and the neighbourhood cats that come to play in the sun. When weather permits, I’ll write outside – I have a little mosaic table that I’m particularly fond of writing at, especially when I’m working on the plot/storyline of a book.
How does writing change a writer?
I’m not sure if it changes one, but rather helps to really discover who one really is. Reaching into yourself to create and develop characters is not for faint-hearted. It takes courage to lay yourself bare (essential for characters to be real and believable) first to yourself and then to readers. Writing also makes one realise how brave, strong and resilient one can really be. If you really want to be a writer, you can’t give up at the first (or twentieth) rejection letter, or the first time you hit a plot hole or a character anomaly.
What is the role of a publisher for an indie author?
Guidance, support, patience x 3 x every day, all the time. My publisher, Anita Stander from Kwarts Publishers, has walked every step of the journey since I presented her with my manuscripts. She is my go-to gal for any question related to the industry, the process, the market, etc. She was even my PA while I was away overseas without a laptop, forwarding information to whoever needed it on my behalf.
What marketing tips do you have for aspiring and perspiring writers?
If you can afford it, get help. Focus on the writing and let the experts take care of your marketing. I wish I could afford a full-time marketer. Doing the marketing and promotions on my own is fine, but time-consuming. I’d really rather be writing.
Is being a writer a blessing or a curse?
A blessing, but damn! One does curse a lot. I love writing and am passionate about my work. I am blessed to have finally started and to have the opportunity to live my dream.
What work have you done with Kwarts Publishers?
My poetry anthology, Happy Birthday, Raashi – a beautiful collection including striking black and white images.
Mirror Cracked - my debut novel and labour of love. It was challenging to get this right because of the many different fonts and styles used. Kwarts designers were brilliant and patiently acceded to my requests for additional changes. I am a perfectionist so needed to make sure everything was just right.
Read her writings and reflections at www.raashisreflections.com