Thursday, November 3, 2016

nanowrimo - the 30 day journal

Day 30

Let it be known that today is the last day of NaNoWriMo 2016 and I have completed 50k words. *applause*

NaNoWriMo is tough. First, there’s the pressure of writing 50k words. Then the additional stress of working on improving and increasing the said 50k words post November (which I didn't). One of the reasons I failed to continue working on my previous NaNoWriMo story was its plot, or rather, the lack of it. I had, in an attempt to complete 50k words, written random chapters and though the skeleton of the story was there, that was all it was, a skeleton. As the months passed, my self doubt returned in full force and there were moments when I thought of writing something new. But I didn't let go of my story (thank god!) and when October came around, I started work on the plot.

It wasn’t easy writing this time around. In fact, it was super hard! If you’ve followed these blog entries you’ll know my love and hate relationship with my protagonist. And even though I’ve finished 50k words, I still haven’t the foggiest idea how my antagonist is going to make her entrance. I know what she’s aiming for  - total destruction (duh?!) but how she plans on doing it is still a blank.

What I do have, on the other hand, is quite a solid plot. It needs a bit of tinkering but there aren’t any gaping holes in it which is such a relief. I still haven’t started world building yet, but I’m now seriously looking forward to it!

All this writing, by the way, didn’t happen in isolation. Life went on and its demands were endless. That’s what I love about NaNoWriMo - no matter how bogged down you get by everyday activities, you still manage to take out time to write. Which is how it should be all year round. 

Before I sign off, here are my learnings from NaNoWriMo 2016, in a neat little list:

1. Writing buddies are very important. Never underestimate the power of your writer friends. Mine helped me through some very difficult and unnerving moments this time round. A big shout out to them for completing 50k words and being there for me all through this month.

2. Emergency prompts help remove writer’s block. This is an understatement. They are life savers, especially when you sit down to write at 11pm.

3. Writing can be done everyday. Nothing should serve as an excuse. Nothing. Not even an awful visit to the dentist, reruns of your favourite movie/television show, deaths, births, funerals, birthdays. Trust me, I’ve written through it all. 

4. NaNoWriMo helped me find my story. It’s not perfect, yet, but at least it’s there, in front of me and not just in my mind. If your story only remains in your mind, it’s not helping anyone, least of all you. Get it out!

5. Contrary to popular belief, copious amounts of tea doesn’t help in writing. 

6. Write to music. Especially the soundtrack of The Hobbit. Especially when you’re writing battle scenes. The words flow like water!

And finally,

7. All it takes, at the end of the day, is a leap of faith. I took it. You should try it too. 

Day 29

I JUST WROTE 50,000 WORDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I think I need to collect my thoughts before I write a final post on this amazing 30 day journey. 

Word Count: 50, 405

Day 28

When in doubt write battle scenes while listening to the soundtrack of The Hobbit. You're welcome!

Till last night the very thought of writing 10,000 words in three days was the stuff of nightmares. Today, I managed to write almost 5000 words in approximately 5 hours. Miraculous, right? The words were flowing as my characters drew battle plans, discussed war strategies and killed their opponents. Betrayal has emerged as another major theme in my story, especially through the bit I wrote tonight. The story is coming together so brilliantly that I can kiss myself! But since I can't, I'll just pat myself on the back and exchange virtual high fives with my writing buddies.

Word Count: Getting there

Day 27

It's a race against time right now. The word count and calendar dates are going round and round in my mind and I am checking the number of words after every few lines. The story, of course, is getting all jumbled up and most of my writing today was full of blank spaces, and question marks because I couldn't come up with the appropriate words!

The last thing I needed today was for my characters to create trouble. I had killed one off yesterday and was quite pleased about it. I was hoping his death might result in some much needed action and get the word count rolling but that was too much to hope. Instead, two lead characters (one of them being the protagonist) decided to change their own stories. Forget about edits  - this new development means the story is now steering itself into a new direction! And there are only three days left to reach the target!!

*takes deep breath*

I think I need to kill a few more characters. It'll help keep the others in line and provide me some much needed word count boost!

Word count: Still not enough

Day 25

Never underestimate the power of your writing group.

Word count: 4000 

Day 22

Only eight days left. And I still have to write 20k words. 

Day 17

If I ever decide to write a horror story, it will probably be about a writer trying to make the daily word count during NaNoWriMo. On not making the word count everyday, she will lose something which she holds very dear. If she doesn't make the 50k target, she will lose her entire story. Every single word of it. 

Word Count: 1192

Day 15

As I write this I’m listening to Shout out to my Ex, a song by a girl band who go by the name Little Mix. If this isn’t an indication of how my mind is going bananas even before reaching the half way mark, I don’t know what is. 

All this is, of course, my story’s fault or rather this particular point my story is at. I’ve been struggling to write about a bookstore for the past two days. This store has secrets and is a key space in the story but no matter how hard I try, I’m not getting a feel of it. I know where it is, who owns it, what makes it special but how it looks like- the shelves, the posters on the wall, the book collection - that’s a complete blank. It's almost like a black hole. There's the door and the signboard but as soon as I step inside, total darkness.

The right thing to do is to step back, take a deep breath and move onto another part of the story. But sometimes, the right decision is just. so. difficult. 

Word Count: (             )

Day 13

I was planning on writing 4000 words today but mindfulness got in the way. What was I thinking when I decided to do ‘mindful’ writing during NaNoWriMo? The only thing one should be mindful of this month is the word count. It doesn’t matter if A kills B in chapter 3 and then during investigations in chapter 5 it is revealed that A was in a different city (which was mentioned in quite a lot of detail in chapter 2) when the murder took place.  As long as there are thousands of words between all these chapters, who cares about the timelines! They can be fixed in December, or January or next November, right?

So what am I doing? I'm writing quite mindfully, a little sensibly, very carefully, somewhat methodically but still not perfectly. All that’s coming out of this structured writing is a panic attack every morning as figures zoom in and out of my mind while I struggle to press the snooze button on my phone. 

Somedays the writing doesn't come easily and it is all doom and gloom, like the siege of Rohan in The Two Towers. And just when I'm about to lose hope, suddenly a bright white light appears on the horizon, the clouds part and Gandalf arrives on Shadowfax. Today was one of those days!

Word count: 3,280 

Day 12

I had to reach for the emergency prompt during the write-in session today. 

Emergency prompts are like Red Bull. They help keep the story going. Especially when you reach a dead end, literally and figuratively. I think I reached that point in today’s NaNoWriMo write-in session. There I was, eating chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies, staring blankly at my screen while all around me my friends were typing thousands of words in 20 minute sprints. 

*Silent Scream* 

The emergency prompt seemed my only friend at that moment. So while others typed hard and fast during the sprint to achieve glory and get the Superhero stickers, I took out a folded piece of paper from the prompt bowl. The scenario in the prompt was really cool. It went somewhat like this:

'You find out about a guy who sells superpowers at a fixed rate of $1000. When you go to him you discover that unfortunately the powers can't be duplicated. You've worked hard to scrape money together for this and decide to buy a really lame superpower.'

And the first thought that came in my mind was to make a list of all superpowers that fall in the lame category. 

Moral of the story? Somedays, it’s a good idea to just take a break and work on the back story a little bit. I don’t want to become an emergency prompt addict! Now, where’s my Red Bull?

Word Count: 1004 words

Day 11

Most days writing is a lovely escape. There is no better way to shut the world than to disappear in the world of my own creation. A world where my will is supreme above all others. It’s a powerful feeling and I usually bask in it while I’m writing but today, I was encumbered by fear. Mostly fear of not meeting the word count but more than that, a fear of not knowing where my story is heading. A fear that my imagination has dried up. I had to get up thrice today to clear my thoughts while I was writing, kept checking the word count every few sentences and switched from one track to the other for inspiration. I only just managed to make the word count today.


Word Count: 1789

Day 10

2500 words in four hours.

I have absolutely nothing to say now except that writing is tough work. There is no muse and if there is, she is not making an appearance at my writing desk everyday. Or maybe the muse is tired too, trying to inspire so many of us who have embarked on this crazy journey. 

I’ve been thinking of origin stories. Of my characters and also my own. I tried to write one for my character today but it’s still work in progress. As is mine, I guess.

Word Count: 2,680

Day 9

I watched Dr. Strange today and realised how important it is to write a good story. Don’t get me wrong, the movie was throughly entertaining and watching Benedict Cumberbatch (who is always so bloody brilliant!), Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen (the scope of the role didn’t do justice to him though) was a treat but hey, it is a good story which remains with the viewer (or the reader) no matter how good the actors or cool the graphics. Some might refute that argument, saying that in this day and age we are bombarded with so much information 24/7 that even good stories tend to fade quickly. I disagree. When a story resonates with you at some level or makes you feel a certain way, then it’s very hard to forget it. Dr. Strange, however, is highly forgettable except for the very cool and extremely desirous ‘cloak of levitation’. 

So what did I write today? It breaks my heart to admit it but nothing. I had my entire writing scene for tonight planned out but the day unfolded very strangely (no pun intended) and I found myself unable to do justice to my writing. Which is NOT the point of NaNoWriMo. You have to churn out the words by the dozen and not judge them. But sometimes one does not even have the energy for writing drivel. Unless one is Trump. Then not only does one write and speak drivel, one is listened to and elected president.

I think I like the fictional world better!

Word Count: Strangely missing

Day 8

Even though the US elections must have messed with a lot of people’s writing schedule today, I wasn’t one of them. I’m still behind my word count and that is quite scary. Much less so than a Trump presidency but scary nonetheless. 

Today was a confrontation day in my writing. Two characters with a history came face to face and the scene just went from one high point to the next. Although I was dreading writing this particular confrontation earlier, I was pleasantly surprised at the ease with which I was eventually able to write it. And one of the things that helped me was the backstory of the two I had written while doing NaNoWriMo last year.

I love writing backstories. Whenever I suffer from writer’s block, I start working on the backstories of my characters. It’s relatively easier and a lot of fun because it’s for my eyes only. Backstories help add depth to the characters. They help me to understand how a character might react in a particular situation or towards another character. Like the scene I was writing today involved a confrontation between two characters who had a really chequered history. The challenge while writing it was to show the tension between them because of their past without going into the details of the past. That is where the back story helped. 

I’ve just suddenly realized how this journal is, in a way, turning into a back story also. 

Did I ever mention how physically tiring writing can be? My shoulders are absolutely killing me right now. And my bum seems to have glued itself to the chair. And my legs feel as if they’ll always remain at right angles. All those who romanticise the writing process must either write drunk or in one of those customised chairs which have a massage mechanism built in them. 

Word Count: 1662

Day 7

I have this NaNoWriMo calendar on my desktop which clearly mentions the ideal word count for each day. By the end of the first week, which is today, in the perfect world my word count should be 11,667 words. But we all know that, alas, nothing is perfect and my word count stood at 8,598 words earlier today. Which basically meant that I needed to write 3000 words or more by tonight in order to have some chances of matching the 'ideal' count. Instead of letting it get to me, I decided to take some action. So I logged into Facebook, went to The Crystal Cat Cabal page and ordered this amazing notebook and, ahem, *speaks in a small voice* a unicorn.

And then it hit me, I need a unicorn in my story! 

You have to agree that no fantasy story can really be complete without a unicorn or a dragon or two. And currently mine is devoid of both. But again, when I decided to weave the narrative to make the entry of a unicorn possible, someone else made an entry. These characters are going to drive me crazy! And this gentleman, who made his entry today, is no stranger to me. I had left him hanging when I was working on this story last year and I guess he decided to take matters in his own hand and make his entry sooner than later.

Knowing him, he’ll slay unicorns rather than pet them. 

Word Count: 1812
Total: 10,406

Day 6

Today was a day of diagrams. Nothing very fancy as I can’t draw if my life depended on it. I’m talking about basic circle and arrow stuff with notes scribbled around them. I selected a few characters and confined them in circles and tried answering questions like how and why with lots of arrows thrown in to connect the various scribbles. It’s a fun exercise and really helps to connect the dots. Sometimes, like today, connecting dots can result in some very interesting links between characters.

So far into my story and planning, I am quite character focused. But I’m also being mindful of the trap I fell in last year, that of just driving the narrative forward through the characters. I am keeping an eye on the bigger picture also this time and trying to write more mindfully (this basically means  - don’t lose sight of the plot, girl!).

One thing we avoid during NaNoWriMo is revising. Editing is a word which we try and erase from our minds for 30 days. But I was going through this seriously unreasonable bout of self-doubt so I decided to read through what I’ve written so far. 

And you know what, it wasn’t bad at all! 

Yes, there were a few bad sentences and some incomplete thoughts but as I was reading, I started, not editing, but adding to the story. Which is good because I’m adding to my word count, right? Even though I hadn’t planned to alter the text but some places were just crying out for additions, so I went ahead and did them and thoroughly enjoyed doing them.

Sometimes, not planning what you’re going to write makes the process more exciting. I’m not a panster, how can I be? I’m making diagrams and mapping out character journeys while I’m doing NaNoWriMo! However, there are some days when writing doesn’t go according to plan. You think of approaching a particular scene in a certain way but something totally different comes along, like that new character who walked into my story yesterday! It’s okay to keep an open mind towards writing because if you try and rigidly follow a plan, and are unable to do it, you’ll hate the writing itself. 

I think I might make it to 10k words by tomorrow. I’ve even postponed watching Dr. Strange to Tuesday so that I’m able to spend most of tomorrow evening writing. That’s the plan at least, but life, like writing doesn’t always follow plans, does it?!

Word count: 1823

Day 5

‘You have to be your own hero—finish your own book—if you expect your character to be one.’ #nanocoach

Being a hero is not easy. It requires a lot of blood, sweat and will power. It requires courage, empathy and strength. You have to shed your layers, unlock your defence mechanisms, expose your vulnerabilities and then face your biggest, darkest fears. It’s not easy to do all this. Writing a story is not easy. It is physically and emotionally taxing. There are moments in a story when the dialogue isn’t flowing, or the scene refuses to materialise in the same manner on the page as it was in your mind or you realise the climax doesn’t pack as much punch as you had imagined it. That’s when you need to be the hero for your story. For yourself.

I think I read a little too much into this tweet today that was posted earlier on Twitter by @NaNoWriMo. 

5th Nov is Guy Fawkes night and my NaNoWriMo calendar suggested that I burn something innocent today. For a few seconds I actually thought it meant literally burning something and a few objects did come to my mind but better sense prevailed! There is a burning scene later in the story but I'm still on the first chapter at the moment so the fire will have to wait. Also something strange happened in my story at today’s write-in session. As I started writing from where I had left last night, a new character walked into the story. 

It’s very annoying when this happens. All this time I’m trying to focus on my protagonist  and in a matter of two lines, I had this guesthouse owner come out of nowhere into the story. And the funny part is, she’s a great character! It’s not that I can’t throw her out of the story, I don’t want to! Also she’s helping me a) get to know my protagonist better,  b) take the story forward in a way which I had not quite planned but is better than my plan and c) meet the word count! 

I’m feeling a bit of a hero tonight even though I haven’t done more than meet my required word count. I guess it’s because of listening to the Final Fantasy XV soundtrack featuring songs by Florence + The Machine which my dear writing buddy and friend Jalal introduced me to. He’s trying to make me switch from Swan Lake and I must admit, Florence + The Machine is mind-bogglingly beautiful background music. 

Word Count: 1695

Day 4

Today was a smashing day. Firstly, I managed to find some alone time during the day to sort out my characters. Sort is an inappropriate word. I think it'll be fair to write that I spent quality time with some of them today. Secondly, I got a haircut! Time saved in fixing hair can now be used to think about characters, plot lines and the word count. 

Talking about word counts, yesterday mine was a big fat zero and as I sat down to write today, I tried to keep this major fact somewhere in a far corner of my mind. Preferably locked up in a little steel box but since my self-doubt is already locked up in a steel trunk with a big lock, I had to make do with stuffing the thought in a plain old corner of my mind and pretend it was dust. 

So today I decided to tap into the deepest desires of my characters. In short I set out to unearth what were their ‘core yearnings’. This exercise came about as a result of the online writing course I’m enrolled in at the moment. What I discovered shocked me because it touched something deep and personal inside me. I took three characters today - who are quite central to the narrative - and literally peeled off the layers of their personality to understand their fears, dilemmas and inner conflicts. It was such an exhilarating moment as a writer! 

Such moments don't come around everyday in a writer's life. Most days are filled with frustrating, hair-tearing, wanting to scream out loud moments. Or as they say in Urdu, Chaar din kee chandni aur phir andheri raat...

Word count: 1682

Day 3

There are some days when no words flow. Today was one of those days. 

Word count: Zero

Day 2

Today I was having problems with my opening scene. It just wasn't coming together. My protagonist was giving me loads of trouble and rightfully so because I didn't make much of an effort to get to know her before Nov 1st. Yesterday she was all moody and kept giving me insipid sort of reactions which was very annoying. I didn't have the time to chalk out a character sketch and go into the details of her life today and just when I was losing all hope of writing any words, I came across this very interesting tweet by #nanocoach on Twitter:

'When your characters meet for the first time, you have many opportunities to reveal quirks/biases/weird stuff.'

Action! Make my protagonist interact with others and see how she reacts. And it worked! The interaction was limited to one other character but since it was her grandfather whom she is very attached to, it went quite smoothly. During their short conversation I was able to make out a few things about her - she thinks she's a bit of a rebel, doesn't have many friends and loves reading. Considering how difficult she was being last night, I think this is quite a lot of progress! 

Whenever I feel I don't understand a character, I make him/her have a conversation with someone. As the words flow between the two I get a better idea of their personalities. Everything isn't revealed by just one conversation but sometimes it is the best way for me to break the ice with my characters. 

If nothing else I throw them into Snoopy's favourite setting, 'It was a dark and stormy night.'

Word count: 1732 

Day 1

1667. This figure was the first thing that came into my mind as I got out of bed and the thought of it made me hide inside the covers and go back to sleep. If you're not familiar with NaNoWriMo, this is the minimum number of words I have to write everyday if I want to reach the 50k word goal in 30 days. If you think 1667 words is not a very difficult task then you've clearly never written before and I suggest you try doing it now, with the word count on in your writing software. 

The first day of NaNoWriMo is always tough. Last year it was scary and today was no different. As I sat there with a blank document open in front of me, I felt the old self-doubt returning. I almost deleted the chapter heading as soon as I wrote it but better sense prevailed and I let it be. The words flowed, stopped, flowed again, halted. I fumbled with music and after going through a few playlists decided to stick to my tried and tested Swan Lake. It's my perfect writing music. I consulted my notes, made some new ones but did not stop writing. 

That's what I need to do every single day, write. It was a very busy day for me. I was out most of the day, came home at 9pm and yet was at my computer at 9:45pm and didn't get up till I finished my word count. What is it about NaNoWriMo which makes me sit at my desk even after a super busy day? And why can't I do this for the rest of the year? I think I'll sleep over this question and hopefully the answer will come to me tomorrow morning when I wake up. 

Word count : 1999 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

straight from the book

'But then people don't read literature in order to understand; they read it because they want to re-live the feelings and sensations which they found exciting in the past. Art can be a lot of things; but in actual practice most of it is merely the mental equivalent of alcohol and cantharides.'

(After Many a Summer - Aldous Huxley)

Friday, October 28, 2016

November is coming

I think the biggest cliche' in our lives is the constant complaint of how time flies really quickly and it only seems like yesterday when this happened or that happened. But no matter how banal this sounds, we are kind of helpless at the hands of the goddess of time. I guess we kind of pay homage to her when we wring our hands and complain about the fleeting hours, days, months, years, decades and so on. 

It was a year back, in November, when I undertook the biggest challenge of my writing life. And another November is time flies! I participated in NaNoWriMo and ended up writing 50k words of a fantasy novel. They weren't the perfect words, and it wasn't the perfect story but it was a great achievement. After many years I was able to fight with my insecurities, overcome them and write (I've written about that struggle at the DWL blog which you can read here). 

I am preparing for another NaNoWriMo and, somehow, it seems more daunting than last year. I don't know why. Maybe because now I know what it really takes to write 50k words. I think the fear is that if I don't work seriously on my novel this time around, I'll never be able to complete it and it will remain a story, in my mind only. That is a very scary thought because now there are other stakeholders involved; my characters. And I have this fear that if I don't put their stories together, they will haunt me in old age. It's a grim thought but I know, deep down, that it can happen....that it will happen.

On a slightly less morbid note, I am looking forward to losing myself in my creation. Reality can really sap your spirits sometimes and what better way to escape from it then to immerse yourself in a good fantasy tale. Especially one in which you control everything. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Of book-covers and book snobs

You know how sometimes you buy a book purely because of the cover? I mean, look at this gorgeous set. How can any book lover in their right mind pass it over? And even though I had a very faint idea of who Asimov was, I picked up these books without a second thought.

I think science fiction is awesome. Why am I saying this? Because there are many book snobs out there who raise eyebrows and shake their heads when this genre is discussed (there are some who display the same sort of behaviour when the fantasy genre is brought up) and frankly, I think it’s all hogwash and pretence and this oh-I’m-so-above-this-genre attitude. I know because I, too, was a member of this tribe many years back. Any mention of fantasy or science fiction by someone and immediately the judgement dial in my head would start blinking red. How I rid myself of this snobbery is a matter of another blog post but if truth be told, some ill effects still linger but I am open to suggestions and do try to embrace most, if not all. 

Anyways, coming back to the books. And science fiction in general. The entire point of good fiction is to make the reader believe in a make belief world. This is especially the case with both fantasy and science fiction. When I was eight years old Jules Verne made me believe that his characters had traversed the centre of the earth. Asimov did the same. He dragged me into the story immediately and after a few chapters I was hooked. Hari Seldon and his mathematical predictions were fascinating and how they played out in the entire trilogy made for excellent reading.

A lot of people might say the books are a bit repetitive and the first book might seem so. However, in the second book, Asimov takes us on a new journey and the story goes off on a different tangent when The Mule makes his appearance. Both the second and the third books have such a mind-blowing twist in the end that I couldn’t stop myself from exclaiming loudly after I was done reading. I know it might sound a bit melodramatic but how many books do that anymore? I’ve read 30 so far and only five, which includes two of Asimov have made me go oh-my-god-i-don’t-believe-this-is-happening-shit!

Another book which recently had me all twisted and turning pages till 2am was Doctor Sleep, a novel by Stephen King. For the longest of time I didn’t read King because of the snob-effect but all that changed when I bought two of his novels from the book bazaar sale at T2F. I started reading Doctor Sleep at breakfast yesterday and it is such a page turner that I have to physically distance myself from the book to get anything else done. And of course, I am kind of kicking myself for all the years I turned a blind eye and an upturned nose to the works of Mr. King! 

Moral of the story? Never be a book snob. You have no idea of all the great writing you're depriving yourself of!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Straight from the book

'Other men slowly build up the sense of home by accumulation - a new picture, more and more books, an odd shaped paper-weight, the ash tray bought for a forgotten reason on a forgotten holiday; Scobie built his home by a process of reduction.'

(The Heart of the Matter - Graham Greene)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Book 4 U is back!

Some of you might know about my book donation drive which I started in 2014. If not, read about it here. Well, the book donation drive is back and you can receive a book in the mail wherever you are in Pakistan. Read through the list below and send me your preferred title along with your name, address and number at Please mention book donation or A Book for Me in the subject of your email. 

Here are the books: 

1. The Museum of Innocence - Orhan Pamuk
2. The Woman Destroyed - Simone de Beauvoir
3. Poet and Dancer - Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
4. The Wandering Falcon - Jamil Ahmad
5. Cold Feet - Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
6. The Private Life of Mrs. Sharma - Ratika Kapur
7. Point Omega - Don Delillo

Happy reading! 

Note: For an updated book donation list please click here.

My 100 book pact - an update

It was a crazy idea. Reading 100 books in one year. Seriously? But then again, why not? Why is the thought of reading such a large number of books daunting?  Especially to someone like me who a) loves reading, b) has ample time to read and c) is a fast reader. So I went ahead with this crazy idea and so far, things aren't looking very bright because I have only, and I repeat ONLY, managed to read 27 books. And it's already August! 

*deep breaths*

What made this task difficult was my resolve to read books which I've had for years, collecting dust on the shelves, waiting to be read. Some turned out to be pure delights and I kicked myself for not going through them earlier (The Book of Other People, The Pursuit of Love) while others were huge disappointments and I kicked myself for wasting precious time reading them! I ended up reading three novels by the same author (Greene) and had almost decided to finish all his novels in my collection. However, common sense prevailed and I switched to other authors. A large, uninterrupted dose of Greene can be lethal! 

Currently I'm reading the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. I picked up these lovely editions from the old book bazaar at Frere Hall and couldn't resist diving into them immediately. I'm just wondering though, will the trilogy be counted as one or three books? 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

book shots

Anita Desai is brilliant. This book was such a delight! It revolves around Nanda Kaul, an austere old woman who lives alone in Carignano, a secluded bungalow in Kasauli. Her solitary existence is disturbed by the arrival of her great-granddaughter, Raka. As Raka tries to adjust in her new surroundings, Nanda finds herself dwelling on the past & as the summer goes on, many of her old wounds seem to resurface. Especially when her old friend, Ila Das, discovers her in Kasauli and pays a visit.

Desai is at her best. The descriptions of the house and Kasauli are beautiful. They reminded me so much of Murree and Nathiagali. But the real beauty lies in how the author has disclosed the past of Nanda Kaul, layer by layer. It is beautiful prose and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. 

The pine cone in the picture is rather special. It has come all the way from Quetta with a dear friend and has found a place on my writing table. 

Beanbagtales is on Instagram and I'm posting pictures of books recently read with mini reviews or 'book shots'. For more clicks follow @beanbagtales on Instagram. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

What is your favourite building? in pictures

What is your favourite building?

It’s a strange question, isn’t it? One that we never really think about or actually ask people. Do you have one? Think about it. In Karachi? Or in the places you’ve visited over the past few years?

A lot of people might say Burj Khalifa because it’s the tallest building in the world and an engineering marvel. I don’t like it very much. It’s kind of scary. Whenever you look at it don't you wonder how it’s standing up? Aren't you afraid it might come crashing down on the dancing fountain? I do. 

Can the favourite buildings of a friend also become dear to you? I remember seeing the Chrysler building through the eyes of my dearest friend, Samiya. It was through the pictures of her first trip to NYC (maybe in 2002?) that I was introduced to the skyline and architecture of the city in-depth. It didn’t mean much to me then but all I thought of was her when I finally saw the Chrysler building two years back. Or the house of Frank Lloyd Wright, her favourite architect, in Arizona. 

What about buildings in other cities? Maybe the National Art Gallery? It was one of my favourite haunts in London. I loved going there again and again. Whenever I approached it I felt comfortable, as if I’ve come to a familiar place. There was this one time when I rounded the corner and came across it, completely unaware, and it brought a smile to my face. In many ways, that building was the focal point of my everyday exploration of London. 

After giving it some thought I’ll probably say one of my favourite buildings in Karachi is the Hindu Gymkhana which is now NAPA. That is where I hung out with my husband during our courtship period and it was such an important part of my life in the initial years of our marriage. 

I think Atif was right when he said that buildings by themselves don’t carry any meaning. It is only your experiences with that particular building which makes it important for you. We all admire buildings, or are disgusted by them, or just give them a passing glance as we walk or drive by them everyday. But if they are the place where we spent time with a lover, or where we saw our first Van Gogh and Monet - then they acquire a special place in our lives and I guess, become favourites. 

Note: This blogpost was inspired by a conversation with my friend Atif who told me that this is a question in the IELTS speaking test. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

book shots

This was not a part of the 100 books challenge but a selection for the Desi Writers' Lounge Karachi Readers' Club. The book has just got published and we figured it will be a perfect read before we take a Ramadan break. 

As the title indicates, the book is about Mrs. Sharma and her shenanigans. A working woman in Delhi, she has to take care of ageing in-laws and keep an eye on her troubled teenage son while her husband is earning tax free income in Dubai for their 'better' future.

A chance encounter with a young man at the Delhi metro station leads to a series of events which, eventually and predictably, lead to disaster for our protagonist. 

An easy read which gives a sort of sneak peek into the lives of the marginalized in a big city.

Beanbagtales is on Instagram and I'm posting pictures of books recently read with mini reviews or 'book shots'. Some I'll share here on the blog. If you're interested in more clicks on the beanbag then simply follow on Instagram (I take quite decent pictures).

Image by: Me

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Power of BFFs

I'm one of those people who sort of shut down during Ramzan. I call it 'the hibernation mode'. It's the one time of the year when I go nocturnal; all my reading and some writing happens after iftar. Because let's face it, I can't think one creative thing on an empty stomach. My friends will tell you that I become a gorilla when I'm hungry and to save the world from yet another calamity, I tend to spend most of the waking hours of fasting, sleeping. 

So what has fasting and my sleep habits have to do with my BFFs? These past five rozas, I did not just abstain from food and water, I also kind of lay low and didn't talk to any of my friends. Well, most of them are not even in Pakistan and by the time I can figure out the various timezones, it's not the 'decent' hour to make any calls. And five days of not gossiping with my girls turned me into a freak who was talking to herself while brushing her teeth at night!

There was a time, some many years back, when I spoke to my friends everyday for at least an hour. And this was after I had spent most of the day with them in school and later, college. And the next day, we started off from where we left our previous conversation, which was usually a couple of hours old only! 

Owing to marriage, work and in some cases a combination of the two, most of us are now in different timezones. We are 'connected' through the good old WhatsApp group, but exchanging occasional messages and pictures isn't the same as having a good, long, fulfilling talk (which can range from how the kids are doing in school to the husband's frustrating habits and end at how everyone feels about Kim Kardashian's contouring).

Friends, both old and new, are so important in our lives. As a woman I cherish the friends I have whom I can still call and tell stuff that's bothering me, after we've gone over the preliminary conversation about kids (theirs) and weather of course! I'm lucky that I have girlfriends, both old and new, who are willing to listen and share 'stuff' without passing judgement. Just like in the good old days, when we were young and all we had to worry about was grades and nail colour shades and whether any one of us will ever see Sampras play at Wimbledon!  Most of us are scattered in various timezones now but when we get the chance to be together, we continue from exactly where we left off, even if it was a couple of years back.

As far as my freaky behaviour of the night before is concerned, all it required was a powerful dose of BFFs - even if all three of them were in three different time zones!

Note: Yes, I'm sort of binge watching SATC these days. 

Image: Google

Monday, June 6, 2016

Save your story from pneumonia

"Write to please one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia."

(Kurt Vonnegut Jr.)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Sunday ka Sizzle

"I got this from Tate Modern because it reminded me of you," said hubby dearest.

I think it was the expression. Or was it the hair?

Portrait of a Young Woman 1935 by Meredith Frampton

Friday, June 3, 2016

Thirty days to a new-ish me

There was a time when writing here wasn't so difficult. The blog is an online diary of sorts which one mostly writes for oneself but also with a faint hope that someone out there in cyber-space will read it, like it, share it and comment on it! Which, of course, doesn't happen all of the time. Or in my case, MOST of the time. And you know in the initial days of blogging, it really didn't matter. What was important for me was to write everyday. No, that isn't correct. Let me rephrase it. What was important for me was to write what 'I wanted' everyday. Over the last year or two, I've become so affected by what other people will think about me, I've not done any 'honest' writing here. When I do write it's with so many ifs and buts in mind that I usually end up not writing a single word. 

I've been struggling with writing for almost my entire life. And isn't it dumb that I'm always thinking about writing but never end up doing it? Maybe I haven't been true to myself about what I really, really want to write about. Do I want to write epic fantasies or chick-lit novels or maybe, literary fiction (gulp!)? Maybe all three or none of the above? 

While driving the other day I heard one of the RJs on City FM 89 say something like how Ramzan is sort of a break from our everyday, all year round-the-clock routine. It's true. For thirty days we get a chance to unwind a bit and get our shit together. Some of us find this the best time to lose weight while others consider this as a chance to reconnect with God. And I thought that maybe THIS Ramzan I, too, can change. No Ramzan Reading Challenge this month, oh no! What I want is to feel different after these thirty days are over. I'm sure I won't turn into a completely different person and that's not what I'm aiming for also. Maybe someone who is at peace with who she is; mind, body and soul. Yup. A simple goal during the one blessed month we have all year. Besides my birth month, of course!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The importance of creation

Creating stories was a part of my life since a very young age. As a little girl of five or six I had this habit of telling stories to whoever cared to listen. Most of these stories were made on the spot or were a mixture of stuff I read. Mostly unsuspecting aunts and uncles became a victim of these sessions. Some, like my dear youngest Chacha Jeff, encouraged me immensely and I distinctly remember sitting in my eldest phuppi's big living room, telling some spur-of-the-moment-created story to him.

The love for reading came at a very early age too. It seems I was born with it. Maybe the reading genes of all my ancestors from both my parents' sides came into me. And of course, when a person is a reader, he/she naturally wants to write. 

Although the love for stories and storytelling was something I identified with at a very young age, the ability to transfer that onto paper was something I failed at. I've been thinking about this for a while now. Writers create stories from fragments of life around them. Some stories come from experience, others from observation, and some from a combination of both. Sometimes a certain setting inspires a story, at other times a memory. One of the first stories I wrote, and that too for a writing competition in school, was about the pets of my friend and neighbour who also happened to be in the same class as myself. In the story the pets, two rabbits, drowned. The story almost won, I forget why. However, I was asked to read it out to the entire school, which I did and found myself at the receiving end from my friend. In fact, he was so upset that I had killed his pets (even if in a story) that he said something like I deserved not to win.

That hurt. 

Maybe it's that fear of hurting others or more importantly, being judged for what I write, that has held me back. There is this thought, always, at the back of my mind about the audience, whether it is the unknown reader or the friend. 

This fear, more than anything, is what had crippled me as a writer. It is still very much present, filling me with doubts and anxiety. Nobody will read your work. The world doesn't need your stories, it has better ones out there. The truth is that yes, there are better stories out there and yes, maybe no one will ever read my work. But that doesn't mean I stop the process of creation. After all these years, and more recently, weeks of agonising over this, I've realised that I need to create. For myself. I have to write what I want to read. I have to write without shame, judgment and fear. And most importantly, I have to write because I do think I have a story to tell. 

Friday, April 1, 2016

London musings

"Stop staring. What are you looking at? The lines on my forehead? My arched brows? My long wrinkled neck? Are you admiring my aquiline features? Look into my eyes. These eyes have seen so many like you pass me by day after day. Some of you laugh, others stare and a few take pictures. I like it, the distraction, because most of the times I'm staring at Jean Dubuffet's 'The Busy Life', which features five grotesque figures as you can see for yourself. Now you understand what I go through? Wait! Where are you going? Oh yes, stare at the 'Four Figurines on a Base', my husband's memory of a Paris brothel. I have this in my view also. And the thoughts that go in my head when I see this, you can't even imagine. Go ahead! Admire his work. Are you leaving? Already? But I have so much to tell you. Wait!"

[I visited London in 2011 and one of my favourite activity was going to the museums and making notes on how I felt when I saw a work of art that fascinated me. This was written on a trip to Tate Modern. I came across it while combing through old notebooks yesterday.]

Image: Google

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The #100bookpact - Books 1-10

Sometimes undertaking a challenge is the only way to do things. Even though I consider myself to be an avid reader (at least that's what I keep telling everyone!), usually my book list at the end of the year doesn't have more than twenty books. Which is insane because I usually buy double this number of books every year.

Social media can make one do crazy things. For me the #100bookpact is just that. This year I've decided to read, yes you've read it right, a 100 books. It did appear to be a pretty daunting task but so far I've managed to finish nine books. For someone who only read the Malazan series last year, nine books is pretty amazing!

Here are the ten books with the briefest, most minuscule reviews.

1. Esmond in India by Ruth Jhabvala. Nostalgia, love, broken ideals and lost causes. Well written characters, each one striving for happiness and control of their lives, like we all are. Her work is a perfect example of how a story based in the subcontinent can be about ordinary people leading ordinary lives.

2. Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark. Whatever I've read by her so far has been hugely entertaining and this book is no different. There is a potential for a movie in it. Her novels are short but she always has very strong characters with distinct qualities. For example, the staple diet of one of the characters in this novel was smoked salmon and lamb chops!

3. The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov. It was such a huge disappointment. Even the vodka guzzling cat couldn't save it! I abandoned the book after 50 pages. However, I highly recommend his other novel, Black Snow, which I've been thinking should be made into a stage play. It is not just very funny but totally relevant to the theatre scene in Karachi, if not Pakistan.

4. So Long, and thanks for all the fish by Douglas Adams and then,

5. Mostly Harmless, again by Douglas Adams. This book was such a bore. I think the best one in this five book series is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Even The Restaurant at the end of the World isn't bad either. I think the books which don't have Zaphod Beeblebrox and Marvin are really lame.

6. A morning with Jeeves is full of joy. Wodehouse's 'Joy in the Morning' was the sixth book. With preparations for the Desi Writers' Lounge stall for KLF in full swing in the beginning of February, this was the easiest, happiest read!

7. The famous Eat, Pray, Love came next. In all honesty I had never any intention of reading the book. I had seen the film and even though I had heard a lot about it, memoirs are not really my thing. But I read Big Magic last year by Gilbert and it made me curious to read her most famous work. It wasn't a let down and it gave me an excuse to watch the movie again. Also, it has a really smart plot. 

8. Tolkein's The Silmarillion came next. This book should definitely come with a disclaimer: Only for hardcore LOTR fans. 

9. Probably the best book I've read so far for this challenge was 'boom!' by Mark Haddon. A sci-fi for kids or young adults, it is one action packed story! It has aliens, toilet cleaner wielding spiders, mysterious portals, a jobless father who finds his calling in cooking, devious young boys who spy on aliens, and a road trip all the way from London to the Isle of Skye. Read it. Make your kids read it. Read it to your kids. Just don't die without reading this book!

10. I started Atonement last night. I've read two books by Ian McEwan, Amsterdam and On Chesil Beach, and really liked them but I always shied away from this critically acclaimed novel. I'm hoping it won't be as insipid as the movie. Let's see. 

The next update on the #100bookpact will come after I've finished ten more books. Which will, hopefully, not be at the end of the year! 

Note: Image of Eat, Pray, Love and The Silmarillion are from Google.