A day after attending the Pune book launch of her latest short story collection – Love Stories # 1 to 14, Annie Zaidi promptly agreed for an interview with BookChums. Zaidi talks about when she began to take writing seriously, the difficulties of publishing the first book and on her chances of writing a novel. Read on.
How and when did you take to writing seriously? Was there any particular trigger that made you do so?
I began writing in college. By the third year, I had a dim sense that perhaps I will have to make a living through writing. I began to study mass media. That is when I began writing seriously, in the sense that I devoted myself to it full time and became acutely conscious of the need to get better at it. There was no specific incident as a trigger. But roti/bread is a great trigger - makes you do most things.
Has your approach to writing changed, since you became a published writer?
I've become more aware of the need to edit myself. I've also realised that getting published is just stage 2. There is stage 3 (distribution), 4 (visibility), 5 (staying in print), 6 (staying relevant), 7 (finding and keeping other jobs that will subsidize the books), and there's stage 8, 9, and 10 maybe, where I have not yet reached. So I have learnt to treasure the writing itself, and am trying to protect that part of my mind which creates from the rest of the world.
I have also discovered that I actually do not care so much about how people receive my writing. I have something to say, and you may like it or not like it. But that does not make them untrue or worthless. Before I was published, I think I worried more. Not anymore.
How easy/difficult was it to bring out your first book?
The very first one was Crush, a series of tiny, illustrated poems. It was hard because nobody is much interested in poetry. I was lucky in that Jaico took it on.
Do tell us about poetry, how you came to writing poems and how is writing poems different from prose for you?
I started writing poetry first, when I was about 17 or 18. That was both a kind of safety valve and the basic creative tool with which I learnt to negotiate my own experiences. I also wrote some essays and short stories in college, but I consistently wrote poetry right through my early 20s. It's what I turn to when all other forms fail me. There is something crystalline, and transparent about poetry. There is art and craft, of course. But I always think that poetry exposes my heart in a way prose does not.
Are you looking to write a novel anytime in the future? What deters/encourages you to write/not write one?
Everyone is always looking to write novels, aren't they? What deters me is that I don't seem to have a novel-length idea brewing inside my head at the moment. I don't like to write just for the sake of having another title on the shelves. I want it to mean something to me first, and only then can it mean something to others.
You have largely published short stories and poems. What is it about writing short stories that keeps you going?
I write short stories when I feel compelled by something - an image, or a person, or a moment in which my imagination takes flight. I don't think about it too much, though. Sometimes I keep going and then I realise I have crossed over from short story, but not yet made it to novel. Then I get stuck.
The poetry in your written/directed short films (Especially in Ek Red Colour ki Love Story) is beautiful. Do tell us - what brought you to making these short films?Any large-scale feature film making plans yet?
Thank you. I began writing short films as an extension of short stories. It was another medium and someone suggested I try my hand at it. I had the time at the time, so I thought, why not? I was writing plays anyway. So this felt like exercising another set of muscles. Feature films are a different ball game in that a lot more time and money is needed. But if I have the ideas and the right people to work with, why not?
Do tell us about any three books and authors that you have enjoyed reading.
I love George Orwell's Animal Farm. It should be compulsory reading, I think. I also love Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye. And P. Sainath's Everybody Loves A Good Drought.
How much do you think has your experience in journalism shaped your fiction writing?
A lot. It does not always show up directly in my choice of subject. But serious journalism changes the way you look at the world, and that always re-shapes your fiction.
Any advice for potential writers?
Read, read, read, read, read. And don't be afraid of rejection. Take feedback. Edit your work.