When I read This House of Clay and Water a few months back, I knew I had stumbled upon a story that would stay with me for a long time. I devoured the book within a day, and struggled to come up with a review that would do justice to the book. It was a book that made me realize why I love reading, and why the written words will never fail to leave me breathless. When you read a book that speaks strongly to you, you can’t help but get inside the head of the author who wrote it, and therefore, I had the honor of interviewing Faiqa Mansab, author of This House of Clay and Water. Absolutely honest, insightful and full of literary wisdom, the author tells us what it’s like to be a writer and much more!
Thank you so much for taking out time to answer my questions and gracing my blog with your presence.
Thank you for having me. I really enjoy interacting with readers and bloggers like you make it possible.
- I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot but did you always want to be a writer?
I enjoy answering it every time because each time I think about it, the memory becomes clearer, or perhaps my own attitude towards what it was that led me here, clarifies. See, there was a time when I felt I wanted to be a writer because I wanted to give readers the kind of joy and comfort I received from books, but there is also that feeling that perhaps a writer doesn’t decide but discovers that she is a storyteller, because when not writing, when not spinning stories, they’re not very happy people. Reading is my first love and writing is my second love and one without the other seems impossible to me.
- What was your inspiration behind your latest novel, ‘This House of Clay and Water’?
It’s a story that had been brewing within my consciousness for the longest time, even before I went for my MFA in London, where I finished it. I think Lahore is always my inspiration. The character I’m writing about may be another. The very idea of writing, is a huge inspiration. It’s such a quiet process, lonely even, and yet it’s a powerful declaration. Language is an inspiration. Words are actions, I believe. I enjoy the process of wordsmithing and it inspires me daily.
- What was your favorite chapter or part to write?
I enjoyed writing all the characters very much. They’re all so different from each other. Their voices, circumstance, choices are so different and they managed to surprise me. However, that chapter about Zoya and Idrees was very painful and difficult to write for me.
- What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
It was reading books. I could forget everything, all kind of hurts, loneliness, disappointments, when I was immersed in a book. I realized how important books were to me at an early age. I grew up on books more than anything else. Books were my compass and my North Star; my steadfast companions and my solace. The words written in books so long ago could comfort me and that was so liberating. I understood early that language is indeed power and a storyteller wields that power.
- What does literary success look like to you?
Like it’s still a long way off. I want a lot from life.
- How hard is it to establish and maintain a career in fiction writing?
Quite hard. You have to have total commitment, and be willing to work hard, have discipline and to throw away months and months’ worth of work for the sake of art. Your art should come first. Fiction is harder to write and sell than non-fiction. Fiction is truth told as if it isn’t. That’s a tough one to pull. Publishing isn’t such a walk in the park either. It’s a business and just because you’ve written a good story doesn’t mean it will sell. No one owes you anything. A writer shouldn’t feel that because they’ve been slaving away in the store-room writing for months, publishers will be lining up to sign them on. A good story doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it will be published. It’s a tough business.
- Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?
The kind of fiction I read only makes me want to be a better writer. The language in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient is just beautiful. Patricia McKillip writes magically, no pun intended. I love fiction, reading and writing it, and I read everything.
- What’s your ideal writing space?
I’ll tell you something I’ve never told anyone. I was quite young when I read the story of the discovery of the Rosetta Stone from Egypt and how the hieroglyphs were a code that was needed to decipher everything that had been discovered before. Without the Rosetta Stone so much of the Egyptian civilization would have been lost to us. The story reminded me of all the books I’d ever read that had helped me discover a little bit more about me.
The very first time I went to the British Museum in 2001, I bought a little paper weight of a Rosetta Stone. It stays on my desk as a sort of reminder. I want to write books that are like the Rosetta Stone for someone somewhere. A code to some kind of discovery—of self, a bit of life, some element of humanity.
- What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai. Not as many people know about it as should. It’s a wonderful, lever novel. I highly recommend it.
- Tea or Coffee?
- If you could, what would you tell your younger self?
Have courage, you’re going to need it.
- Lastly, are you currently writing any book? If yes, what’s the genre going to be?
I write fiction. I don’t think of the genre. I just write the stories I must because a certain character at a certain time compels me to write their story. I’m always writing something or the other. Sometimes I have to abandon a story after 50k, like my current WIP because I lose interest in that particular story, usually because I’ve taken too long to capture the first draft. When you’ve written a first draft then you can tinker with the story as you like, but if the first draft is incomplete, I feel one often outgrows the characters.
About the author:
Faiqa Mansab earned an MFA in Creative Writing with Distinction from Kingston University in London in 2014. She has been published in various academic journals and newspapers including an excerpt of her new novel in The Missing Slate. She has been a teacher and school administrator for ten years and conducts creative writing workshops at universities. This House of Clay and Water is her debut novel published by Penguin India.
You can read my review of This House of Clay and Water here: This House Of Clay And Water by Faiqa Mansab: A tale of forbidden love, freedom and the need to belong.