Aasiyah Qamar/Nolwynn Ardennes [aasiyahnolwynn]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
My earliest recollection of reading was of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. My father is a lover of English classics and he tried to get me into Hardy and Dickens but they were books I didn't really click with. Then he bought me the Austen works, and lo and behold, I was swept into her world of society and the Ton, handsome Regency men and romance. I must have been 10 at the time. From there on, I branched into more mainstream fiction and romance, the likes of Danielle Steele and Barbara Taylor Bradford, before I 'secretly' discovered Harlequin and Mills & Boon romances with my teenage friends.
I remember penning stories in my fifth year of primary school, again at 10 (something about the writing bug biting then? I don't know). We weren't supposed to go beyond 120 words and I would almost always find myself writing well over the limit, so much so that a third of the time allotted to the essay was spent cutting and tightening the story (my first introduction to editting, I realize this now!). It didn't get any better in high school, when spurred on by the many M&B romances I read, my essays resembled the synopsis of an M&B romance. I always knew the start-middle-end of every story. The ones who did read these were my posse of girlfriends at school. I always wrote very fast and after I'd be done, the copy would circulate under the desks and my friends would read while the teacher wasn't looking.
That was my intro into the world of writing. It's only a few years after I left high school that I decided to start writing again, the result being my first published novel, The Other Side.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
I have a thing for contemporaries with strong, modern heroines. Might be because I empathize with these women as I am in the same situation too. Life is not easy, so in a way, their story echoes inside me. But life is also beautiful, and often funny. This dimension of lightness I find flows more in my contemporaries than in any other genre I have tackled.
You can find more about my work at the following address http://www.aasiyah-nolwynn.webs.com/ You can catch tidbits about my books and how they came into existence there.
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
I like to mull things over and rehash a story a hundred times in my mind before I actually commit to writing it. I am a very visual writer - if I can see the story unfold in my head like a movie, I know I've hit something I can work with.
My biggest 'breaks' in the creative process have come when my hands are otherly engaged in tasks such as vacuuming and doing the dishes and laundry. Well, a good reason to tackle the domestic chores - it may spark an idea or an Eureka moment!
I'll want to know the start of the story, who the characters are, why they are at this point of their life, and why they are in this story, before I can push forward to the middle and ultimately the end. So it's very much a thinking creative process for me before I actually sit down to write first the outline then the draft of the story.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
That depends. I don't usually read for inspiration, more for pleasure. But sometimes I may find a story that flows effortlessly and this prompts me to write too, to try and recreate such a great flow in my works. It has been known to happen that while reading Sophie Kinsella, Jill Mansell and Katherine Garbera, I have found myself sucked into the book and I then want to achieve the same thing with my potential readers, make them lose themselves in my stories and voice.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
A strong plot first and foremost, and strong, well-developed characters to carry this plot through. You may have great characters, great setting, great voice but you ultimately need a plot to guide you through from start-middle-end.
A thing many fail to realize as well is that a basic component of a story's success is determination on behalf of the author. Determination to see it through, to put the best possible work out there, to provide the most wonderful reading experience possible to your reader. This determination will carry through your words and can turn a drab story into a stupendous one.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
So far I seem to work better in third person. I love the possibility if offers for interaction between the characters, whereas first person is only limited to one character. I find I can cover all the facets of a story better in third, even if in the first draft, to get better in touch with the character's point-of-view, I may pen it down in first person from their perspective. This works well with thought processes of characters.
What well known writers do you admire most?
Sophie Kinsella, for her wit and effortless voice. Philippa Gregory, for her marvellous skill in penning her historicals. Jill Mansell, for taking the reader through a wild joyride in every book. Marian Keyes, for bringing the reader so close to her heroines. Sidney Sheldon, for his skill in captivating the reader through such astounding and often stunning stories. Katherine Garbera, for her effortless voice in bringing characters together and making their story unfold not on paper but before your eyes, as if you were there in every scene with them. Martina Cole, for writing about the dark and violent crime-filled London underworld yet making it so captivating and making you root for the characters even if they're criminals.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
A good dose of real, as in the reality we everyday people can experience day in, day out. When I'm penning a heroine, there needs to a place where her actions make me go, hey I would've/could've done the same too. No matter if she's rich, poor, young, old - if she does something I can empathize with, she's real enough for me. I think a lot of readers feel for characters in the same way. For my heroes, however suave and sexy and rich and whatever-awesome they are, I need to feel I can bump into this guy at the supermarket on days when I'm there too. This gives him this dimension of 'real' in my opinion, because face it - a bloke who's buying his groceries means he lives in the same world as you do.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
A big no! I did not get that gift. It skipped a generation, and my son has it in spades! As soon as I open my mouth to tell a story, I get lost on tangents and I could make the sanest person run for Bedlam!
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
For me. A story I write is ultimately a story I want to read too. A smaller part of the equation would be that I also write for my characters, to tell their story, because each one of them is unique and has something to say.
I also write for the readers, because there's got to be someone out there whose idea of a good story fits mine too!
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
Therapy, no. Escape, yes. Writing to me is when I spread and wings and fly, when I leave my life and immerse myself in another world. Not to say that my reality is drab - it isn't - but you do need an escape when you're bombarded from all sides because of your respective duties of wife, mother, daughter, friend, homemaker, student and the likes. Writing calms me, and gives me the balance I need to cope with everyday pressure.
As for internal conflicts being a creative force, not per se. Internal conflicts do help an author to write a stronger story, to have stronger emotional issues and conflict. A lot of my personal conflict has found itself in my books, for example the way divorcees are treated in traditional society, which I faced when my first marriage ended and which was the starting point of my first novel. This conflict allowed me to present a realistic and stronger picture of the issue.
If I'm in the middle of a conflict, I cannot write well. So in that sense, no, conflicts do not fuel my creative force.
Does reader feed-back help you?
Definitely! It helps me to know what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong. It also helps in the sense that it is encouragement. People out there are reading your work and in our world where no one has any spare time on hand, your readers are taking the time to contact you. How can that not be encouraging, especially when they tell you that they have enjoyed reading your story or even that you've made a difference in their life even for a brief moment? That has to be one of the biggest rewards an author can get.
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
No, I have never taken part in any competition so far, and no, have not received any official awards. There have been some things that have happened that are akin to awards for me, for example when I learned that my book was listed in the library pages of a big European university as an example of Indian Ocean literature.
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
Yes. I have my mentor who is privy to all my work, whether they're already written or smply in hatchling state. Then I also have a group of trusted critique partners who review the draft for me as I'm writing it. These people help me to hone my writing and ultimately present a better work to the world.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
In a way, yes, I have found my voice. I already know I work better in finite third person than in omniscient or even first person. I also write a better story when I focus on the emotions and relate them in detail, and that's the part of my voice that carries to every story, irrespective of the genre in which it fits.
Many writers do not realize how important a voice is, and how consistency of that voice will build them as authors. Once you have found what works for you, stick to it. Hone it, and when you've polished it to a real shine, then attempt to branch out into something else, getting your feet wet before plunging in fully.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
I usually impose a deadline upon myself, such as, I need to finish writing the first draft by the first week of that month. I won't push myself to write a little every day. Instead, I'll write a good deal in a few occasions all while trying to fit the deadline, even if it means I need to sit down everyday for so-and-so hours the week prior to that deadline. We also have to face it - life happens, so the deadline is slightly flexible too in case of emergencies.
I thus aim to write 2 full novels per year, and that means it's written, rewritten, editted and polished fully. If I can slot more writing in, I'll have another 1 or 2 projects in conception or in draft stage, but my goal is generally 2 books per year. I also know I cannot force myself, because it's the story that's going to suffer the most from it.
Now, if I'm writing and I'm close to my deadline, I'll go MIA on email and Facebook, just so these won't eat up my time.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
Silence! That's my biggest helper, but it's not always possible to have silence when you have young children at home. So then I ask to not be interrupted. The office is unfortunately located in the same floor plan area as the TV and entertainment console, so if I really need the peace, I'll grab the laptop and go write in my bedroom or any other room where I will be left alone.
I also try to have not too bright lights around, especially from the windows, so generally when I'm writing the curtains will be closed. This also creates a sort of intimate space that I find is conducive to concentrating.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
My outline is written on one page of the A3 sketch pad I keep especially for that purpose. It will basically be a flow chart that maps out the number of chapters and that states in a line or two what's supposed to happen in each chapter. That is the only longhand writing I do on any story, and the rest is put directly through to the computer. Usually the resources I use will also be found as electronic files on my PC, so it's all in the digital world.
I will write, edit, read and reread all on the screen, and almost never use paper for printing. To give myself the distance needed to spot any mistake on the screen, I take a 2-3 days break between rounds of edits to come back with a fresh look onto the manuscript.
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
I usually visit my critique groups, and a few blogs. The one I most visit is also one I contribute to, found at the following address http://royalblushauthors.blogspot.com/
What has been your experience with publishers?
On the whole, it has a been a good experience. I cannot say I've had bad run-ins with publishers, but there have been some who have been a little off-putting in the way they treat any author who isn't already contracted with them. That's sad, because it seems they do not realize they're shooting themselves in the foot when they do that. Or worse, they don't seem to care...
What are you working on now?
I am plotting my third book under the pen name of Aasiyah Qamar, which will be the story of the other sister of the two heroines already featured in my first two books under that name. It will be a contemporary romance with a tradition-inclined heroine who finds she needs to open up to the modern world and modern ways of thinking as well. I hope to start writing the first draft in a few weeks.
I am also mulling over the intricacies of an urban fantasy romance under the name of Nolwynn Ardennes, pitching it against a Regency-era time-travel. I don't which one will win in this battle though. :)
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
Take a deep breath and then take a long, hard and objective look at them. Find a trusted friend who is in writing too, and show him/her your work, to get an even more objective take.
Also ask yourself the question whether you want to write just to be able to say you write, or if you're writing to be an author who will be in there for the long haul?
Writing is not an easy business, and it makes you sweat and suffer in the worst possible way, because it'll all be happening in your head and in your heart. Ask yourself if you can face up to that. Many come into writing expecting it's easy as a piece of cake. Wrong! It takes work, lots and lots of hard, dedicated work. Never forget that you also have a life outside of writing, and this life is going to poke in when you least expect it. Learn to balance the two, and know it's a very tough juggling act.
If you find you still want to continue on this journey, then take another deep breath and find someone you can work with, whether a friend or a stranger you meet and click with in a critique group and who preferably is more experienced and knowledgeable than you are. A mentor would be the best thing. Ask some succesful authors you've befriended if they'd be willing to mentor you. You'd be amazed how many still remember the days when they were just starting too and who are willing to help others. Hone your skills, hone your craft, and hone your work. Never stop learning, because no one ends up at one point where they know all there is to know about writing. Apply yourself, be motivated, be dedicated, and keep on writing! And the most important - spread your wings and fly! No point writing if you're not enjoying yourself! Yeah also - all the best!
Aasiyah Qamar/Nolwynn Ardennes