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Fiction is hardest to do well, says Bangladeshi writer Farah Ghuznavi

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"What I write about essentially stems from the things that move me."

It’s may be a cliché, but Farah Ghuznavi, from Bangladesh, does wear many hats. A development professional who has also been Writer-in-Residence with the Commonwealth Writers, she has a repertoire of writing of various genres, creative non-fiction, fiction, translations, and columns: her experience reflecting in everything she pens. Farah’s story “Judgement Day” was Highly Commended in the Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2010, and she participated in the panel organised by Commonwealth Writers at the Hay Festival Dhaka in 2012. She was offered the Residency soon after. As part of the residency, she writes a series of posts reflecting her thoughts and experiences as a writer, and covering issues related to various aspects of writing. “It’s been a great way of connecting with people from all over the world,” she says. Here’s more from her.

Your favourite genre of writing.

Each form I write fulfils a different need in me; the easiest is being a columnist. I’ve been doing that for a long time, so I’m reasonably disciplined about it, and I think that writing columns is a great way of (indirectly) advocating for social change. It has the added therapeutic benefit of an opportunity to vent! Some stories, particularly those drawn from personal experience, seem to lend themselves best to creative non-fiction. But I would say that I feel the greatest sense of achievement from writing fiction, perhaps because that, for me, is the hardest to do well.

How and why do you choose a particular subject?

I think most of what I write about essentially stems from the things that move me — to laughter, pain, hope, anger or action. Many of my columns are about politics in the wider sense: global events, social justice, gender inequality, racism. Others are about the little things that you observe in everyday life

On a more serious note, a short story can be inspired by almost anything — a personal experience, a fragment of conversation, or a random street scene where something catches my attention.

What do you think of writing in English in Bangladesh today?

I believe we are approaching a take-off point of some kind. There are some excellent and mature voices emerging out of the crowd, and those are the ones I expect to see more of in the coming decade. I have no doubt that there is a future for English writing in Bangladesh, and I think they are in a position to convey a more authentic portrait of Bangladesh as the chaotic, brilliant, challenged and hopeful nation that it is today.

Tell us about your career as a translator and a development professional.

My work as a translator was almost accidental. It came about primarily because the work that I wanted to do — with local organisations working on developing issues — paid very little. So to make ends meet, I took on translations. I discovered two things: one, there is a severe lack of skilled translators; two, I find considerable pleasure, when interpreting idiom and conversation from Bengali into English, and in ensuring that the translation remains true to the voice of the person speaking. Most of the translation work that I do is related to development, and can provide considerable inspiration for creative writing.

So also with my two decades as a development professional. I have met and talked to so many ordinary, yet incredible, people, many of those encounters taking place in the towns and villages. I have travelled to the farthest corners of Bangladesh. It has often made me sad that some of those stories don’t reach a wider audience, because they deserve to. And I suppose some of the stories that I write are partly aimed at making that happen.

What is your writing process like? Do you enjoy it?

I don’t enjoy writing the first draft of a story. It’s too often a process that involves a fair bit of panic about getting things written down before I “lose” the inspiration. Usually, the first draft is written reasonably quickly, over a period of 2-3 days, if I’m lucky enough to have the luxury of writing at a stretch.

Revision, for me, is an enormously important part of the writing process. I go through several rounds of revision before a story is sent out. That’s the part I actually quite enjoy. I suspect that is also because, as you evolve as a writer, you can look at something you wrote earlier is something that you suddenly realise you don’t like any more. I find the writing process difficult, as I suspect many people do, but there is a great sense of satisfaction when you have written something you are (reasonably) happy with.

Who is your ideal reader?

When I am writing, I don’t really think about the reader. Essentially it’s a cathartic process. And while I’m very grateful and honoured if someone likes my work, the truth is I would write regardless of whether anyone was reading. It’s part of keeping myself sane — at least, as sane as anyone who hears voices in their head ever is! But I guess my ideal reader would be someone who engages with the material, finds it moving in some way and essentially, “gets” what I’m trying to say.

The worst moment of your writing career…

It’s hard to come up with a single defining moment — there have been a few memorable experiences in both categories! The worst moments have included opportunities for publication missed simply because my workload would not allow me to meet the deadline for a revised submission; and, of course, the rejection slips.

And the best moment…

Holding the Fragments of Riversong anthology in my hands for the first time after all the work that I put into it — and seeing my name on the cover — was definitely a high point. Seeing the outpouring of support on Commonwealth Writers website in response to the announcement of my residency was another. The awards I received for “Judgement Day” and “Getting There” are enormously important to me, because they validate my aspirations as a writer.

As a writer, what is your approach to reading other people's works?

I know that as a writer I’m supposed to analyse the work of others as I read it, but to be honest, I read mostly for pleasure. Once I have read a book, I try to identify what it was about it that gripped me, but I’m more of an emotional reader than an intellectual one — perhaps also because I’m a self-taught writer.

What would be your advice to yourself if you were starting over?

To spend more time writing, I think! I love doing translations, I love writing columns, I love development work and I love writing fiction — and juggling all of that in a 24-hour day requires effective prioritisation. So that’s something I’m working on...

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Printable version | Jul 20, 2018 1:09:02 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/fiction-is-hardest-to-do-well/article6299028.ece