Zeenat Mahal writes romantic fiction and has published three novels and a short story. Zeenat has an MPhil in English Literature and an MFA in creative writing from London.
Zeenat was awarded the Amjad Chaudhry Award, a gold medal in English in her BA and she was also the recipient of the Best Thesis award in her MFA.
Her books have been in the amazon Asia TOP 10 bestsellers list. Her latest book, She Loves Me He Loves Me Not was #1 on Amazon Asia bestsellers.
What inspired you to start writing?
I love stories. Growing up, whenever an author transported me into another world, I felt the wonder, and the power of Story. I think stories help us to see differently, to grow. I wanted to have that power, to have that connection with someone, somewhere.That is truly something precious.
What did you liked to read when you were a girl?
I started as children do with fairytales and Enid Blyton. I read mostly classics, children’s literature, fantasy and lots of Agatha Christie, Victoria Holt, M. M. Kaye, L. M. Montgomery and P. G. Wodehouse.
What is the greatest challenge in writing a book?
Seriously, if I could discipline myself to write every day, that would be really something. As is, everything else will take precedence to my writing, and I constantly feel that dissatisfaction only a writer who should actually be writing and doesn’t, can experience. Disciplining yourself is the hardest obstacle to surmount.
How much research do you do before writing the book?
Not much. I like knowing things and so I read all sorts of non-fiction: History, biographies, and art. Somehow whatever I read becomes a part of my consciousness and it sort of emerges when needed. When I see or visit some fascinating or historic place, I spend time on seeing it in detail, to stop and marvel at the architecture, the culture and history of that place. I talk to people there, who may be caretakers, or just local residents and who know the hidden history of that place.
What motivated you to write the book “She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not”?
I wanted to reimagine fairytales in the South Asian context and the first one I have done is Beauty and the Beast. She Loves Me He Loves Me Not is about a man who can be quite a monster and a woman whose beauty isn’t skin deep. They are both good people who make a few rotten choices and the way each handles things is misconstrued by the other.
Can you tell us more about your latest book “She Loves Me, He Loves Me Not”?
It’s a romance novella. There is a marriage of convenience of sorts, and both Fardeen and Zoella have their inner demons to contend with. It the communication gap between Fardeen and Zoella that started the story for me. Both of them are very brave because they both go through a lot, but they deal with their pain in very different ways.
It’s got wonderful reviews so far, many of them 5 stars.
How did you came up with the idea of writing romantic fiction genre book?
Writing romances comes easy to me. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard work, just that it’s not difficult to write as a genre.
Genre fiction has certain rules. Bending rules is okay, but breaking them is not. For example, you can’t have a romantic hero cheating on the heroine. That is not romance. If you’re writing a thriller, you can’t not have a murder, or a spy or something out of the ordinary to thrill the readers. You have to stick to the rules, and I find this mode of writing quite relaxing. Especially because the mainstream novel I’m working on is very difficult to write. Some writing is, as Hemmingway said, like bleeding on the typewriter. Genre writing doesn’t ask for blood.
Who are your favourite authors?
That is a very long list. I’ll give you a few names.
Helen DeWitt, Jostein Gaarder, Harper Lee, Horumil Hrabal, Milan Kundera, Hisham Matar, Jane Austen, Ibn-e-Insha, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Bhulleh Shah, Elif Shafak, Khalid Hosseini. And the list goes on for a mile or so.
How much time do you dedicate for writing on a daily basis?
I wish I did! When I discipline myself, I can sometimes write one to three thousand words even. If it’s a good day. At times just a few hundred words. One should write daily.
What words of wisdom would you like to give to aspiring writers?
Not that I have any claims to wisdom or anything, so I’ll say what my teachers at Kingston told me.
Read and write. Write a lot. Read your own work after a gap of at least a week, edit and repeat till you feel you cannot make any changes at all.
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