Asalamualaikum Everyone. Jazak Allah Khayr for being here. So my first featured guest is sister Umm Afraz. Let us get to know her, her journey being a writer , her debut novel, and her views on the Islamic/Muslim Literature being published.
Asalamualaikum sister Umm Afraz. Please tell us something about yourself?
I am an Indian, raised in Dubai, and settled in Abu Dhabi with my husband and 3 kids as a stay-at-home-and-work-at-home-mum. I graduated in Psychology after my schooling, and soon I will be post-graduating in Islamic Studies, bi-idhnillah. Apart from an author, I am also a book reviewer, freelance graphic designer, and a life coach and Qur’an Life Coach at Redefined Muslimah Coaching.
Were you an avid reader growing up or was reading something you started later in life?
I was a bookworm for as long as I can remember. I would read all sorts of books – from fiction to non-fiction – and in different genres as well. I love books that bring out my emotions, be it laughter, tears, irritation, disgust, horror, and more.
What type of books did you read?
I used to read a lot of mainstream books, but with the booming emergence of Islamic fiction and non-fiction recently, I prefer reading them now.
What is the importance of reading, and how can one be a good reader?
Reading takes a person to a whole different world. Reading, in general, helps open one’s eyes and mind to the world of another person, of another human. While reading non-fiction broadens our knowledge, reading fiction broadens one’s understanding of another person.
To be a good reader, one must read 🙂 The more we practice an act, the better we get at it. So the more we read, the better we become as a reader.
How to inculcate reading habits in children & adults?
I love relating it with our 5 sense organs – see the book, hear someone read the book, read the book out loud, discuss/talk about the book, and touch and feel the book. These bring about a connection with the book which then will help them, especially the children, to build a relationship with reading.
How important is it for an author to be a reader?
Reading is the first step to be an author. Without reading, without having the love for words, it may be difficult for one to be an author. Let me put it this way – a chef who eats to satisfy his hunger has a different mindset than a chef who tastes food to dissect the ingredients. An author in this case would read with a different mindset – to understand the techniques behind writing.
Please tell us about your writing journey?
I love stories. As a child when I used to visit my dad’s office, I would take a pencil and paper and write simple stories. As a teen, I would start writing stories with plots and sub-plots, but end up discarding them because the characters didn’t resonate with me.
Years later, I came across Islamic fiction and found this is what resonates with me. This represents me in my communal identity.
Taking inspirations from wonderful authors such as Umm Zakiyyah, Zeneefa Zaneer, Hend Hegazi, Sahar AbdulAziz, and Papatia Feauxzar, I once again re-started my writing passion with an Islamic twist.
Looking back at my childhood, though I wrote stories, I never considered myself to be a writer, let alone author. I used to write them for the simple reason that I enjoyed coming up with plots, characters, places, and everything that goes in a story. I loved creating stories.
Do you have a writing schedule?
I don’t have a fixed writing schedule, mostly because I love writing in different times and at different places. I have written in beaches, parks, while travelling in a car, in coffee shops, and of course at home. Sometimes I would immerse myself in writing even when there is noise around me. Sometimes I would need peace and silence to pen down my thoughts. I think it depends on what content I am writing, and how much concentration the piece needs.
What is your opinion on writers block?
So I used to believe in writer’s block until I came across the concept that there is no such thing as a writer’s block. Have I gotten stuck while writing something? Yes, of course; many times, in fact. Do I consider it as a writer’s block? Absolutely not. Because I can still write. I may be stuck in one point, but that doesn’t stop me from writing other things. So when I am writing, and I am stuck, and nothing works, I just write my mind out. They may be mumbo-jumbo, they may not make sense, but that is okay. Clear the clutter, and then move on.
Tell us something about your debut novel please?
My debut novel, Here With You, is a realistic Islamic fiction that deals with the relationship between a mother-in-law, a daughter-in-law, and the husband who binds them both together – the son of one, and the husband of the other.
The issue of in-law relationships, especially between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law, is a known, unsaid and sometimes stressful topic that is experienced throughout different communities. In my initial days of drafting the manuscript, I thought it was only experienced by the South-Asian community, but the more I talked about the topic, and researched about it, I learnt this was a global issue. Wherever I turned, there was either a daughter-in-law complaining about her mother-in-law, or a mother-in-law complaining about her daughter-in-law.
And I knew that the other person is not entirely at fault. Change begins from within. This is the takeaway message from the book, that everyone is a hero in their story until others see their stories from their perspectives.
What are the difficulties you faced when writing your book? What helped you during those difficult times?
I am not an elaborate planner. I find that restricting. I do have a general outline, but the rest is usually what flows in the moment. In that sense, sometimes I did struggle to come up with scenes, dialogues, and sub-plots. What usually helps me is, either I read more on the topic at hand, or read other books of the same genre, or look for prompts that will kick my seat up.
Were there any misconceptions you had before publishing your book?
Oh yes, lots of them! I thought traditional publishing was the only way to get published. I thought self-publishing was difficult, and then I thought it was easy, and then I realized it is easy but needs a lot of effort – much like any other work. I also thought self-publishing is not for those in India. But subhan Allah, Allah brings out ways and opens many avenues for us IF we work towards it sincerely, and He only gives it to us if there is goodness in it for us in that particular point of time.
What challenges did you face while getting your book published & what did you learn from them? Is there anything you would do differently if you plan to author your next book?
The major challenge I would say is writing the manuscript down. There are other challenges such as getting the book out there, marketing and promoting the book, and the likes, but I feel the biggest struggle is to get it all out. And the thing with manuscripts is that sometimes we don’t even know if it is done or not. Do I need to add more plots, more dialogues, more scenes? Should I continue the story, or is this too much? What is detailed imagery? Is this enough or do I keep going? Finalizing the draft is what is challenging for me.
During the publishing process as such, I did come across challenges, but as I said, Allah opened up avenues for me that I did not consider them as challenges. They became opportunities and alternatives which was really awe-inspiring, alhamdulillah.
As for what I would do differently with my next book, for now I am thinking of sticking with the same process. Let’s see what plans Allah has for me.
What are you currently working on? Any upcoming projects?
At the moment, I am working on 3 different book projects, each falling in a different genre, one of which is another Islamic fiction related to family life with a dark twist as compared to Here With You. I will be speaking more about my upcoming projects in my social media insha Allah.
Self publishing or publishing through a publishing house? What would you choose & Why?
I think it depends on the content and the type of audience you want to reach. So far I have self-published which means it gives me more control of the product, but not necessarily a wider reach. However, I am considering going through a traditional publishing house for one of my book projects to reach a wider audience.
Paper back or Kindle? Which one do you like & why?
Definitely paperback! But also Kindle for its variety of titles and versatility of usage.
Which is your favorite book & why?
Oh this is a tough one. I really cannot choose one, most of what I read becomes a favourite for me because of the content/plot, the writing style, the takeaway messages it has, the lessons and/or techniques I learn from it.
Who are your favorite writer(s) & why?
Umm Zakiyyah for her soulful write-ups and Islamic fiction.
Zeneefa Zaneer for being a strong author representation for South-Asians.
Sahar AbdulAziz for her spine-chilling fiction that brings mental health issues into the limelight.
And of course, the scholars like Ibn al-Qayim, Ibn al-Jawzi, Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Dr. Aidh al-Qarni, and more.
Your opinion on the Muslim/Islamic books being published?
Masha Allah alhamdulillah, there is a huge influx of Muslim authors and Islamic books that are being published recently. One of the main concerns for me is that not every Muslim author will write an Islamic book. And not every Islamic book is authentic in its content.
As a book reviewer, a parent, a consumer, I am wary of what I have in my household – I do not want to have any Islamic book that is unislamic in its nature or have a book authored by a Muslim author that has unislamic elements in it.
What tips would you like to give aspiring authors?
Know your why – why are you writing – will this be helping you or harming you in/for your life?
Keep reading, keep writing, and you will emerge as a writer with your own unique writing style.
It is just the first step that is very difficult. With baby steps, you will reach where you want to be in your own unique way. All the best <3 .
Jazak Allah khayr sister Umm Afraz.
Sister Umm Afraz’s book can be purchased via the following links:
Here With You (US): https://www.amazon.com/Here-You-Umm-Afraz-Muhammed/dp/1096507722/
Here With You (Kindle): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QCLBZ64
Here With You (India): https://store.pothi.com/book/umm-afraz-muhammed-here-you-3/
She can be contacted via:
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