News on Sunday – Special Report

Writings on the wall

What do the three winners of Life’s Too Short competition have to say…

By Ammara Ahmad

“…it takes a certain amount of carelessness” sadaf halai masters in creative writing from boston university, she has also taught the same at iba, indus valley and other institutions in karachi

What does it take to become a good short story writer?

I think it takes a certain amount of carelessness. If you worry too much about what kind of story you want to write, the plot, the pace, your audience in general etc, it will make things really hard for you.

What kind of short stories do you like?

Well, at the risk of sounding cheesy, I like stories that are moving and strike a chord somewhere. If the story appears to be fabricated, if the writer has ticked off all the bosses, the plot is paced in a certain way, if it pays too much attention to the craft and not the art, the human element is left behind. You are left with a beautiful skeleton but it is arguable if there is any meat on the bones.

Was the Creative Writing course of much use?

Definitely, but you can do without it also. I think people who have been to Creative Writing workshops may not end up writing because they don’t have the discipline to keep writing once they enter the real world. You have jobs, children and other time constraints.

Which modern short story writer has inspired you?

Alice Munroe, especially her earlier stories. There is a collection called Dance of the Happy Shades that inspired me in particular.

What do you think of the Life’s Too Short competition?

I think it is incredible. Most of us couldn’t have done it, it takes a certain kind of drive to make such things happen because there are so many hurdles. You have financial and other issues. In our society, it’s hard to find funding for art. It will absolutely inspire new talent.

Your descriptions are quite impressive. Are they based on your observations or are pure imaginings?

Some of it, not all, has been based on my observation. Some of the details have stayed with me that I remembered growing up in Karachi. People in urban settings who have no one to cook for them often carry those Styrofoam boxes.

Are your characters based on real life?

No. (laughs). I know a lot of people who are similar to these characters but I haven’t made a conscious effort to base them on real people.

There is a stark class difference between your characters Asma and Nadia. Is that why their take on motherhood should be different?

There are only certain women in our society who can say in a public space that they don’t want to have children. It’s not a statement just anyone would give.

Is this story linked with your own motherhood experience?

I was expecting my daughter when I wrote the story and was on bed rest. It just filtered through.

islamabad-based doctor; he has been

educated in pakistan and middle east

Have you taken a professional course for Creative Writing?

No, I haven’t and I don’t intend to.

Why, you don’t think such courses are effective?

I don’t know. I haven’t taken one, so I can’t comment.

What qualities does a good short story have?

It should be a story, to begin with. Besides, it should be engaging. I personally look for balance in form and style.

Which Pakistani writers do you like?

To be honest, all the three judges of this contest — Kamila Shamsie, to begin with, because she started earlier; Daniyal Mueenuddin and Muhammad Hanif.

What do you find most appealing about Daniyal Mueenuddin?

There’s something about his characters that makes you want to read and feel for them. Daniyal reminds me of an author, Alice Munroe. Here, I am talking as a reader.

What do you think of the Life’s Too Short competition?

It is a very good venture. Other than me, very nice people shall come up. (laughs)

What gave you the idea for The Six Fingered Man?

I don’t remember. It was written almost ten years ago. I was visiting some place or reading something, I don’t remember what it was.

Is it based on a real-life character? Does the shrine Mai Kabootri exist?

No. But something similar to Mai Kabootri does exist.

bachelor in law, freelance associate

producer, currently producing a short film


How did you get the idea for the story, ……?

It was a combination of different points of inspiration.

Have you got any professional training in Creative Writing?

I attended a small-time workshop, but never trained. Therefore, I can’t comment. But I am sure it helps. Though you can write without training, too. I don’t feel limited in any way.

What do you think about the Life’s Too Short competition?

It’s a great forum and these guys have worked hard. It’s very useful for young authors.

Which Pakistani authors do you admire?

I like Mohammad Hanif’s A Case of Exploding Mangoes and Zulfiqar Ghose’s Murder of Aziz Khan.