Making Words Come To Life

  • 25 Mar - 31 Mar, 2017
  • Mariam Khan
  • Interview

If words were to appear 3D via sentiments, she makes them come to life by picturing the places in her mind. “The physical only becomes important through the emotional, so when I talk about physical, its putting the character’s emotional journey into the objects and the world around him,” Sarvat Hasin, the writer whose debut novel This Wide Night hit book stores in December 2016, shares.

Holding a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Oxford, for Sarvat “reading would be a break from studying”.

“I had to read a lot to become comfortable enough to write something like this,” says the 25-year-old who would read 60 books each summer.

Sarvat wrote the first third of the book while pursuing her masters. “It was my final dissertation and I had to pick something that I could package into 25,000 words, essentially for the story,” the wordsmith talks about how her debut novel came to binding.

What she set out with was a simple, straightforward novel, the idea of which came from Louisa May Alcott’s timeless classic. When it comes to structure, Sarvat points out how her work is influenced by two books – one, being Little Women and the other, The Virgin Suicides.

“The latter is also about a family of sisters, told through the perspective of boys in their town, so its told through a first-person-plural narrative and I loved the idea that the story was not told by someone who’s at the heart of it,” and that’s how this young writer, when came up with the plot of her novel, knew that it wouldn’t be the sisters (narrating) the story. “I loved the idea of someone who’s outside but still a part of the family which is why it’s told through the perspective of the neighbour who is very close to them and is a very good friend of theirs, who becomes entrenched in their lives but will never fully be one of them.”

With many South Asian writers emerging on the literary end, what has led to this movement of sorts? “Most people are of the opinion that the hindrance to the reading culture is due to the internet, but I think the internet has encouraged reading in many ways. With lots of resources available for people online,” and what this emerging writer adds to her statement is something most parents won’t agree with. “I think our generation is quite motivated; we want to build a different kind of future.”

And if history has to be knocked on, a thriving future is shaped by the culturists – writers, novelists, poets and playwrights. “Keeping culture intact is just as important as building roads and hospitals,” the writer sheds light on works that inspire people in many ways. “They teach you empathy, how to relate to people and that the world is bigger than the 10 people you know.”

Travelling through time often is what Sarvat gets to do. If given a time-turner would she want to visit a historical loop? “I’m fascinated by aspects of the 60s but I don’t know if I’d want to live then for things are only getting better for Pakistani women now,” however she wouldn’t mind a short trip down a time machine to look around, and who knows how many characters she can bring to life in her future works.

When penning her first book, Sarvat had a structured outline for each chapter with chiselled chapter drafts that were made to fit the frame in the form of a precisely manufactured cabinet of words. But what came knocking was the element that raises the bar of any literary work. “You have to be willing to let the story breathe and allow it to move forward where there is a need for it to move, which is not always easy,” says the novelist for whom “writing a novel is like making a structure out of sand – it doesn’t hold on its own; constantly slipping from underneath the entire time; it’s very strange.”

Having recently appeared as a guest speaker at the Lahore Literary Festival, Sarvat appreciates the idea of having literature festivals free for the public. “Many of the literary festivals abroad are very elite things, you have to buy expensive tickets, more expensive if the speaker is like Mohsin Hamid, making them events which only a small number of people can attend. Here, they are free so all you have to do is simply show up,” she marks out one of the measures that is helping the society grow.

A writer Sarvat keeps going back to is a Dominican American, Junot Díaz. “He may be describing the most mundane thing, but the way he constructs his sentences makes you visualize; even if he is talking about someone’s hair or someone closing a door, you read the sentence and everything is new.”

Sarvat who channels creativity through words, feels the description of places has to come from the character you are speaking from. And soon she takes the garb of a creative writing teacher depicting the room to be one from This Wide Night. “Narrated through a boy, imagine this is the drawing room from the book. If he walks into a room like this, what speaks to him are the memories and things related to the people he’s most interested in. So if he walks into this room and is sad, all the gloomy things will leap out at him,” and for this expressionist “it all comes from the characters and their journeys.”

Having worked in a publishing house, Sarvat shares how each day literary agents are inundated with manuscripts. “The difficulty is in setting oneself apart from the crowd. I was lucky as I met my agent through my Master’s degree who already knew a bit of my work,” she talks about the different stages of the publishing process which isn’t easy. “They’re all fun and challenging, but getting a literary agent is difficult because when you’re trying to look for a publisher you already have an agent, which means, you already have someone who believes in you and someone who’s already given their stamp of approval like this is a good book, something worth dealing and pursuing.”

It was in February that Sarvat saw a hard copy of her fine piece resting on a shelf in between books she’s read and loved more so. “It was a strange feeling; I felt disassociated from it, for it didn’t feel like I created it,” she mentions how it passed through different hands before coming out of the rollers of the press.

While seated amidst canvases, Sarvat travels, virtually, to her teens, checking in to Manora Beach. “I remember standing on the beach with a classmate of mine – it was just her house and the beach, with no one else present,” that moment of solitude is what sticks to Sarvat’s memory, keeping in mind the hustle and bustle of Karachi’s beaches.

She never knew she’d be bursting that very memory bubble of her along with her friend, enjoying the waves washing past them only a decade later, to be read by buffs of fiction. Who knows if this scribe will be featured in any of her upcoming works, probably in the light of the two gearing for the morning assembly or sharing lunches, or handing out giveaways from each trip she made from London, her city of birth.