The weekend is almost here, and it’s a pleasure to welcome today’s 20-20 guest, Journalist and non fiction writer, Azra Syed.
What name do you write under? I writer as Azra Syed and my friends also know me by this name, however, my family name was a bit too long, so I alter it, keeping it short and sweet.
Where are you from, live or work? I live in Bedford- A historic Market town in Bedfordshire, with my two children, four budgies and approximately 60-tropical fish- I am not sure about their number as their population is growing rapidly—which is a concern. Originally, I am from Pakistan—a culturally rich country with mysterious history and natural beauty.
I am freelance writer and researcher and Web Developer by profession. I also run my own digital marketing and training agency.
Tell me two things that people may not know about you. This is remarkably interesting but also a little tricky question—okay… let me think—people don’t know many things about me like my full name; they also don’t know about my family life which is full of struggle and fighting against social injustice, gender discrimination and equal rights for girls without any prejudice. I am a campaigner for girls’ education and women mental health. However, I am a victim of these odd traditions too, for instance, because of my demand for equal right to my brothers, especially a right attend school or have higher education; I was disowned by my own parents at the age of 16th and sent away to live with my elder sister against my will. Though it was ridiculously hard, as it was a love and hate relationship and it’s still is, but it couldn’t defeat my passion for education, I am grateful to her for allowing me to study. But many people don’t know that I had no school at all.
Do you have any hobbies? Though, I love knitting and crochet, I am a good dressmaker and also love cooking; I find these activities very amusing, but my main hobby is learning new skills, I’m always doing a new course, whether online or in person. I love learning and studying. I have more than 50 certificates and diplomas; excluding my main degrees. I love to study and learn entirely different skills, for example I have studied hypnosis and Stock Trading to Machine Learning and AI, but deep down in my heart I am a journalist.
What is your favourite book(s) and why? This a very difficult question to answer, it’s like asking a mother which is her favourite child—I have over 5000 books and each and every book is unique, some of these I have read more than once and among those books, Think and Grow Rich—Napoleon Hill; I like this book because it encourage me on keep moving forward no matter what comes in my way. Other interesting book is Long Walk in Freedom—Nelson Mandela, again remarkably interesting and encouraging story of one man’s struggle and wisdom. ‘Peak of Eloquence—Imam Ali, I belong to Shia faith and this a book which enable me to rethink and review my own actions and seek wisdom from the highly knowledgeable man from the history of Muslim history. I do love The Trail and Metamorphosis— Franz Kafka I love Kafka’s style of highlighting human miseries and social injustice. There are many other books from great writers and poets that I love to revisiting and re-exploring the sedative way of their writing.
Who or what inspired you to become a writer? I love reading, this is my first love, when I was teen, I had a habit of reading everything, and when I say everything it literally everything, from reading every single letter on a medicine packet to secretly reading my father’s medical books, and that might be a reason behind my writing passion. Well, originally, I am a journalist and have studied journalism throughout as a subject and also did my MA in journalism, but writing was always there; back in 1992, before I finished my bachelor’s degree, I was a regular contributor in the local newspapers. I remember, when my first feature was published in the magazine section of a newspaper, I was stunned to see my by line, it was like OMG moment—the feedback from the magazine editor, gave me so much confidence and I felt like I found my voice; afterwards, I joined an international newspaper, and since then I never looked back, the feedback and encouragement by the editor was a life changing moment. Then I had no other passion but be a journalist.
Fiction writing is my new love, I just found it during my MA Creative Writing.
I feel fiction is the best way to highlight the social prejudice toward girls and women and underprivileged communities. Who inspired me;I would say socio-political conditions of women and environment inspired me to become a writer, because through writing we can reach beyond the borders and cultural restrictions.
What type of books/genre do you write? I normally write non-fiction, but I have written short stories and I am also writing a novel which is a story of a girl who has been struggling to prove her existence to the world full of neglect towards women and nature.
How would you describe your writing style? Narrative, I like to narrate a story, and it might be because of my profession—journalism.
What comes first for you – character, plot or setting? I think it depends on the project, but mostly it is plot and I do my research and it comes to setting and characters.
Do you have a writing routine? I wish I have one, but it’s mostly when I feel like writing— it could be middle of anything I am doing, during cooking, washing or mostly during my long driving; when I am driving and if a plot lands in my head—I just speech write during my driving. I dictate to Siri and ask to save it as an email draft and when I come home, I simply copy and paste it to the document. I find it extremely useful, if I am driving for an hour, I can write up to a thousand words, without distraction and good thing is Siri can read it back to me.
Do you become a ‘method’ writer? Well, I do get incredibly involved in the lives of my characters, but I am not a ‘method writer.’
What are you currently working on? I am working on a few projects at the moment. I am working on a novel Kaneez-Born to Serve. It been about two years I have written seventy-thousand words so far, but I am more actively working on my two upcoming books, one on the cyber security and other is on the history of gender discrimination in Pakistan.
What has been the most fulfilling part of your writing career? Working as a writer itself is very fulfilling experience however working as a journalist is extremely rewarding experience. When I get a feedback on my stories from various groups of communities, it feels really good, because being a writer we can influence on a broader scale and can have a positive impact on the wor.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given? One of my teachers told me, ‘do not read or edit until you finish the whole project. Do not be self-critic, it means do not decide on behalf of the readers. Writing is an addiction so get addict to it, and it was really great advice because before that I was very worried about my writing and always kept thinking people will not like it.
What piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to become a writer? Writing is a divine power; if you want to write, please write for the sake of writing not for thing else.
I have been mentoring many new writers on the social media and in person, through these mentoring sessions the issues like ‘finding time and ‘staying motivated’ are quite common. I would say, we all have so much to do in our personal and professional lives, but if you want to be a writer, and you think you can write, please do write and create some free time to sit and write. If we read about famous authors, many of then wrote their books during their lunch breaks at work; one of my teachers from Creative Writing wrote her novel during her train journeys between her home and university. Devoting a couple of hours in the morning or in the evenings can help to achieve five hundred words to a thousand words per day. There is saying, ‘if we do sometime for forty day everyday that thing becomes a habit, so make writing your habit, because habits do not wait for a free time.
What have you published recently? I have published my book WFH During the Pandemic and Beyond—it is a self-help guides on time management explaining how to stay motivated and productive and how to have a balanced life.
I also write a blog, but I am not regular in writing my blog of my writing projects—my books.
Do you think there’s still some snobbery between commercial and self-publishing? Well, honestly speaking I have no clue about this point, as I haven’t approached a publisher yet, but I have published my book on Kindle Direct Publishing – KDP with Amazon. But I didn’t experience any discrimination.
How do you market your writing? It’s an interesting question, writing is much easier than marketing; with KDP publishing it has become quite easy to market books, however, marketing is still a great challenge for the self-published authors and I am also facing it. I normally use social media to advertise my book. LinkedIn, Facebook, twitter, Pinterest and Instagram are helpful platforms, but we can’t use all social media platforms, to me it’s not feasible to attract the members of every platform, however I suggest stick with one of two major networking sites, for me its Facebook and LinkedIn. I also publish with various publishing apps like iBook, Lulu Books, Google Books, Kobo and Goodread etc. At present I have signed with KDP Select and I cannot publish with others apps. I also have sent my book to the local libraries and to British Library (as it’s a legal requirement to submit a published book to the British Library). As you know we are going through a very strange time, but when things will be a little safer, I might go and talk to my local libraries about their author event and having a stall at literary festival.
Where can people find your work? Thank you for asking, my book is available on Amazon worldwide and can be find through my Amazon Author page link https://www.amazon.com/author/azrasyed
Where can people find you on social media and online? I can be contacted through my website www.azrasyed.com
Thank you for taking part Azra, I think your current book could be beneficial for any writer interested in getting the best out of their time management, also the tip about driving and Siri is a good one I’m sure many writers have never thought of.