Three Writers Three Questions
The Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) was a fantastic experience for so many reasons—among them the chance to listen to authors as they read excerpts/scenes from some of their best works, book signings to make that particular copy in your possession extra-special and worthy of handing down to your next of kin or your beloved and even the chance to be photographed with a writer (if you’re so inclined and motivated enough to give a little chase) and then the delicious opportunity of catching an author as they walked past, not seeming to be in a hurry, and obliging when queried about their work.
The question then is how deep inside the writer’s mind can one get when such an opportunity presents itself? What questions reveal the most? I got to speak to 3 writers and decided to ask them the same 3 questions–my own little petri dish experiment to discover the journey from mind to paper known as “the process.” I must confess the query about what they drink was spurred in part by a recent piece I had read on famous writers and their drink of choice.
Here Mohsin Hamid (Reluctant Fundamentalist, Moth Smoke), Hanif Kuresihi(The Buddha of Suburbia, My beautiful Laundrette) and Anatol Lieven(Pakistan: A Hard Country) break it down for us on their future books, what they drink while writing and why none of them suffers from that thing called writer’s block.
1. What are you working on right now?
Hanif Kureishi: I’m writing a novel at the moment and I’m writing a movie based on that novel at the same time. Something I haven’t done before so finding it rather difficult but interesting.
Anatol Lieven: Right now we have a 4-month-old baby at home so I haven’t been working on very much. After finishing the Pakistan book I produced an upgraded edition of a book of mine on American nationalism so I spent part of last year doing that. It’s coming out before the next U.S. elections and it looks in part at the radicalization of the Republican Party in the U.S. What my next major project will be I have not decided yet.
Mohsin Hamid: I’m working on my third novel but I’m a little superstitious about not talking about books until they are done so I can’t say too much about it.
2. What do you drink while writing?
Hanif Kureishi: I drink vast amounts of coffee in the morning, and then if I do a bit of writing in the afternoon then I drink tea but I would never drink alcohol when I’m writing–makes it much more difficult.
Anatol Lieven: Far too much coffee. Sometimes when I’m on sort of a roll, too much wine and then repeated cold drinks.
Mohsin Hamid: Water. I drink a lot of water when I’m writing. I’m not a caffeine drinker. Not that I avoid it particularly but I’m not a big fan of tea or coffee. So I’m really a water drinker.
3. What do you do to overcome writer’s block?
Hanif Kureishi: I used to get blocked when I was younger. I don’t really get stuck. I can’t afford to. I think I sort of overcame my block with writing blocks when I had children because if you send them to school and then you pick up the kids you just got that period, that window, if you don’t write then, then you’ve had it. So I just learned to write when I have the time. You just need to get on with it, you can’t indulge yourself and that’s about it. So having children I’d say is the best thing to do to overcome writer’s block.
Anatol Lieven: I was a journalist for most of my career. If you have writer’s block as a journalist you won’t last very long. Editors do not take kindly to being told that you can’t deliver your copy on deadline because you have writer’s block so that blasted me out of whatever blockages you know I may have had and of course it would be different if I were writing fiction. But in some respects it was very difficult to organize the book on Pakistan. Not terribly difficult because the provincial chapters were in fact the thematic chapters so you obviously you had to have a chapter on religion, a chapter on the judicial systems, for military, electoral processes and so forth. The difficult part to write actually was the historical section because I used to be a historian but also because to explain things here you do have to get into history and initially I found that I was writing so much history that it had turned into 3 chapters and it was beginning to take up you know more and more of the book and so you know the editor said that this has to be more about contemporary Pakistan so not too much please about Shah Waliullah and Sir Syed Ahmed khan.
Mohsin Hamid: I don’t know about writer’s block. I just write. Some times I write badly and other times I write less badly. I don’t know about writer’s block. I think I have procrastination at times when I’m writing.