Thursday, 27 February 2014

An Interview with Aftab Latif - Winner of the WEbook January Challenge

With January marking the beginning of another new year, we decided to take this opportunity to set a challenge based upon the idea of something being reborn, just like the year itself. With over 50 entries that touched on a wide variety of topics, including (but in no way limited to!), relationships, deaths, families, fire, and motorcycles, we were as usual spoilt for choice with brilliant entries.

Every month your Challenge submissions continue to surprise us with their originality! The multitude of imaginative ways that each member interprets the challenge guidelines are often as brilliant as they are completely wacky, so keep up the good work guys - you're creating quite the fiery melting pot of literary competition!

January's challenge winner was Aftab, with his brilliant entry, Snow. Although there was a host of brilliant entries, Aftab's interpretation of rebirth successfully drew a touching portrait of rebirth through a focus on the fragility of human relationships, which more than surpassed the challenge brief - so we really had no choice but to crown him our winner!


Following on from his win, we had a chat with Aftab to find out a bit more about where he found his inspiration for, Snow, and how he approaches his writing...

Enjoy!
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WEbook: Hi Aftab, congratulations on being crowned the winner of our New Year’s Challenge with your brilliant entry, Snow

The topic of 'something being reborn', was really open ended… how did you narrow down and decide upon the direction of your submission when the guidelines allowed for so many different options?

Aftab Latif: First up, as etiquette dictates, hello and thank you for the win and the chance to even participate in such a great event. Means a lot!

OK, so I had to smile when I read this question, mostly because this is the element of the monthly challenges I feel I am the worst at. I get the sense you guys are looking for something that’s radical and outside the box, but also something that adheres as strongly as possible to the outlines of the challenge. I always tend to go one way or the other, and I can never get it right. 

This was the first time, however, that I really felt I’d nailed it.

My first thought was a literal interpretation of rebirth in terms of human life, but I thought that was too obvious. I am sure I had several other ideas on the opposite side of the spectrum that I ended up scrapping for being too vague. Ultimately, I decided I didn't want the physical sense of rebirth to be the centre of the story; rather, it would be something peripheral that influenced a more spiritual sense of the theme. 

Thusly Snow was born.

WB:  Snow, provides an emotional insight into the cyclical development of father-and-son relationships, and it’s touching in its parallel exploration of this relationship within both genetic and circumstantial parenthood. Where did you get your inspiration from for the story?

AL: As with all of my writing, I never get it right the first time, and this story evolved from another one. My initial idea was to write a short thesis on youth, imagination and innocence, how those things are lost with time and how they are reborn through the process of having children. My idea was to have a father bring his son to an old family home and look in the nearby woods for a magical kingdom he had visited as a child. The father can’t find it anywhere but his son easily sees it. Perplexed, the father asks where it is. The boy eventually leads him to a dilapidated old tree house. The father doesn't recognise it at all, but through his son’s enthusiasm and imagination, he slowly begins to remember the magical kingdom he had concocted there himself as a child so many years ago. 

Heavy Peter Pan themes, I know.

Looking back, I think that too would have been a good submission, but I struggled to include everything I wanted in 1000 words. The core tenets I had raised in those earlier drafts survived, however, and fuelled the idea for Snow. The main concept of rebirth was that of perception, an adult seeing things from a child’s perspective and learning from it to improve themselves and their relationships. The clever thing I managed to utilise in Snow that I couldn't have done in the previous iterations was to included a direct example of rebirth too, i.e. the snowman.

Two birds were killed with one stone. I was happy with the end result.

WB: The metaphor of the snowman and the puddle used within the story is a powerful one, the more it’s thought about in terms of time and relationships, the more it has to offer. Can you give us an insight into your literary intent within the metaphor?

AL: In its most crude sense, the snowman was going to be a red herring; then it evolved into the physical sense of rebirth that fuelled the emotional sense of it. The snowman was an interesting figure too, as it was my representation of youth: made of pure white snow to signify innocence; easily damaged or melted to signify fragility; and also as a conduit for human emotion, especially children who ascribe to or project personalities upon them. It was this representation of youth that helped the adults connect with their children, and the process of interacting with or building the snowman that was an example of actions speaking louder than words.

WB: Your repetition of, ‘He wasn’t my son’, in the story, initially makes the main character a little unlikeable. Yet by the end of the story, and merely 800 words later, we have not only forgiven, but completely forgotten this rejection of the boy. Was this intentional in terms of the story being about rebirth, and if so, how did you craft this transformation?

AL: You know, I think this is what made the readers connect with this character, because it's true. People don’t resonate with something that’s idealistic. The truth is ugly, and human nature can be likewise. Let’s face it, we’ve all had those moments when we say something we shouldn’t. We’ve all acted first and thought second. We’ve all assured ourselves we have nothing but the best intentions of others at heart, but our own interests often betray those sentiments. I will admit to that myself. It’s what makes us human. I’ve always believed too that this is what makes the best drama. 

The characterisation was definitely intentional, but I didn’t think about it too much. I simply let the story go where it needed to go; I let if follow its own parabola, ensuring the transformation and emotional rebirth of the main character would benefit and feel more natural.

WB: You regularly submit stunning pieces to the Monthly Challenges, and you were a runner up in the August and December Challenges, before being crowned our January winner - where do you find your inspiration from for the stories you submit to the challenges? Are they parts of longer stories you have written or do you write them especially?

AL: Finding inspiration is usually quite easy for me. Loquacious as I seem right now, I can be very quiet and introspective, particularly in large groups. I’ll often pick up on a few words spoken by someone, and I’ll invent scenarios and stories based on that. My mind wanders easily. Music helps me get in the right emotional state, especially ambient Indian music (though if I’m in more of a party mood it’s straight up electro-funk). Other than that, my favourite source of inspiration is to purposefully bore myself. I’ll go out for a run and pump white noise through my ipod. The brain is a surprisingly needy organ; stop dumping sensory info into it and it will start to entertain itself with all kinds of crazy crap.

Except for the NaNoWriMo challenge, all my entries thus far have been original and created solely for the challenges. I find it impossible to use a random scene from a longer work, as every story I write needs a conclusion or a sense of completion. Plus, I think using a segment of existing work feels like cheating and invalidates the whole point of the challenge. For me, I love being given the chance to write something new, to develop new ideas that I can expand or to test my skills in restrictive challenges both as a writer and an artist.

WB: What other things have you written? Have you ever had anything published in magazines, blogs, books? 

AL: Nothing. No, no, and no. Except for fanfiction, I haven’t published a thing – but then I haven’t submitted anything either. Since I graduated from university, a good three and a half years ago, I’ve been working on my first manuscript (a snippet of which I entered into the NaNoWriMo challenge; a couple of chapters worth have found their way in a dedicated project too) and I’m probably around 10,000 words from finishing the first draft. I’m hoping to kick my butt into gear to finish it and start shipping it out to agents who can have a good throaty chuckle at my feeble attempts to make it as a writer.

I can honestly say this is the first time my writing has ever paid for anything. (I was seriously contemplating buying my own i-Pad myself, having had it dangle so close to me for so many unsuccessful months! Glad I stuck that one out). But I am optimistic about my future. I think I can write. I know I can. Whether I can sell...? That’s another question entirely.

WB: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing style. What first inspired you to write? And, what or who continues to inspire you?

AL: Writing for me began as a hobby. Being born into an Indian family and living in England often made me feel like I was subjected to two different cultures, without really fitting in either one. Naturally, I was insecure as a kid. Luckily I didn’t resort to destructive outlets for this, but to writing. Writing was the first time I felt in control of anything. I could make a world where the sun rose in the North and set in the South. I could make an entire culture and country or destroy it with the stroke of a pen. It was wonderful.

I think I started writing when I was about fourteen. Funnily enough, I didn’t start properly reading until I was about seventeen. (Yes, you can’t imagine how bad my first stories were. Writing before reading is like learning to drive before you learn to walk). When I was younger I never thought I would aspire to be a writer. It was just something I did. As a teen I got into fanfiction. The wonderful thing about that is there is a huge readership for it online and the community is very vocal and helpful, intending to make the author shine as brightly as they can. I loved the sense of writing for someone else, as opposed to just myself, and my love of the craft deepened.

Combining all of that with my competitive nature and my desire to create 
(I also play music and would love to paint, if only I possessed the talent), I decided to attempt an original novel.

It’s three and half years later, and I’m still working on the damned thing. 

Being a perfectionist is hard work.

WB: What's your favourite book?


AL: The first book that made me fall in love with stories was George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl.

The first book that made me fall in love with reading was the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

The first book that made fall in love with literature was Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I’ve read hundreds of books since and before then and that is still my all time favourite. 

WB: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer all of our questions, Aftab! Good luck with finishing your novel, and again, congratulations on being crowned our January Challenge winner!

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Don't forget that the February Challenge closes at midnight tomorrow! Our Challenge to you this month has been to write a story comprised of only 28 sentences...

Good luck to everyone who has entered! 

The WEbook Team

2 comments:

  1. sigmundsquirrel6 March 2014 at 11:18

    Great interview, Aftab. Month after month, your stories shine. Here's to consistent talent! (btw, your March story looks like a winner too.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Sigmund! For a man who makes me constantly utter "I wish I could write like that", this is incredibly high praise!

    ReplyDelete