Today we travel to London by way of Lahore, Pakistan to chat with Anita Mir about how journalistic work, the Blasphemy Law, comic pieces, Fordham University, Greek myth, a dolphin, Singin’ in the Rain, breathing deeply, Shakespeare, and a penguin in a sombrero come together as part of Anita’s past and current life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Anita Mir. I seem to have flitted back and forth from Pakistan and England all my life. I was born in Lahore, Pakistan, where my novel is set. I grew up in Wales and County Durham in the UK. Then we went back, as a family, to Lahore. After college, I worked as a journalist and then in the NGO field. Most of my journalistic work was investigative reports on human rights issues, particularly pertaining to the Blasphemy Law, which is often used to target religious minorities such as Christians and Ahmedis.
I wrote what I then thought of as fluff -reviews, comic pieces, short stories- under a pseudonym, not understanding why I enjoyed writing that stuff so much. Through both jobs I got to see a Pakistan I’d never otherwise have seen.
I currently live in London where I teach at Fordham University and write plays. I’ve been in Lahore for the last eight months. That, though, is another story….
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what ignited your author’s flame?
As a teenager I wrote poetry – embarrassingly bad poetry, full, I think, of Greek myth characters who popped up incongruously on our street, near the sweet shop, and did Greek myth kinds of things. Pretentious is too generous a word to describe my ‘poetry’. But thank God, in all our moves, it’s been lost.
At college, I was Editor of my college magazine and then straight from college, walked into my first job as a journalist – where I stayed for years, only leaving when the paper folded. But until I had my first short play on, a short story published and then my novel published I don’t think I had the guts to say I wanted to be a writer.
My novel, ‘The Inside City’ was longlisted for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize and shortlisted for the UBL Prize.
What would you choose as your mascot, spirit animal, or avatar and why?
A dolphin. Just so I could say that wonderful line from ‘Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’: “Thanks for all the fish.”
What does your ideal writing space look like?
What are you currently reading?
Academic stuff on death for a paper I want to write, ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’ Farrell and dipping back into ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ to try and understand how a real poet writes with such precision.
Where did the idea for your most recent book come from?
I’m currently writing a kid’s book about an autistic boy whose beloved grandfather dies and whom he tries to bring back to the world. Two aspects of the story: the autistic boy and the grandfather are both biographical, though nothing else in the story is.
What movie can you watch over and over without ever getting tired of?
Can I choose two? ‘Wings of Desire’ -for its beauty and ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ – which always cheers me up.
Can you play a musical instrument?
I play piano.
If you could have a fantasy tea or coffee date with an author from the past, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Shakespeare. ‘You were having bloody fun when you were writing, weren’t you?’
What is the most enjoyable thing you’ve found through writing?
That writing is an addiction I don’t ever want to give up.
Do you journal write or keep a personal diary? Has this helped with your published writings? If so, how?
I write a journal. Short short stories. When I stop, the ‘proper’ writing comes harder and worse.
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What do you do to prepare yourself?
I breathe deeply. I’d like to do what I’ve seen Tim Robbins do as prep: Jump on a trampoline. But unless I can find a collapsable one, it might be difficult carrying it on the Tube.
What do you miss about being a kid?
My speed at running.
At this stage in your life, what advice would your young self give to your more mature self?
Just go for it. Come out, guns blazing. As an old actor said, ‘There is no rehearsal. This is it.’
You can have anyone fictional as your imaginary friend, who do you choose and why?
Samuel Beckett or Howard Barker. Because I’d hope a little of their magic would rub off on me.
If mars or another planet was livable, would you accept a one way ticket there? why or why not?
No. I haven’t explored enough of this world yet.
A penguin knocks on your door and is wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he there?
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
Determination, or as my mother called it, bloody-mindedness.
It was wonderful to have you be part of MTA, Anita. I very much enjoyed learning more about you and your writings. Wishing you all the best, with much success! – Camilla
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