Interview: Faran Kiani
by Huriyah Quadri
Faran Kiani is a lawyer and novelist from Rawalpindi, Pakistan. His novel, Five Wishes and the Prophecy of the Prince, was the first ever fantasy book in English published by the National Book Foundation of Pakistan.
You can follow Faran Kiani on Twitter @Faran_Kiani, on Facebook, or on Instagram @official.farankiani.
Huriyah Quadri (HQ): Thank you for joining me, Faran. Can you start by telling us a little bit about your book, Five Wishes and the Prophecy of the Prince?
Faran Kiani (FK): Five Wishes and the Prophecy of the Prince is a sing-along fantasy adventure. The story revolves around a dramatic rhyming tale of five fairy sisters, who, in an effort to make their splendour eternal, turn themselves from Light Loving Fairies of The Far Land into The Dark Five Witches of Nayan.
Chasing their wishes not only turns them wicked, but also persuades them to abduct a prince, ride a broom, make a sacrifice once in a while, collect toad spines, fall in love, dabble in witchcraft, betray, lie, and at last find the truth about their lives. It has a unique tone/story compared to the rest of the typical fairy tale genre, which reveals itself as the story opens up gradually in the subsequent chapters. A constant battle between the good and the evil resides in their hearts at all times, both craving for dominance over the other. Tragedy, suspense, and humour … mix it up with a lot of rhymes, and your potion bottle of ‘Five Wishes’ is ready.
A constant battle between the good and the evil resides in their hearts at all times, both craving for dominance over the other.
HQ: That does sound like quite an adventurous tale – what was the inspiration behind it?
FK: I was very much inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and how they created their own worlds of magic and wonder. I wanted to create my own fantasy world and play with my own creatures.
HQ: You were the first novelist in Pakistan to publish a fantasy book written in the English language. Which books did you read growing up?
FK: Pakistan has rich literature in Urdu, but sadly, you cannot find many fiction or fantasy writers here. In Urdu, tales of Umru Ayyar were famous, but they were mostly read by people who spoke and understood Urdu. I, on the other hand, always had an urge to make our stories known, and since English is the only global language, I had to adopt it and write fantasy stories on my own and make them internationally available to all the readers of the world. In English, I used to read Mogli – The Jungle Book, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, and so on.
HQ: Are there any children’s books you have read as an adult and enjoyed?
FK: To be honest, I still enjoy watching Cartoon Network and hearing children’s stories. I’ve always enjoyed the Harry Potter series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and How to Train Your Dragon.
HQ: Why did you decide to write for children?
FK: It’s not entirely a book for children. I’d say it’s basically for young adults, because the theme and outlook of the book may seem like it’s like that of a fairy tale and one may assume that it’s a children’s book, but it’s not. The content of the story and the philosophy used in the story is very mature, and it has appealed to adults as well. I wouldn’t want my books to be specifically for children only.
HQ: What do you think is the most important thing to take into consideration when writing for a young audience?
FK: I think as a writer of children’s stories, one ought to recognise the moral responsibility because children have this tendency of getting inspired by your words, and they also have a higher tendency to adopt the philosophy you exhibit in your writing. They may like a character in your story and they may even try to mimic them. It’s important for a children’s author to give some sort of a life lesson at the end of their story so that children may gain some advantage out of it in the real world.
One ought to recognise the moral responsibility because children have this tendency of getting inspired by your words.
HQ: You initially self-published Five Wishes before it was snapped up by the National Book Foundation of Pakistan. Can you tell us what the self-publishing process is like in Pakistan? What was your journey like?
FK: It was indeed very tough. I had to spend a lot of money, as there are no literary agents in Pakistan, and finding a proper publishing company is also very hard. I had to arrange a whole event for my book launch at my own expense. Then I started a literary revival movement on my own. I went to different schools and colleges and universities in Pakistan and encouraged the students to think outside of the box and have some interest in literature. I used my book and my work as an example; it was my own idea, at my own expense, but it gave me much needed encouragement.
HQ: What are the main benefits of being published by the National Book Foundation? Are there any downsides?
FK: The National Book Foundation of Pakistan is basically a government organisation. Yes, you do get recognised at the government level, but since they’re not a private organisation, they don’t promote your work as they should in a commercial sense. If you want to be commercially successful, the National Book Foundation is not a place for you because their basic aim is to promote books at a low price to the general public, and not to make money.
HQ: What are your hopes for children’s publishing in Pakistan?
FK: I’m very hopeful, as I see emerging writers every day. But still, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done for inspiring authors and writers in Pakistan. There are still limited resources for young people who want to contribute to this particular genre.
HQ: What kind of resources do you think would be most helpful for aspiring writers?
FK: I think there should be more writing workshops for aspiring writers across the nation. Even the universities/colleges just stay limited to their courses/syllabus; they should go above and beyond to promote writers and give them platforms to showcase their talents.
Also, the efforts of the government in this sector need to be improved. Overall, I think there are a lot of people who want to write and they’re extremely talented, but where (according to the latest UN report) 60% of the population only knows how to write their name in Urdu – how can you expect them to take an interest in literature? Writers will only get promoted if there are readers. Without a target audience, writers don’t have anyone to appreciate their talent. So first we need to promote education and maximise its extent. If there are more educated people, there will also be more readers. As a result, authors would also be encouraged to write and showcase their creativity to a larger audience.
Writers will only get promoted if there are readers. Without a target audience, writers don’t have anyone to appreciate their talent.
HQ: How did you balance your time between your work as a lawyer and writing?
FK: When you’re as enthusiastic and passionate about your work as you are for your writing, I guess you do find the time and energy at the end of the day. It’s all about determination and recognising your goal and true aim. For me, writing is to leave a legacy and something that the young can look up to and get inspired by. So I really don’t have a choice but to work on my craft and manage accordingly.
HQ: Are you currently working on any other writing projects?
FK: I’m almost done with the Five Wishes sequel; it’s called Five Wishes and the Battle of the Black Mountains. The sequel is in its final phase and hopefully will be published later this year. I’m also working on another fantasy book titled Kohkaaf – The Hidden Kingdom, and a horror thriller, which is definitely for adults. I will also write more for adults in the future.
HQ: Which Pakistani authors would you recommend to our readers?
FK: In English, I’d recommend Mohsin Hamid; and in Urdu, I’d say Umera Ahmed.
HQ: I’m glad you’ve mentioned Mohsin Hamid – he’s on my reading list. Should we end with some advice for someone who is keen to write a children’s book in Pakistan?
FK: Yes, Mohsin Hamid is a great talent. Last year, he was awarded a very high civil award, Sitara-e-Imtiaz, by the government of Pakistan. I hope you’ll like him. My advice would be: stay put, believe, and keep at it. If you believe, you will find your way; I’m living proof of it.
Stay put, believe, and keep at it.
HQ: Thank you again for your time, Faran; it’s been a pleasure. We wish you the very best with all your literary ventures.