Hi All. Another week, another interview.
Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Ayse Hafiza, author of the Azrael and Jinn Series books. A new and exciting genre that, as of today, seems an untapped area of storytelling.
Hi Ayse, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Well, thank you for having me. I am a Londoner born and bred and previously worked in Central London in the commercial world, which I believe informs my style of writing. I’ve travelled loads in my career and for leisure, and I’m happily married. My family has lots of authors in it, so I feel that becoming an author was fated for me. I’m living in Istanbul with my husband, and kicking off my author plans, getting them into action which feels really empowering. I’m pioneering a new genre of Spiritual Horror with an Islamic twist which is very exciting and gaining a lot of interest.
- When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer?
It wasn’t really until I was 27 or so. A friend and I were recounting our experiences of family members trying to set us up and introduce us to suitable young men (cringeworthy). She said we should write about our experiences in a chick-lit novel, and the idea really resonated with me. I wasn’t concerned with genre at that point, but I was determined that I should write. I think when you’re working in the city you tend to get blinkered, and all pursuits outside of supporting your city career can seem like a distant dream. I was so passionate about the idea, I think I overwhelmed her and got to first draft pretty much on my own. I was researching traditional publishers, but I think I didn’t really give her a chance to make a contribution and somehow I excluded her from our joint project so it died a death (on a hard drive somewhere). It will be resurrected at an unknown future date. I got an understanding then, of how the traditional model worked, and how to work towards cracking it, but that conversation was the point at which I set my intention, knowing I would be a writer. The next question for me, was when in my life would it happen?
2. What are your ambitions for your writing career?
So, I’m pioneering a spiritual horror genre with an Islamic twist, which means that I’m writing horror which is different to the normal werewolf, vampire stories that we all know and love. Having an Islamic twist is really about having a new voice on the market with different characters. I genuinely feel that I have stories to tell, and stories that will linger in people’s memories. That’s what I love, when something impacts me and I feel that it permeates my consciousness and makes me consider my behaviour. I believe in the law of attraction (if you say it, it’s going to happen) so my ultimate stretch-goal is to see my stories on the screen, that would be the climax of this for me.
3. Which writers inspire you?
My ultimate has got to be Rumi. His Mathnawi was one of the best birthday presents I ever received, who doesn’t love Rumi? And by extension, Paolo Coelho, who makes Rumi’s work more relevant in the modern day. The King (Stephen King) and Edgar Allan Poe whose stuff is super dark. I’m re-reading Brothers Grimm right now, which is just fast paced short stories and fun, and I re-read Arabian nights recently because I love stories with Jinn in them and fantastical tales.
4. So, what have you written?
What I’m most well-known for, are two series of short stories which I am releasing this year, that’s the Azrael Series (stories which feature Azrael, the Angel of Death) which are available on Amazon. The Jinn Series, which are stories featuring Jinn (Jinn are more commonly known as demons, genie). I’m looking forward to releasing the rest of the Jinn Series books later this year. I’ve also written screenplays before, which is a great skill to have, as you constantly have to think visually, and that’s rubbed off onto my writing. My first short story is called The Afterlife of Abdul. As with all short stories, there is one climatic event which is a car crash, and it’s the moments during the crash which really make the story, the emotions and the visual aspects. One of my reviewers said they loved the contrast between perception and perspective, which was a great compliment. I like playing on the visual and contrast elements in my writing. I’ve got some novellas in the pipeline for next year too.
5. What are you working on at the minute?
I’m about half way through a novella ‘The Walls of Istanbul’ that I plan to release next year, I want to get to first draft before I start thinking about another project. It’s a story about a Jinn community trapped underground in Istanbul. Galian, the hero Jinni, desperately wants to escape, having been trapped for millennia. He possesses Elif, a little girl, and fights Porciana, the witch who trapped the Jinn. It’s got all my favourite elements, Jinn, a Witch, dark blood magic, innocence in form of Elif the little girl, a creepy doll, and demonic possession. It’s a real recipe for mayhem.
6. Why do you write?
It’s cheaper than therapy. On a serious note, because I love it, I get really obsessed by my characters and the process. It doesn’t feel like work. I have my nose to the keyboard and the hours tick by.
7. Where do your ideas come from?
A lot of the dialogue comes from conversations I’ve had with people in past, little nuggets of wisdom that I’ve gleaned. Sometimes family members. Funnily enough, one of my reviewers for ‘Mr Time’ messaged me and asked me if he was a relative, which was very perceptive as I modelled that character heavily on male family members. Sometimes the places I’ve travelled generate inspiration, or news stories for example, ‘Confessions of a Witch’, which I am releasing later this year, is based in Africa and London. Africa I’ve travelled to, and know the lay of the land. The story stems from Adam the little African boy, whose body was found in the Thames by a morning jogger. That, sadly was a real life event. Even old dilapidated buildings, where I can imagine the sort of people that had lived in them. Inspiration comes from anywhere really. Sometimes from my dreams, but mainly when I have a character on my mind who won’t shut up and let me sleep. I often wake up exhausted, but with direction for the story I am writing. Most writers have similar experiences in their dreams, but I think it’s an expression of passion.
8. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I tend to think of the story and loosely define the main plot points, writing them down into what I know will be the main document. When I feel I have the backbone of a story, that’s when I start. I am a pantser, and make it up as I go, but I think that allows for the character to speak to me. Then I get to know them and can tell how they feel, how they think, and what’s going to happen next. Having believable characters and knowing them inside out is the mark of a good story, and often one that will stay with the reader. I’m a people watcher, and body language and psychology always interest me. It helped me in my city career, so for me it’s easy to know what people are thinking and knowing how they will act next.
9. How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
I don’t know if I’ve evolved. Essentially, I think it’s more that creatively I’ve challenged myself. My first story was about death, which is where a lot of other horror stories end. In ‘The Afterlife of Abdul’, it was the mid-point. I think it’s more that I let myself take risks, and the conditions need to equal the risk being acceptable. What pressure do the circumstances create? And is it believable? Or is my character going to do something which doesn’t make sense, in which case all integrity is lost.
10. What is the hardest and easiest things about writing?
Hardest thing is sticking to the self-imposed deadlines. It’s too easy to move stuff around and not give it the right level of importance. Also, you really need to have a plan, and that goes beyond the writing and impacts the marketing. If you don’t have a plan, you can just throw stuff up onto kindle and watch it wallow around the 3 millionth sales mark, in which case you end up giving it away for free, which feels rather deflating. You need to have a plan to catch readers. It’s so very important to have a strategy. The easiest thing is to spend all day at home, not physically speaking to anyone, but you won’t get bored as you’re so focused on nailing the story and getting the characters right. It’s great to feel like you’ve had a full day which you’ve really enjoyed.
11. Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?
Yes, I constantly have my head stuck in my kindle, normally when I should be asleep. My favourites are really too many to mention. I tend to enjoy the classics, and JK Rowlings, Dan Browns, Ken Follett. See, now I’m name dropping.
12. What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing against being published or the other way around?
The main advantages of self-publishing are that there are no barriers to entry, you just get on with it. Creatively, you are in charge of the whole process, but at the same time it is your business, you have to make it work. The disadvantages for self-publishing are that you have to push it, no one is going to do anything for you. It is incredibly tough getting it off the ground. You have to get your head around the I.T, and the upfront costs is your time to write (you’re not living off a juicy advance). Plus, you have to pay the copy editors and cover designers, etc. You have to network and get the contacts. I’d still choose self-publishing over traditional. Once you have an author platform you can court the traditional market, as you have something established, but at that point it’s a question of whether you want to part with the lions share of earnings to cover their fees and what will you get in return. Traditional is good if you’re a celebrity and/or you know nothing about marketing, as in reality sales are the net result of marketing. Also, if you are willing to go through the heartbreak of getting rejection letters pile up again and again, then traditional is for you. Although I would caution that in either game self-publishing or traditional you need to be less sensitive to rejection and that’s not easy but it is a life lesson.
13. Do you have any advice for other budding authors?
People get stuck in the ‘aspiring author’ stage for too long. In any other industry it’s called procrastination, that sounds really harsh but there is a distinction between aspiring and brainstorming. As a writer, I believe it’s important to get to first draft, and not judge your work before you get there. Then at least you have a basis to work from. It’s normal to be antsy about the first thing you write, I was so precious about ‘The Afterlife of Abdul’. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to stop being so pedantic, I would have saved myself years. It was only peer reviews that gave me confidence. If your first draft is locked away you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to grow. Also, some people think, no I can’t be a writer until I’ve done this expensive Faber course, or whatever. The only way to hone your craft as a writer is by writing more words and reading more, development will come. The courses and all that good stuff can come later, when you have a piece that you want to analyse with your group. If you want to do it, sit down and make it happen, the techniques will come.
14. How do you relax?
Generally with a good movie and popcorn, but I lose interest if I can guess the script which tends to happen 80% of the time. My husband is always shocked and I constantly get questioned if I’ve seen the movie before. I’m not a good person to watch movies with.
15. What is your favourite book and why?
Again too many, and I think the answer to this will change, based on my mood, but right now I’ll tell you that I love to re-read the Great Gatsby every so often. I love the picture painted of Old/New money and the social distinctions it brings. The aspirations that drive the characters. Most of all, I love the moral ambiguity of Daisy Buchanan, I love moral ambiguity as a theme. My Jinn in my most recent story ‘The Walls of Istanbul’, is undergoing something similar. Female characters with moral ambiguity are always fascinating. Lady Macbeth wanted the crown and didn’t care if her husband killed the King to get it. Even Elizabeth Bennett changed her mind after she saw Mark Darcys house, although no one ever talks about that, a little subtle coincidence that Austin cleverly threw in.
Thank you Ayse, for a very interesting, in-depth delve into your world. I will be sure to check out your works in the future.
Check out Ayse’s links below: