Asma Hamza is the author of four books with ‘The Unhappy Planets’ as her debut illustrated storybook. She then composed personal anecdotes, short stories and factual happenings in the society calling it ‘Diary of a Wacky Muslimah’. Her latest work includes novellas for primary and secondary students named ‘Echelon’ and ‘Enigma’ respectively.

Can you share some details about your early life and where you grew up?

My roots are from Surat, India, where my ancestors migrated to Burma (now Myanmar), adapting to the culture and lifestyle before ultimately migrating to Karachi, Pakistan, where I was born and raised. My childhood was a typical middle-class one with all the essences of the nineties. Unlike many authors, my background was far from an educated one, but there was a burning desire in my parents’ hearts to see me as a highly educated individual, and that’s what my humble beginnings are.

What were some of your favorite books or stories during your childhood?

As a six-year-old kid, I was a die-hard fan of Nonehal, Taleem o Tarbiyat, Ishtiaq Ahmed’s Jamshed series, and Umro Ayyar, but I would devour anything readable I could get my hands on! Later, as I discovered my love for the English language, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, and Charles Dickens helped quench my reading thirst. Wordsworth and Shakespeare came much later when I had completed my matriculation.

Who were your biggest influences growing up, both in life and in literature?

Hakeem Muhammad Saeed Shaheed, Khalid Anam, and Beena Benjamin were my inspirations as a kid. I would do anything and everything to meet them. I still remember the boost I got when Khalid sir patted my back and said, “This kid will go a long way.” However, in literature, I had no particular inspiration! I never, even in my wildest dreams, imagined taking the path that life has chosen for me. Singing, acting, and emceeing events were the professions I would have liked for myself, but hey, life happens.

When did you first realize that you wanted to pursue a career as a writer?

Oh, this was one dramatic event. I worked in a school as an ESL teacher. One fine day, the principal, now my mentor, called me and asked me to write a novella on anything that came to mind. I was befuddled. Where in the world did he get the idea that I could do this? I refused blatantly, only to meet his persistence. He assured me that the novella would be sent to authors and experts for evaluation and review purposes with ‘anonymous’ for the author’s name, so I agreed. Later in the meeting, the novella became a hot topic, receiving positive criticism left and right. That novella never got published, but it proved to be the first step in my writing career.

What inspired you to focus on writing children’s books specifically?

I am a children’s person. I love children, and they are sure to love me. I have always known this. Perhaps it came from my childhood, as I had single-handedly babysat my sisters since I was seven. I was a wonderful storyteller as a kid, and stories would come naturally to me. The awe that I would see in those little, glistening eyes, and the desire for better action and a happy ending would charge me. It still does!

Could you tell us more about your books, Echelon and Enigma?

Echelon is a story of five fifth-graders, each with a unique personality and their own burden. Together, they are forced to make a journey as the fate of the world depends on them. How they discover themselves is the main essence of the novella, through which I have tried to convey multiple encouraging messages to our young ones.

Enigma, on the other hand, is meant for teenagers who love action, thrill, sci-fi, and discovering new places through reading. The setting is primarily Rio de Janeiro, where all the action happens. The antagonist is a behemoth shaped by his circumstances. This story, too, has layers of life lessons to understand, ranging from a deep sense of patriotism to friendship, and more.

What themes or messages do you aim to convey through your writing?

As a practicing Muslimah, I aim to convey our beautiful religion, Islam, to our young ones in an engaging, fun-filled manner. Each of my writings may not preach Islamic values directly, but I make sure the message is there, deeply rooted within the lines, to fill the enthusiastic human mind in its conscious and subconscious.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers in Pakistan?

“Learn, unlearn, relearn” has been the mantra of my life, and I suggest the same to all aspiring writers. Consume as much literature as you can before penning a word. Be ready to embrace criticism and find authentic sources to back your research. Incorporate research into your writing, but do not overwhelm a fiction narrative with mere facts. Finally, don’t get disheartened. Pakistan has limited encouragement for writers, especially those who write in English. But keep moving forward, and you will surely find the beacon you seek.

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