Author of three novels, Awais Khan lives in Lahore, Pakistan, where he founded and runs The Writing Institute, an online creative writing school…
Awais Khan, the author of three novels, is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and Durham University and studied creative writing at the Faber Academy. He lives in Lahore, Pakistan, where he founded and runs The Writing Institute, an online creative writing school. His latest book, Someone Like Her (Orenda Books), was published in August.
ON HOME I had the good fortune of being born and bred in Lahore and I’ve spent most of my life here apart from a few years when I went to Canada for my bachelor’s and the UK for my master’s. I live in Gulberg, which was built as a suburb 40 or 50 years ago but is now basically the centre of Lahore – Lahore has grown so enormously. There is a huge amount of traffic. If you want to go from one place to another, instead of taking five minutes it will take 20. Everything is available here – all the supermarkets, designer stores, restaurants, big houses. The only other place I could imagine living is London. I live with my parents, it’s the norm here. In Pakistan, sons usually live with their parents for their whole lives. If you get married, your wife comes and lives with you and your parents.
ON ROOTS Pakistan is a very conservative country. My mother is from Multan, where my book is set. My father is from Dera Ismail Khan, a small, ultra-conservative city in the west of Pakistan, the kind of city where women, even today, must be fully covered. My family speaks Saraiki, a dialect of Punjabi. Saraiki culture is very hospitable, kind, good-natured and honest. As a Pakistani who has lived abroad, I see the rich and the poor and am aware of how huge the gap is and it humbles me.
ON MY WRITING SPACE I’m fortunate to have a very big private space where no one ventures but even though I have 5,000 books in that study, a lovely desk, a lovely lamp, I don’t write there. I don’t like the silence. If I want to be creative, I go to a café. My favourite is The Coffee Bean And Tea Leaf, where I wrote Someone Like Her. The noise in a café helps me concentrate. I think being a writer is a very solitary existence, so being in a café with people around, even if you don’t know them, is nice.
ON READING AND WRITING In Pakistan there isn’t a big reading culture. We are a country of 240 million, but I would say that Ireland probably has more readers. I’ve been a lifelong reader. As a child I read everything, even Sweet Valley High. My female cousins used to read them and I would secretly swipe them; I was very intrigued as to why I wasn’t allowed to read them. It wasn’t until the age of 22 or 23 that I decided I wanted to write. I took a few online courses but it was at the Faber Academy in London that things really changed for me. I took the six-month course when I was 25 and that’s where I wrote my debut novel, In The Company Of Strangers. I learned all about the publishing industry and how difficult it is! When I came back from London I wanted to do something for Pakistani writers because these courses cost thousands of pounds and not everyone can afford that. So I established the Writing Institute in 2016 and recently celebrated my 10,000th student. It’s a pity Pakistan does not have a thriving publishing industry because there is enormous talent here.
ON BOOKSHOPS The bookshop culture in Pakistan is different to Europe. You’ll find my book for 1,500 rupees in a proper book shop but someone will buy it, illegally print it and sell it for 200 rupees. There are just a few bookshops and a couple of chains, like Liberty Books. My favourite bookshop is Readings because they get all the latest books. The buyer, whoever they are, is a genius. @edelcoffey