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Chillibreeze Interview with Deeba Salim Irfan
Deeba thrives on mocha frappachino and her kids. All the energy she imbibes is spent on writing from dusk to dawn. She is an advertising professional during the greater part of her waking weekly hours, and an artist on weekends.
To exist, I have to balance the left and right sides of my brain - right is for writing and painting and left is for advertising. I was a full time advertising professional, heading an advertising agency here in Dubai. I used to write and paint in school and college but then gave it up as the pressures of MBA followed by a career in advertising mounted. And then came marriage and motherhood. But, an incident in my life shook the obsessed workaholic in me and gave me the strength to focus on my family and follow my dream. Now I have an agency of my own, but I work only half days. Nights - I write or paint. Evenings are exclusively for family unless something unavoidable crops up. I have realized that striking a balance is essential to attain inner peace.
2. Congratulations on your debut novel, Urma! We understand that it is inspired by your early years in Iran. What went into the making of this novel? Can you share your experiences/groundwork that went into writing Urma?
Thanks for your wishes. Urma is inspired by the pre-revolution of Iran that I saw, when I first went to Iran with my parents. We stayed there for many years and saw the revolution and the war that followed. I was sent back to be with my grandparents and study as all English schools were forced to close down. That time was difficult. However, there were two reasons why I wrote Urma.
Firstly, I wanted people to savor ‘My Iran’ – a country of an extremely cultured race and considered the ‘Paris of the East’. However, today, the image that gushes forth at the mere mention of Iran is the very opposite. This hurts. That’s what drove me to have a backdrop of Iran.
Secondly, though I try to ensconce myself from any violence or war related images, they still hit my face very often, leaving my entire being appalled for a long time. I think of all those women who have lost their loved ones. Women who will never heal. It affects me deeply and I was compelled to write about it. My novel is for all those Urma’s who have loved and lost. I hope they learn to love again.
This novel is pure work of fiction. I was very small during the Iranian revolution so I had to research everything. I was just carrying a deep ache and a feeling. I didn’t have any facts. I researched for almost 6-8 months to understand how and why the revolution happened and spoke to a few Iranians who left their country at that time. I read memoirs of people from that time. I am a visual person so I worked on a mind-map and the whole story evolved as I wrote. All the places I have written about – I have either visited or have read extensively before writing about them. It was a great experience. I love the way Urma has taken shape finally.
Publishers are flooded with book ideas and I think the best way is to make the idea concise and have the hook upfront. If the publisher or the agent is not interested in the first 2-3 pages, he will move on. The challenges I faced were slightly different from many others, since my novel had a backdrop of Iran. Not many publishers were willing to take the risk. And I was not willing to wait to get a big publisher. So I went ahead with a mid-size publisher from India who liked my concept. One thing is for sure, before one pitches, one should be ready with a perfect pitch, preferably a completed and professionally critiqued and edited manuscript.
4. The novel has been translated into Urdu as well. Do you think book translations offer a wider reach? Which segments of the audience are you targeting with the English and Urdu versions respectively?
Yes, I think it does. During the publishing stage, my English novel got in the hands of some people from the Urdu Press Club. They liked it a lot, wanted to translate it into Urdu, and got in touch with me for permissions. I am happy about the translations as now it has a wider reach.
Urma is a novel under the genre ‘women’s fiction’. This means that it requires a lot of emotional investment from a reader and focuses on a woman protagonist. With English, I aim to reach women readers who prefer to read in English. Since the novel is about Muslim women, it’s great that it is translated into Urdu, this will enable a wider reach by encompassing Urdu readers across the world. I have received comments from a few men as well who were quite moved by the story and felt deeply connected.
5. What kind of marketing effort is required by first time authors to promote their book? What methods have you employed to market Urma? Do you see social media platforms helpful in this regard?
Today, lots of publishers require new authors to put in their effort to market their work as well. I am still in the initial stages of marketing. The first leg, the launch in New Delhi (India). It was very well received. Now we are awaiting approvals in Dubai for the launch. This market works a bit differently and we need government approval before distribution. In consultation with my distributor and publisher, we have already plans for contests using social media platforms all lined up. Yes, social media does work, but one has to give a lot of time to create a genuine platform. I got my website designed professionally,which I think is essential, and also FaceBook and twitter profiles. These days, pintrest is catching up. I like it a lot.
6. Tell us about your interest in painting. As a writer, how do you see painting as another medium of expression? If you had to choose between expressing yourself through art and writing, which one would it be?
I sketched as a child but now I paint on canvas with acrylic and often, I also include recycled metal (crushed can, wires, etc). I prefer writing to painting – but that’s me. I am chiefly a writer and sporadically a painter and I focus on abstract. It’s a great way of expression for me.
Yes, I am largely self-taught. My background is Economics and MBA marketing. But I have been writing since childhood - but nothing really structured. I think courses can be good to give direction and can be used to hone one’s skills, but at the end I feel, it is an individual’s creativity at play. No one can teach the craft of writing, one just learns with practice! There are various courses available online from reputed colleges and universities which are quite helpful to learn the basics. When I got stuck after I completed my research for my novel, Urma, I enrolled into a course from London School of Journalism. But, I did not complete it. I was too driven by my own thoughts and I was in a rush. So, I just researched more online. Read a lot. Wrote a lot. It worked for me. It helps to find your own inner voice. Your own distinct style. That’s essential, be it writing or painting. I wrote four drafts of my novel. And worked with my editor Kelly from California - she was a blessing. I tried a few other people but was not convinced with their style. Kelly and I clicked from the beginning. Having said this, I do intend to complete that course now, simply because I do not leave things incomplete.
8. Is there something else you would like to tell us about yourself? Something interesting that people don’t already know?
I strongly believe that we should recycle metal and I am working in that direction to raise awareness amongst school children. Towards the end of the year, I am organizing an inter-school metal art competition in Dubai to further this cause.
My motto: Nothing is impossible!
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