Can you tell us a little about your upcoming release, “Spider”?
It’s a “domestic suspense” novel about Sophie, a British Pakistani woman who has grand ambitions to become an actress. So far she hasn’t had much success in either her career or her love life. Her movie highlight so far is as an extra in a low budget horror film, and she’s on her third marriage. She thought she’d finally found happiness with her newest husband, Tariq, but he’s suddenly vanished without trace.
The story then switches between past and present, and between the viewpoints of Sophie and the three men, to unravel the mystery of who’s responsible for Tariq’s disappearance and to reveal the secrets that Sophie is hiding.
What was the inspiration behind this story?
I wanted to create a character that played with or almost used to their advantage, the stereotype of the weak, ill-treated Muslim woman, so often portrayed in the media – both in the East and the West, an unreliable narrator who’s not quite who they seem or present themselves as.
I was also interested in the idea of telling the same story from different perspectives, making the reader question whose version of events they sympathise with.
There was also a big twist that I was intending to use when I started writing, but I took it out halfway through the first draft because I felt it was one plot shock too far. I won’t tell you though – in case I use it somewhere else!
What was the process of intertwining your own Muslim faith and cultural traditions into this novel like?
Most of my work is set in the Asian community, whether in the UK or in Pakistan. Being of Pakistani Muslim heritage myself, it’s a culture I’m familiar with, so weaving it into my work comes naturally to me. I suppose the challenge was to write a story that includes those traditions but is primarily a suspenseful mystery that has universal appeal.
What were your favorite books growing up?
As a child I loved Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers and St. Clare’s series because I loved the cosy boarding school setting. I also re-read the Narnia books many times- I went back to them recently and find them quite funny even now. From the age of about ten, I got hooked on Agatha Christie, and I still think her novels are brilliant. As a teenager, I read a lot of books by Dennis Wheatley, which were full of adventure, spies and occult forces. Out of the classics I loved The Three Musketeers.
What drew you to the mystery genre?
It’s always been my favourite genre when it comes to reading, and I love all aspects and forms of crime fiction- suspense, thrills, whodunnits, solving puzzles and spotting the killer.
I was always a bit scared of trying to write a crime novel because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write a tricky and interesting plot. My first attempt was my novel The Secret Arts. I had great fun doing that and knew I wanted to write more. I want to write the kind of books I would read myself.
How has your background in screen writing influenced your writing?
I’ve written quite a lot for the stage and have worked with directors and actors and have spent time in the rehearsal room, so it helped me write that part of Sophie’s narrative. Also my own experience as a writer helped because I think most creative people, including actors, go through the process of starting from nowhere, getting a lot of rejection and taking on small jobs as they build a career. Obviously in the novel Sophie’s story is a bit of a comical take on this journey.
Have you ever experienced writer’s block? How do you move past it?
All the time! And I’m very easily distracted by the internet. My solutions are working in a coffee shop, and having deadlines because when I know I have to finish something I get it done. I also work a lot at night although I’m trying to cut down on that, because it usually involves lots of naughty snacks.
What is something you want your readers to take away from this story?
Hopefully to get a bit of an insight into a community that’s not usually depicted in this genre and find it relatable and not too weird. For those who are familiar with this world, to recognise and enjoy some of the quirks. But overall, to engage with a story that’s thrilling, compelling and keeps them reading till the end.
If you could give any advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
I think reading lots of books, especially in the genre you want to write in, is one of the best ways of learning the craft. Joining a writer’s group is great for getting feedback on your work and can help to get you into a regular writing pattern. Also, enter competitions, both big, national prizes and smaller, regional ones – you have more chance of winning! Doing well in competitions gets you noticed and helps to build your portfolio.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve just started reading The Huntress by Kate Quinn, about a journalist who’s tracking down Nazi war criminals, in particular the elusive murderess of the title.
About the Author
Azma Dar is not only an author of novels, but a writer of theatre plays, short plays, screen, and radio. A devoted reader, Azma loves to read and write crime fiction. Her debut novel, The Secret Arts, was published in 2015. Her newest play, entitled NOOR, was performed at Southwark Playhouse in November 2022.