In conversation with Irum Zahra

March 19, 2016 - 16 minutes read

I want my words to last forever.

First of all, I’d like to congratulate you for making into the semifinals of Goodreads Best Poetry Book of 2015. Is it true that Psychaotic is the only Pakistani book in that particular genre to be competing in the semifinals?

Thank you so much. And yes, it is. Psychaotic is Pakistan’s only book to reach the semi-finals of Goodreads choice awards 2015. Being nominated was a huge honor and when it got into semi-finals, my joy went over the roof. Psychaotic is Pakistan’s first free verse Gothic poetry book. I am glad I was able to make it good enough for the readers and to make it a semi-finalist.

So, tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a 24 year old coffee in the rain kind of person. I am pursuing my career in Mass Communication. I always mention that I am proud to call myself a writer because that is what I want my identity to transform into. I’ve always been an outspoken person, a woman with thoughts that our society ignores and dislikes and that is what makes me feel better. Because then I know that I am making a difference in the world.
Oh and I am a metal head.

An idea that changed your life?
The first time I read ‘Silence of the lambs’ I was so shaken that I was thinking about it every second of the day. I am still obsessed with the idea of having intimacy of characters with the words they utter and it made me write the things that relate to Hannibal and the emotions in it. I believe that if I had not read Hannibal, I would be writing something less thought provoking. It changed my life. Everyone goes through the phase of change or metamorphosis, the story line explains how people transform under certain conditions and every character in the film wants to bring a change. I went through that change as well.

What sparked your interest in Literature and poetry?
Like I said, the character Hannibal Lecter did. I wanted to feel that very level of commitment and connection of him verses his victims. I wanted to aim towards the curiosity in human mind to explore the unknown, explore the unseen and wrong things. I used to read phrases from famous poets in the novels or books I used to buy and started ‘replying’ to them. I would make up scenarios and I would fit my sentences into them.

You are a writer, reviewer, blogger and run a publishing company. How do you manage it all?
It is really, really hard to be honest. But when you have a good team and a circle of friends who are there for you when you need them, you can do anything. I try to balance everything but yes, I can’t do all things at once, I am a human being. So I prioritize what I have to do first. If that doesn’t work, I stop it all and watch a TV show or a movie.

What is your dream project or has it already been achieved?
My dream project is to have a series of supernatural novels and it is on its way. It will have everything we don’t see or read in Pakistan. It will be a three part series. I am very excited to write more on it.

Your favorite author and poet?
My favorite writer is Thomas Harris (Of course) because of my insatiable desire to be associated with Hannibal and favorite poet, hmm, that is a hard one. I love Hemingway, I adore Ann Frank, I love Sylvia Plath and Edgar Allan Poe, I would someday want to read the entire collection of poetry by Allama Iqbal. I read the translated version of ‘Asrar.e.Khudi’ and I was in a state of shock for days. It is so perfectly written. Just exquisite.

What inspired you to pen down your first piece of writing and how far back was it?
The first piece, I wrote it when I was in grade 6. My other fellow students used to make fun of me. That I am being too weird and over efficient. I had no such intention. I just wanted to let out the anger and frustration out on paper. You see, you can make something out of depression, you can channel it to do something, make it positive but frustration, it just stays there. Until you find a way to get rid of it or utilize it through words, art or music. So yes, the first piece, is old. It is still with me. I have journals back to when I was in school. So many things to write, so little time.IZ1

Let’s talk about your poetry book now, is it your first published book?
Yes, Psychaotic is my biggest achievement yet. All the recognition I have is because of Psychaotic. It is my life’s work. I gathered all what I had written and I edited and edited until it was all converted from paper into digital form. It was a very difficult time, I remember staying up till 4 or 5 a.m. in the morning just typing and typing. I started arranging it and then I was happy with what I had compiled.

How would you define “Gothic Poetry”?
Gothic is a way people relate their souls with darkness, chaos and beauty of flaws. Colors like grey and black come to your mind when you think about the word Gothic. Basically it tells us of literature that has a variety of elements from a darker perspective. Death, life, lies, chaos, devil and God, soul and super natural, all spun to define life and its hardships that a person goes through in his life. It is a genre that is followed by very less people, I know because when I started asking people for their opinion on my poetry pieces, they would say ‘OMG! What is this’ ‘Why do you write so dark’ what is the purpose of explaining beauty in death and so on. But Gothic poetry is what I think, that is the closest to what we go through in this world.

What does the title “Psychaotic” signify and what was the overall response of its readers?
Psychaotic is a wordplay of two words, ‘Psycho’ and ‘Chaotic’. The purpose behind combining these two was to get the people and their demons to interact. And it does just that. It tells people that even when they have negative thoughts, they can go through the hardships and they can come out as a better person. A better person for the wIZ3orld, for himself and for his demons. Psychaotic tells you that you are alone and that there are people in the world just like you who are troubled and sad, they are depressed and their thoughts are kept down and ignored. Through Psychaotic, they could feel belonged to something.
And I got a vast variety of responses. People and audiences around the world appreciated it, they loved it, they connected to it, I got so many emotional responses and reviews that sometimes I feel so important, I cannot tell you how humble I feel when someone messages or emails their thoughts to me. I feel connected to my readers, I feel alive.

About your publishing house, what is Beyond Sanity Publishing?
Beyond Sanity Publishing is a youth building initiative focused on the social and educational growth of students, writers, artists in Pakistan. Being a merger of traditional and self-publishing, we aim to provide all profits to the wIZ4riter/artist so they can rise as a better and contributing citizen of this society.
Beyond Sanity Publishing has published countless poetry works online while representing more than 150 writers from Pakistan, India and Kashmir. We are expanding our horizon to US, UK, Russia and more to create a positive image of Pakistan in the world.
This year we are focusing on the dawn of education and literature revolution by publishing books, stories and artworks of young writers and artists from Pakistan. And we believe that your work will be a great chance to explore education in Pakistan and abroad.


Did publishing come out as you thought it would? Have you had many major successes as a publisher like you did as a writer?
Beyond Sanity Publishing has published over 200 poetry/short story/ articles and prose works from writers around the globe. I’d say it is going on a good path. Like every other startup, it needs time to make its mark on the world.

Publishing in Pakistan is not a blooming business? How’s it been for you? Is there something you find particularly challenging about it?
It isn’t. Publishing is really hard for writers. Most people here sit and watch all their money and talent go to waste. Pakistan needs organizations who help writers and artists showcase their work to the world. It has been really hard for me, but I am doing all I can to bring more writers and artists in the world.

Has Pakistani literature industry changed over the past years, if yes then how?
Literature has evolved from straight and disciplined art to a diverse, free universe. Artists and writers in Pakistan now want to do so much more with their work. They want to appear in the reel of renowned artists in the world and I want to do as much as I can for them.

What is your mantra if you have one?
Keep your head high, you’re the master of your fate. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Book Author? Check. Publisher? Check. What are some of your other achievements?
I really want to become a traveller. I would love to visit different countries of the world and think about life and love, about art and literature, about music and beauty.

It is evident from your Instagram that you have a passion for photography and perhaps food too? What are some of your other interests?
I photograph the things I love and things that inspire me. I love cooking, yes I am a good cook and I love my garden. I guess I told you guys that I am a metal head so I don’t miss out on discovering new music to obsess over.

Will we be seeing more of Irum Zahra in the future, possibly in bookstores? Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
Definitely! I will have at least two books in bookstores this year, May God help me. I want to become more than a one hit wonder. I want my words to last forever.

Any message for aspiriing writers and book authors?
Keep the faith. As long as there is one other person in this entire world who likes what you write, you have the reason to write. And wherever you are, I am here to guide you, help you if you need any help!

Words for RF Studio?
I honestly love what you guys do. You have created a platform of hard-working, young minds who strive to make this world a better place for everyone. That is what will make you all legends.

We wish Irum the best of luck for all her present and future endeavors!

You can catch more from Irum Zahra at her Facebook page, Instagram, twitter and her website.
Stay tuned to RF Studio for more!

Interviewed and published by: Asma Zainab (Leader Talent Hunt)

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