I am going to cut straight to the chase- Awais Khan inspires me.
He inspires me with his humility and his passion. He inspires me with his go-getter attitude. He inspires me with his patience- given the long and arduous journey he undertook to publish his book in the UK. He is someone from whom I draw a lot of lessons from.
I had always dreamt of writing a book, but never got the courage to actually put it out there. Watching Awais Khan’s trajectory has encouraged me to change my mind.
The Last Word
When I met Awais for the first time, it was at The Last Word bookstore for the creative writing workshop. I remember Awais speaking at that workshop several times about how we can bring that spark in our creativity when we write. He also read all our short stories that we had written, and gave us constructive feedback. This was the first time that I was able to see first hand what an author looks out for in a written piece. It was almost as if I got into his head to see what makes him so accomplished.
His demure personality and soft spoken tone gave me a feeling of being in a presence of a young man who had seemingly accomplished every writer’s dream: to get his first book published. Here he is, a young Pakistani man from Lahore, who is getting his book published, not in Pakistan but in the UK. Yet, there were no airs about him. He was, and still is, very relatable. This made me feel like that if he can do it, so can I!
At that time, Awais was not a published author just yet. However, he gave the few of us in the workshop the privilege to read the first chapter of his book. I remember reading that chapter, and all I could take away from that chapter was: what an intriguing and brilliantly written chapter that sucked me right in!
The opening chapter is written from the perspective of a young man, a suicide bomber, who is on his way to blow himself up in a crowded market place. The attention paid to the details in the opening chapter is beyond description- from the sounds and smells to the sight in that chapter made me realise how to really write with an impact. The chapter ends with the bomb being blown up, and the way Awais describes the aftermath is nothing short of sheer brilliance. I could literally smell the blood off the pages.
The Writing Institute
The workshop had ended after several weeks, and the group had sort of disbanded. Fast forward a year, I joined another creative writing workshop at The Writing Institute. In our first introductory class, unbeknownst to me, Awais shows up. Turns out that HE is the founder of The Writing Institute. I had no idea about this, but rested comfortably in knowing that I was in good hands at this institute. This workshop, although led by someone else, did wonders for me and sparked my interest to restart my blog.
At this time, Awais and I had added each other on social media. Awais had found a publisher in the UK and was getting ready to see his book, In the Company of Strangers, being published in the UK market. I remember thinking to myself that while many budding writers self-publish, or get published in the local or Indian market, here we have Awais who is getting published in the UK market. If this isn’t huge, then I don’t know what it!
We have writers like Kamila Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid who are successful novelists in the West, and I see Awais Khan falling into that same category.
UK– London and Cambridge
In July 2019, Awais had invited me to his book launch in London. By the time I tried to register for the book launch, all seats had been taken. Full house. Wow, I thought, he’s made it! Thankfully, as destiny had it for me, I was invited to another of his book launch at Waterstones at Cambridge. I got my mom, sister and my niece to join me as we drove down to the picturesque town of Cambridge.
Awais read out from his book at the book launch. I had a question for him. Mom had a question for him. Others who were there showed a lot of interest in his book. It was a moment of pride, to see a young Pakistani man from Lahore, sitting at Cambridge, for the launch of his debut novel. How many Pakistanis can have the opportunity to do this? The thing that struck me about Awais even at this point was how humble he was about the whole thing. While getting the book signed by him, he spoke with utmost respect and with such humility.
I started his book when we came back to London that evening. I enjoyed that feeling of deja vu as I read the first chapter, which I had earlier read a year ago. The impact was still the same.
I finished the book in two days. I remember two thirds into the book there was moment when I freaked out because I didn’t see a twist coming. I remember messaging Awais about this freak-out moment. By the time I finished the book, I felt really proud of Awais. (You can read my review here).
In The Company of Strangers is like a dream debut for him. I passed the book around. My mom read it. My sister read it. It is a great read because for one, the book is based in Lahore, which is where I was born, and two, the characters felt like people who I have encountered in my life in Lahore. He has perfectly captured the essence of the elite men and women in Lahore and that is something you don’t get to read much about in Pakistani English novels. The book is not about terrorism or anything related to the military, nor is is about the struggles of a typical Pakistani middle class family. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to read about the elite class of Lahore.
I had told Awais at this time that I feel like he will be the next Mohsin Hamid (the author of Moth Smoke and The Reluctant Fundamentalist). If Awais continues to write the way he does, there’s no stopping him.
Back in Lahore, I bumped into Awais at an art gallery. We hung out, talked about art, life in Lahore and the coverage he was getting for his book in Lahore. The book that has been launched in Pakistan has a different cover and is meant for the Pakistan and South East Asia market. He’s been getting rave reviews on all digital social media platforms, being reviewed by established and accomplished authors and writers both in Pakistan and abroad.
I’ve been closely following Awais on his instagram account (@awaiskhanauthor). I seek inspiration from him to help me write my own book. I have a rough manuscript in my hands, but I often think who would want to read about a third-culture child, with a hearing disability, growing up in Saudi Arabia in the 80s? There are enough incredible stories of life in Saudi Arabia, but I always back down thinking no one would be interested.
Having seen Awais on his journey to get his book published in both the Western and Pakistani markets gives me the motivation. I just need to develop a thick skin to be able to get my manuscript out there, to be prepared to have it edited heavily, to take out and add in other things, and to be patient enough to find a publisher and an agent. (Many have suggested to self-publish, but that’s not my goal- I want to reach out on a global platform!) I have also realised that with my degree in psychotherapy and from my client work, a lot of what I have in my rough draft can be vastly improved, so I know I do need to sit down and work on it a lot more.
Awais has been getting a lot of media coverage nowadays. Due to the Covid pandemic, everything is virtual, otherwise he would have been all over the social circuit with his book launch in the Pakistani market. One of the most amazing initiatives Awais has undertaken is sending people a personalised signed copy of his book, which I felt is an extremely generous thing to do.
Awais has done it, with much success. What I find incredible about him though is his humility in all of this. He is so honest in his interviews, he talks about the hardships he’s been through, the low moments the moment he was finally published. As he says in his interview with Hello magazine, “…the journey is entirely worth it in the end. If it can happen for me, it can happen for everyone.”
Awais, my friend, your incredible journey has just began. May you continue to inspire us all with your writing and your words. And I still stand by my words, you are indeed the next Mohsin Hamid for Pakistan!