Iman Qureshi: Writing Raw

Sunetra Senior Monday 24th October 2016 11:34 EDT

It's no wonder that abounding writer, Iman Qureshi, has made the full conversion to creative writing, now solely focussing on short fiction and scripts, where she split the time between her journalism and law training before; it has left her completely free to pursue an intuitive gift for exploring inner worlds. “Whether they’ve been critical pieces or stories,” she told us, “I’ve enjoyed looking at the overlapping terrains of gender, race and sexuality, and the art of storytelling in particular, allows you to focus on individuality and human relationships as the natural point of these many beautiful intersections.” Indeed her witty debut play, Speed (2014), which detailed the perplexing yet revealing experience of twenty-something speed dating, opened to great reception when the wordsmith was just 27, with comment about ‘what looks like one thing as a surface with the usual shorthand descriptions – we all know that bankers (one of the five speed-daters in the play) are insufferable – fall away and give rise to something deeper and more stimulating’ (Asian Culture Vulture Review).


Her recent short story too, Naz, included as part of the new and original enchanting anthology, Love Across A Broken Map, goes to the very heart of two apparently dissimilar characters - ‘and really, it’s like Kat and I have stepped out of that stupid kids nursery rhyme- I’m snakes and snails and she’s all lavender, spice and everything nice’ reads one of the lines – to slowly and movingly highlight their mutually enriching qualities; the delicate, doting development of their problematic yet no less beautiful romance. Iman puts her inspiration and recurring relationship-orientated theme down to the fact that she’s “a sucker for love stories”, but all things considered it seems to transcend this. With her two short films in the proverbial pipeline – one called ‘The Shift’, in which an underlying bond forms between two women trapped in the same sexist bind, and the other, a tale named ‘Home Girl’, about a girl who comes out after her mother’s death – Iman’s partiality towards compassion and social cohesion is the drive that's most abundantly clear.

 What was the Influence for your story, ‘Naz’?

I wanted to explore the relationship of two people who are so different from each other and to make that love work. I think it’s a common scenario – the challenge is so great when you meet someone so unique and contrasting to you and you’re taken by who they are: what they do, how they live, where they come from! You’re in awe of them.  In ‘Naz’, the love interest, Kat, seems to glide through life and her privilege allows her to do that, while the first person character is more insular and unhappy. Her background, too, is more difficult to negotiate. It becomes about what they can learn from each other. As the writer, I was really rooting for them to work out!

The story is very honest, with typically Asian characteristics being quite incidental and secondary. Your story, amongst others in the collection, evades the issue of being ‘too Asian or not Asian enough’.

Yes, I enjoy writing stories that don’t respond to those trappings. The number of times I’ve been pushed to write about Islamophobia and terrorism is unbelievable. Muslims and those of ethnic minority backgrounds are as complex as any white person.


 What sort of literature speaks to you?

I’ve just finished reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It’s a 700-page novel about four friends. The story charts the whole life span of these friends, from their births to their deaths and at no point does it mention in which year it is set. It’s so rich with inner life and almost doesn’t worry itself with factual detail. That sort of concept really interests me. One of the characters has a mysterious past and the novel is based around that: it’s compelling and heart-breaking all at once.

 Have you found your law degree to have helped with your writing?

Yes, in the sense that law is brimming with cases full of possible stories. It’s all about people who are either messing up, or messing each other up, and the legal sphere by its very nature is very conflict-driven. That’s the core of a good story. I’m also interested in bending morality and pushing the limits of what’s accepted: what society considers being right and proper, and what happens if we don’t do this. My stories do have LGBT community characters, for example, who are underrepresented and deserve more acknowledgment. The rules for life should be dynamic and flexible and law paradoxically reflected that for me.

 You write a lot about modern dating: what compels you to this?

It brings a fascinating mash of personalities and there’s a lot of humour and drama where people are working to find common ground. It’s rich material to mine!

 Your short story ‘Naz’ was excellent. What is your advice for writers, especially writing within the short story medium, to translate an emotive account to the page?

 I think it’s about tapping into your character. You need to understand what your character wants and show that emotionally – visually, even. Channel it through what they say and do. That’s what will make it universal and engaging. I enjoy doing this with random things!  For example, looking at really weird sexual fetishes that a character might have and making that accessible to the mainstream. People want to be taken on a journey about a topic they know nothing about.

And a plot-based question: how do you whittle down to the kernels of your stories?

Heighten the tension and push the revelations: what does your audience/the characters find out? What do they learn about each other? For example, in my short film ‘The Shift’, it looks as if one woman has the better lot, when in reality both the female characters are being given a raw deal. We’ve shown that through small, but meaningful gestures. For ‘Home Girl’ I spent a whole day in the script writing process, really thinking about the dramatics.  It’s a very immersive process. 

 What would you say have been some of the highlights of your career?

Having my play Speed picked up and put on stage has been a massive life event. I saw an idea that’s lived purely in my imagination, captured so brilliantly on stage. It was wonderful to work with such a talented director (who I’m working with again right now) and great actors. The collaborative spark took this intimate subject matter to a whole new level.  I do enjoy that about the theatre and film forms: that you can show emotions rather than just speaking them.

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