Mir Sabeen Gulrez
Dr. Henana Berjes is the author of the middle Eastern thriller, The Mahzur. She has written three other books including a book of urdu poetry which was published by Sahitya Akademy India.
She is an Anaesthesiologist by profession and lives in Srinagar Kashmir.
Her next book, a self help book dealing with heartbreak and bereavement is in the publishing phase and will be released in the coming spring. In a conversation with Mir Sabeen Gulrez, Dr Henana Berjes shares her experiences and achievements.
How long have you been writing or when did you start?
I’ve been writing for a couple of decades now but I first published my work in 2019. I started writing as a teenager but then I mostly wrote snippets, with a single thought, that one day I was going to write a book
What comes first for you – the plot or the characters – and why?
I plot a book first in the form of an outline and then I keep adding the characters as per the story requirements.
Forming characters is the hardest job though, and they have to be as human as possible
How many books have you written and which is your favorite?
I have written five books so far. The first one was a collection of urdu poetry that was published by Sahitya Akademy Delhi about 15 years ago. After that I didn’t write any book for a decade due to a very busy schedule at home, bringing up my two boys and a hectic day job as an emergency physician in the middle East..My first book in English, titled The Mahzur, a middle Eastern romantic thriller was self published in 2019 and was on the Amazon bestseller ranks for quite some time.
I also published a novella in 2021. It was titled The third daughter, a contemporary coming of age fiction about the discrimination against the girl child in the Indian subcontinent.
The Fault Lines Within, A collection of short stories was traditionally published in the fall of 2022. The stories were written over a period of three years, while I was working on the other two books. Some of the stories took me months to write. Currently, my fourth book, a self help book dealing with heartbreak and bereavement is in the publishing phase.
I can’t single out any one book as my favourite. It’s like asking a mother who her favourite child is.
What inspired the idea for your book?
Small incidents grow into huge plots. That’s what a writer’s job is.
No book is simply a figment of the writer’s imagination except fantasy books maybe and even then, there has to be an element of reality in it.
How much research did you need to do for your book?
A lot of research is needed to write a book. I have researched for endless hours to get a feel of the land where my characters live. The topography, geography, food habits, names, and in some cases, languages too.
Readers are intelligent people and if the writing is flawed they can easily pick it up. If a reader is buying a book for say a thousand rupees, it ought to be worth it.
What was your hardest scene to write, and why?
Some scenes are hard to write, especially death scenes where you have to kill a favorite character. It’s hard to kill off a character that has grown into you.
Another hard scene to write in the Mahzur was crafting the chase scene. I had to do a thorough research of the desert and off road racing.
In the third daughter, the hardest scene to write was the part where Nisa finally learns to accept her past.
In the fault lines within, writing about the war in Syria had me in tears. The story took 3 months to complete. The Godless was another hard story to write because it was a very tricky topic to deal with.
Writing short stories is harder than writing a novel because there is a word constraint to say it all.
What is your writing process like? Are you more of a plotter or a pantser?
I am a plotter and a panster. Once I craft my characters, I have to follow and respect their decision through the various incidents. Say for example a character who is reckless, won’t behave in a logical way when faced with an intense situation. I have to modify my plot in certain places to fit in with the character’s traits.
If you could spend a day with another popular author, whom would you choose?
Tony Morrison, Nobel laureate in literature
I admire her for the way she deals with human emotion in its myriad forms. Someday I hope to write like her.
Ernest Hemingway, for creating the old man and the sea.
What are your favorite blogs or websites for writers?
Well, I think JK Rowling has an amazing website.
I follow Paulo Coelho for his insightful blogs.
I also follow Khaled Husseini on Instagram.
Is there a particular genre you would love to write but only under a pseudonym?
Id love to write about mental health issues.
Though I am working on one and don’t plan to use a pseudonym. It’s a tough decision though.
At what stage (or stages) of your life have you done most of your writing?
I have done most of my writing after I turned 35.
Who has been the biggest supporter of your writing?
My mom. She has stood by me.
My two boys, who know writing makes me happy.
My fans, who push me to do my best.
At what point do you think someone should call themselves a writer?
See, if you are not an avid reader, you can never be a good writer. But then it’s a choice. I can’t exactly comment on this.
If you could be mentored by a famous author, who would it be?
I’d have loved to be mentored by Ernest Hemingway.
What message do you want to give to the youth who want to become an author?
Read, read and read. Devour as many books as you can, especially in the genre you plan to write. Know your competitors, don’t ape them. Be inspired by their work.
Mir Sabeen Gulrez