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Ruqayya Shaheed is a Trinidadian-Pakistani young woman based in Dubai. After graduating from Dubai's SZABIST University as valedictorian and gold medalist in 2013, with a BBA (Hons) degree in marketing, Ruqayya returned to university to complete her MBA.
Introduced to poetry at an early age by her late father, himself an aspiring poet, Ruqayya has had a profound love for words ever since. Growing up she was particularly inspired by 'Still I Rise' by Maya Angelou and Edgar Allen Poe's 'A Dream Within a Dream' - poems, she says, "Somehow felt they were written for me."
Nocturnal Hours is Ruqayya's first book. A follow-up is underway.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Q. Can you tell us something about yourself that many people don’t know about, like your hobbies?
A. I think everyone is aware of this, but I’m enthusiastic about reading and writing. I can literally devour books and spend hours relishing the crisp pages. When I’m not doing either of these, I spend time with family and friends. Now, this may sound clichéd and corny, but I enjoy bugging my twin and speaking to mum. My 2020-year resolution is to talk to mum more often because she lives away from us.
Q. What inspired you to start writing?
A. I always loved writing. I recall spending hours scrapbooking and writing diaries. I still do that. My father was my main inspiration, as he always encouraged me to write. I grew up in a patriarchal society where male dominance was extreme. I found it hard to express myself and writing liberated me in many ways.
Q. How long have you been writing?
A. My first creative piece was written at 11. I wrote a poem on an orphan’s plight in school. It was appreciated and loved by my teachers and friends. I also got 2 of my poems published on Fun Times Newspaper in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I still have that clipping. Poetry might be a genre not many people fancy, but once you get into it, you end up loving it. And I fell in love with poetry, as I found it the best way to express myself.
Q. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I was always fond of writing. But I never comprehended on being a poet or a writer. I always visualized myself in purple scrubs and surgical masks toying fancy tools to dissect a human body in some highly-reputable hospital. Writing was what I did on the side. It was an outlet. A therapy. An escape into a utopian world of limitlessness.
It started as random, with an Instagram page (Rsk Poetry) , where I used to jot down some mawkish and abstract feelings and put them up. And in a short period, I observed people liking it, so I decided to compile all my work together throughout the internet and turn it into a book. I went into hiding for two years; I stopped posting on my Instagram page. Everyone began asking me, hey, where are you? And I assured them that I’d be coming back really soon with my new book.
Q. What is your favorite book from your childhood?
A. Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry collection. He is my favorite poet, and he always inspired me. His poems were pretty morbid and dark, but I guess I get attracted to obscure scribbles and mysterious extracts. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte has been close to my heart. I drooled over her book and always felt like the book was written for me. Khalil Gibran’s Broken Wings was inspiring as well.
I also enjoyed classic books; I was able to resonate with them. Hard Times by Charles Dickens was also my favorite.
Q. What advice would you give to a new writer, someone who’s just starting out?
A. Don’t stop writing. Continue writing. Believe in yourself and believe in your dreams as the sky’s the limit.
Q. How do you handle a writer’s block?
A. It gets challenging, but then I go out and connect with nature.
Q. What in your opinion are the most important elements of good writing?
A. Authenticity and genuineness. Great writing is about depth, character and meaning.
Q. How did you come up with the title of your book: Nocturnal Hours?
A. I spent a lot of time writing late at night. As I work long hours, I have less time by my side. From10 am to 8pm, I’m on the go. By the time I’m done with all the chores, I would only get time to write at night. That’s what gave me the inspiration for the title Nocturnal Hours.
Q. Can you describe us your ideal writing space?
A. I usually enjoy writing in cafes, especially with soft music and a cozy ambiance, or somewhere peaceful, or somewhere close to nature, it could be a park or beach and the feelings usually just flew in.
Q. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
A. I overthink my work, and I become too critical. I redid my work so many times, and I found that part really difficult. Most of the time I told myself just let it be, just let it be, *giggles*, but I always ended up editing repeatedly, that’s why it took me 2 years to finish this book. I made many people read and review my book and then did some more editing, and then I finally hired a proper editor.
Q. Are you active on social media and can audiences interact with you?
A. I’m not the type of person who can continuously blog. I find it such a pain.*giggles* it just takes a lot of time and effort. I salute and look up to all the bloggers out there because they make time from their busy lives and hectic schedule to blog, and that’s an arduous task.
But when it comes to interacting with my followers, I promptly respond to them.
Q. What was your favorite part, and your least favorite part, of the publishing journey?
A. I think the most challenging part was the publishing journey itself. I approached a lot of publishers, and most of them were in the US, so they recommended me to go to a local publisher. I asked a few of the writers and poets, and they suggested self-publishing. Finding a publisher was a tough journey for me, but when I found CreateSpace Independent Publishing, the journey became more beautiful and less tiresome.
Q. What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book?
A. I was like, WOW; I can actually do this. The sky is the limit, that’s what I discovered. When you want to do something, nothing can really stop you, so just go for it. When you have a dream, go after it.
Q. Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share with your readers about?
A. Yes. I am currently working on a fiction and a poetry book and it’s going great.
EXCLUSIVE: INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR RUQAYYA SHAHEED