This week we had the pleasure of talking with A. Lawati, author of the whimsical book about Gul (an afghan tortoise) and his friends titled, The Greatest Race. While he has always been a story teller, he only started his writing career recently with some inspiration from his wife. Check out what Lawati has to say about how he was inspired to write, how he creates meaningful stories for children, and the importance of wildlife conservation efforts.
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? I hear it has something to do with your wife’s headache?
I never consciously thought of telepathy as being a real thing. Merriam-Webster defines telepathy as “communication from one mind to another by extrasensory means.” So when one day not too long ago my wife persuaded me to narrate a story in impromptu with the hope of receiving relief from her migraine, I did so and later on learnt that she had a whimsical story in mind. The narrated story was, in fact, whimsical and the feeling of disinterring the writer in me was ineffable.
You’ve lived in Pakistan, Canada, and now Dubai. They are very different from one another with their own cultures and stories. Do you find yourself inspired or influenced by all of the different places that you’ve lived?
Just to clarify, I now live in Mississauga, Canada. To answer your question, I almost feel like a theosophist when it comes to my writing but not necessarily in that connotation although the cultural influences on my writing as a direct influence of my travels have been profound. If I were to sift through the different places I have inhabited it would be operose. However, Pakistan is my birthplace. Dubai is where I met my wife and began my career and Canada is home.
You write middle grade fiction. What first drew you to this genre?
I didn’t intend on making that distinction. At inception, it was a fun children’s story to narrate. But, when came time to begin querying, I was compelled to categorize my story into a genre. Thus began my journey as a middle – grade writer, although I now like to distinct myself as a crossover writer finding myself developing introspective characters.
What is your favorite thing about writing for children?
Part of the value of a story is in being able to bring positive, constructive attitudes or benefits in any situation for example courage, friendships, and positive experiences. I like to empower characters by exploring the possibilities for action about making moral choices.
Do you have any tips for writers who would like to write a middle grade book?
Middle-grade fiction is such a tour de force in children’s literature especially these days. Don’t be preachy, children are intelligent and aware, and they will figure it out. Another would be to research. Spend time studying your characters and make them relatable. Read other authors in your genre and finally know your audience.
The Greatest Race follows the adventures of Gul, an Afghan Tortoise in Yosemite Park who is challenged to a race against a clan of cottontail rabbits in a twist on an old favorite, The Tortoise and The Hare. What inspired you to write about Gul and his friends?
“Today, cultures have crossed, creating new conditions and necessities. Stereotypes removed, there is a broader ground to press into and find our place.” 1800’s Aesop’s Fable of The Tortoise and The Hare has always offered excellent insight. But, I have a confession here. It’s as if this story wrote itself. I did not set out to write this story; the original plot was about an Eagle and a Stone.
In The Greatest Race you try to raise awareness about the problem of illegal poaching, can you tell us a little about this problem and why it’s important to you?
That’s an excellent question. Gul and his tribe are essentially refugees in a strange place without a framework for refugee induction to add to the irony their new environment is not necessarily compatible. When we look at the issue of refugees these days, we shouldn’t stop at humans. It is and has been a plague within the animal kingdom right under our noses for far too long, and I wanted to highlight this issue through The Greatest Race, and it’s characters namely Gul and his family.
Nobody thinks about an orphan tortoise growing up or for that matter any animal due to deforestation, poaching underpinning the exotic animal trade or due to the trafficking of animals in general.
When was the last time anyone brought up a discussion on a national level to talk about what happens to the habitat where these animals lived or how do these creatures pick up and move on after such a loss?
While you haven’t been writing your whole life, you have been a storyteller since you were ten. Are some of your books based on some of stories that you came up with as a child? Or are they based on some of your own personal experiences?
I’m going to enjoy answering this one, as a juvenile all my storytelling was influenced by the scary movies I viewed. My role as a storyteller was restricted to putting my younger siblings to bed or when I babysat. So coming up with scary count Dracula inspired stories was most satisfying then. Laughs. Writing for me is a creative outlet as well as an emotional one. Moving forward, present and future projects are about inclusion, becoming better global citizens and mindfulness.
What were some of your favorite stories growing up? What kind of things do you like to read now?
Black Beauty and The Black Stallion series are still my favourites. But Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and Enid Blyton were some of my most memorable reads growing up. These days it’s the Harry Potter series, Jeff Kinney’s Diary of A Wimpy Kid series and the Esa Khattak/Getty series by Ausma Zehanat Khan.
How was the publishing process for you? Do you have any tips for new authors looking to find a publisher?
Becoming a traditionally published author and landing a multiple book deal after almost three relentless years has been immensely rewarding for me. More then anything it’s validating. But with publishing comes a greater responsibility to your readers.
One essential piece of advice would never stop believing in your story. You have to support your work before others will and make constructive criticism your long-term friend.
What’s next for you?
I’m excited about my graphic novel series expected for publication in 2018 with Crimson Cloak Publishing and my current project, which is a young adult novel, a work-in-progress.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
I would like to thank my readers for buying “The Greatest Race” and for taking the time to leave honest reviews. I hope to continue to grow my audience and to entertain them for many years to come.