As part of #RamadanReadathon, I’ll be hosting a series of author interviews to spotlight new and upcoming releases from debut and established authors. I’m so excited to welcome Nafiza Azad on the blog today to talk about her debut novel The Candle And The Flame!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nafiza Azad was born in Fiji and spent the first seventeen years of her life as a self-styled Pacific Islander. Now she identifies as an Indo-Fijian Muslim Canadian, which means she is often navigating multiple identities. Nafiza has a love for languages and currently speaks four. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Children’s Literature from the University of British Columbia and co-runs The Book Wars (thebookwars.ca), a website dedicated to all things children’s literature. Nafiza currently lives in British Columbia with her family. You can follow her on Twitter @Nafizaa.
ABOUT THE CANDLE AND THE FLAME
Fatima lives in the city of Noor, a thriving stop along the Silk Road. There the music of myriad languages fills the air, and people of all faiths weave their lives together. However, the city bears scars of its recent past, when the chaotic tribe of Shayateen djinn slaughtered its entire population — except for Fatima and two other humans. Now ruled by a new maharajah, Noor is protected from the Shayateen by the Ifrit, djinn of order and reason, and by their commander, Zulfikar.
But when one of the most potent of the Ifrit dies, Fatima is changed in ways she cannot fathom, ways that scare even those who love her. Oud in hand, Fatima is drawn into the intrigues of the maharajah and his sister, the affairs of Zulfikar and the djinn, and the dangers of a magical battlefield.
Salaam, Nafiza! Thank you so much for joining us, and congrats on the publication of The Candle And The Flame! As a debut author, how does it feel to finally reach this important milestone? How did you overcome any feelings of self-doubt during the process?
NA: I wish I had an answer that included a magical cure to self-doubt but unfortunately that is something that never goes away. Even when the entire world thinks you have it made, even when there are multiple people who believe in your writing abilities, there will always be a sliver of doubt, of anxiety, that will shake your confidence. Just say bismillah and move on. As long as you don’t give up, that’s all that matters.
It feels surreal to be here, at this point, with a book almost out in the world. It doesn’t feel real and I wonder if it ever will.
Great advice re: writer’s doubt! For anyone unfamiliar with the premise of the novel, how would you describe it in comps?
NA: If I were to compare The Candle And The Flame, it’d be a cross between The City Of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty (story) and Chime by Franny Billingsley (writing).
You’ve mentioned before that names have power and that the earliest version of this story attempted to answer the question posed by Shakespeare – “What’s in a name?” In what ways do you explore this within the novel? What is the significance of the name, Fatima?
NA: In The Candle And The Flame, djinns, to exist in corporeal form in the human world, need to be Named. Djinn Names are tangible and exist in pieces in their fire form. For them to become corporeal, beings of blood and flesh, the pieces of their names need to be joined. Their names determine the people they become. The meanings of their names form their personalities.
Fatima was named for Prophet Muhammad’s daughter and Zulfikar for the sword our prophet gave to Fatima’s husband, Ali.
Even though the setting of the novel is fictional, was The City Of Noor inspired by any places you’ve visited in real-life?
NA: The City of Noor is inspired by the little pieces of home we all carry within ourselves. A place where acceptance is unconditional, where the streets resound with laughter and goodwill. I feel like if a reader were to read the book and find themselves a place in Noor (despite it being fictional), my work will be done.
I love that! What else do you hope readers will take away from the story? What themes does the narrative explore?
NA: If there was one thing I would like readers to take away from the experience of reading The Candle And The Flame it would be that women can be strong in various ways without needing to pick up a sword. The book engages in themes of death and grief but also of acceptance, love, and family—especially the kind of family that is found and often created, one person at a time.
What makes this genre (fantasy) and YA so special?
NA: I feel like all genres offer something distinct especially in the YA category. Fantasy affords creativity to take flight in a very different way compared to contemporary (or realistic as academics term it). I can discuss very real and very contemporary issues using fantasy. At the same time, fantasy allows a person more escape from this world than a contemporary novel does. Fantasy is what’s left after the childhood fairy tales have been exhausted. It teaches you to dream and allows impossibility to become reality.
Following on from that, how do you approach world-building? What has been your favourite and least favourite part of writing this particular story?
NA: I adore worldbuilding. It is one of my favourite things to do. I dedicate an empty exercise book to each writing project I undertake. I do character bios, questions, plotting, and aesthetics. Once I’m done writing the book, I look back at the workbook I created for it and it is fascinating to see the story evolving through the chapters. I see the questions that came up while writing and my answers to these questions. I see how the story deepens and becomes more complex.
I wrote The Candle And The Flame longhand using a number of exercise books and three blue pens. My favourite thing to do was to write. Usually drafting is difficult for me; in the case of this novel, the story flowed smoothly. My least favourite thing to do, honestly, was typing up the chapters that I had handwritten.
And finally, who inspires you to write, and what are your favourite stories written by Muslim authors?
NA: My ammi inspires me to write. Her belief in my stories and my ability to write these stories is what lets me write them.
I love Ausma’s stories and especially her high fantasy series, The Khorasan Archives. Shan’s City Of Brass, Hanna’s The Weight Of Our Sky. Sajidah’s Saints And Misfits and her new one that I’m super looking forward to. Karuna’s The Gauntlet and The Battle. Cam’s Home And Away, Uzma’s Ayesha At Last, Somaiya’s Mirage, Jamilah’s Mommy’s Khimar, and everything G. Willow Wilson ever writes.
Those are great recommendations! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions – I can’t wait to read The Candle And The Flame and anything else you publish in future.
Want to win a copy of The Candle And The Flame by Nafiza Azad? Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win this book or a book of your choice from any of the authors featured during #RamadanReadathon! These books will be revealed throughout the month so keep your eyes peeled for more interviews on this blog.
This giveaway is open internationally, as long as Book Depository ships to you.