Q. Hello Fayrooz, what made you decide to write The Spiritual Laboratory: Spiritual Insights from the Soul of Truth?
A. Writing gives me a chance to externalize what lingers in my subconscious mind and it leaves me with wonderment when I discover new things about myself and others. With this particular book, I preempted a spiritual revolution in how people think that would challenge the absence of spirituality across every aspect of our lives and I felt it was time to speak out!
Q. How long have you been writing for?
A. I’ve been writing since I was a little girl. My first poem was published in The Cape Times when I was 11 years old. I earned R20 from that newspaper and I was ecstatic. It took more than 25 years to return to this particular calling.
Q. How long did it take you to write this book?
A. It took me a full year to write this book although it was not a full-time endeavour. I do not currently write full time but have done so whilst working as a journalist/news editor. The book itself is, however, the sum total of my entire life experience.
Q. What do you use to write your books?
A. Way back when I wrote poetry I used pen and paper. The Spiritual Laboratory was written entirely on a computer, but these days I mostly write on my cell phone.
Q. What problems did you encounter?
A. I don’t have problems with writing because my writing is entirely voluntary. Therefore, I do not force myself to write because although I love to write, it does not define me. I have a broad range of interests and this stimulates me and so it just comes naturally to want to share new knowledge, perception and experiences. Personally, I think one should not focus too much on writing, one should ideally focus on life and then writing will just come naturally.
Q. How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer since you’ve started?
A. Well, I’ve written poetry since I was a little girl, later worked for the newspapers where I wrote anything from satire to special investigations and then did news editing. I’ve also tried scriptwriting and have now externalized my outlook on spirituality through this book with the hope that it will make a difference in how people see themselves. One evolves as a person and as a writer simultaneously, I imagine.
I would like to brush up on my skills as I think there’s room for improvement. What I’ve learnt about writing is that content is more important than style. It’s about the same when we say that character is more important than reputation and personality. Similarly, books should not necessarily be judged by its cover. When we identify all these layers and when we develop an ability to zoom in and out of a picture to see the context, it does a great deal to improve our perception and insight.
Q. Is there anything you wished you’d known when you started writing?
A. Well, the news environment is a harsh one. Discrimination was rife and I had no idea it was like that.
Do you structure your plots or just go with the flow?
I only made use of structure while writing screenplays but have to date not published any fiction yet. I do want to publish some stories that I’ve written and will consider this in the future. Normally I just go with the flow and write spontaneously.
Q. Do you do a lot of research when writing a book?
A. Research is crucial for a great many reasons and I do much of this, just to satisfy my curiosity, but spirituality, in my opinion, is purely an expression of a lived experience. An existential expression is very different from the norm because subjects or knowledge systems flow posthumously from actual experiences and it is through this that we can touch the essence of life.
Q. How would you describe your writing process?
A. This book is a series of six discourses, each approximately 30 minutes long and is also available as audiobooks. It was written to fulfil the need of first-year theology students and was originally intended for radio broadcasting. So having meditated over some of the points, I proceeded to write, record, listen and then edit. The first discourse of this book had been broadcasted on radio and used in institutions as an educational tool. Note this is not a book on theology as a subject.
The writing process on news articles is always fairly simple: Make your point in the first three sentences and use the rest of the article to validate your subject. Never write without having researched your subject, sector or personality well. Ensure that you get the context of the article otherwise you could mislead people. Make sure you prioritize ethics before guidelines or style. The writing process to me is a question of pure inspiration and once externalized need to be read by others to get feedback.
Q. What time of the day do you find is best to write?
A. I enjoy the stillness of the night and afternoons in the mountains to be the best time for writing.
Q. Where is it you draw your inspiration from?
A. My inspiration comes from meditation, nature, especially trees and mountains and the fact that despite all the difficulties in life, I have overcome.
Q. What draws you to this genre?
A. This is a difficult genre to do because we are talking about something which is invisible. To shoot the breeze we have to follow the movement of swaying trees. Spirituality is much the same. We see its effects but not the spirit itself. To put something invisible yet so overwhelmingly powerful under a microscope in a laboratory (which is your power of critical thinking) is a challenging task. To give expression to experiences and feelings that live inside the psyche and which people may not know how to articulate is still a developing skill to me. In this genre, I am still an infant because as a being, I still have a great deal of development to do. Whatever I learn through my spiritual development becomes my responsibility to externalize for the betterment of others. This is why I engage this particular genre.
Q. Have you ever tried to write other genres?
A. Yes, I would like to write some more short stories and children’s books.
Q. Which author would you compare yourself to?
A. A publisher, who read but did not publish my poetry, compared it to Rumi’s work. At that time I had not read Rumi and I would say that Khalil Gibran had a more profound effect on me as an adolescent. I do not however presumptuously compare myself with anyone except to say that Maya Angelou Johnson occupies a space so close to my being, I think we might have been related. Also, we share a surname and I wish I had heard of her or read her sooner.
Q. Can you relate personally to any of your own stories?
A. All my stories are relative to my personal experiences as well as my ability to empathetically put myself in someone else’s shoes.
Q. How many books have you written?
A. I have written two books in total so far.
Q. Have you ever written in collaboration with another author?
A. I have written a science textbook in collaboration with another author. I added a cartoon strip to the science content to motivate students to study science.
Q. Your front cover is beautiful, who designed it!?
A. I design all my own front covers
Q. Who was the first person you showed your book to?
A. I showed my book to an old man who had been a bookbinder all his life. He printed them and having read it, he bound two copies in hardcovers and presented them to me as a gift. My first book Landscapes of the Soul was first seen and published by a friend, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was a fellow writer, who started publishing whilst living in Cape Town.
Q. Have you ever dedicated a book to someone?
A. I dedicated this book to my grandmother because of the influence she has had in my life as a child, as well as my students whom I loved more than family, to various saints and the last Prophet all of whom I had never met but whom I recognize for the influence they have had in my life. I internalized whatever my own soul recognized as positive about all of them and discarded any information which may have been negative and to grow with that my own sense of being.
Q. How do you market your books?
A. I have not had time to market my books other than to upload them to Amazon and to sell a limited edition to a few individuals and bookshops. I am currently involved in other projects and am unable to give it the attention and resources required to market it.
Q. How do you deal with bad reviews?
A. I have not had bad reviews on anything I had written yet but given the current climate of Islamophobia across the globe, I imagine it may receive bad reviews. It may also receive bad reviews from Muslims themselves especially if they are overwhelmingly dogmatic and unexposed to critical thinking. Either way, this is may be a catalyst which I hope will make people question everything and that spirituality might just be recognized as the proverbial elephant in the room.
Also, I hope it will eventually contribute to a change in mindset and peace for all who want that. The best way to handle bad reviews is to value it as better than none at all. Criticism is a stepping stone to an improvement of what writers put out there. I am no exception to the rule.
Q. Would you consider using an agent?
A. Yes, I would use an agent since I do not have one.
Q. Do you ever run free book promotions?
A. Have never tried!
Q. Do you do all your own proofreading and editing?
A. I’m afraid I could not find a suitable person to proofread and edit this book and have had to do it myself.
Q. How and where are you publishing this book?
A. This book is available on Amazon.com and is available on Kindle globally. A limited edition will be available on order in hard copy.
Q. What are the main benefits of being an independent author?
A. The main benefits of being an Independent Author are:
a) You do not have to go hunting for a publisher.
b) You can make your book available to a global readership through platforms such as Amazon within days.
c) You can do all of this without spending money
d) You can reach the readership you are targeting
e) You can make this a means of residual income if that is your aim
f) You can change people’s lives for the better.
Q. What are you reading at the moment?
A. I have several books at my bedside at the moment viz
Messages from the Masters by Dr Brian Weiss,
A Poet’s Oudh by Wael Al-Sayegh
Guide to the Kramats of the Western Cape by the Cape Mazaar Society. (History)
Q. What was the first book you ever read?
A. Classic fables by the Brothers Grimm/ Dr Seuss – The Cat in The Hat!
Q. What is your favourite quote from a book?
A. “A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. True compassion is more than flinging a coin at a beggar, it understands that an edifice that produces beggars need restructuring” – Dr Martin Luther King.
Q. Where are your favourite places to read?
A. In bed.
Q. When you read do you prefer a book or a Kindle/tablet?
A. I prefer hard copy!
Q. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today Fayrooz, do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
A. Make good use of Google Translate. Speak your heart and set the pace for new ways to write. As it types what you are saying, save it and listen to it until you get to where you want to be. It doesn’t get easier than that!
Q. What can we expect from you next?
A. Thepeoplesuniversity my educational platform through which we offer courses will take up most of my time as I help people to design their course curriculum. We will publish books for educational purposes. Our aim is to have a fully accredited institution of learning soon. Through it we also want to offer solutions to problems across the globe so that we can actually build bridges between institutions of learning and the communities that they’re supposed to serve.