My villain is loosely based on Daniel Pearl's killer: Omar Shahid HamidPakistan
There aren’t many writers of the thriller or crime-noir genre in Pakistani English fiction, and that’s what makes author Omar Shahid Hamid stand out amongst his contemporaries.
Hamid’s debut novel, The Prisoner, garnered global attention for its portrayal of police politics and the gritty underbelly of Karachi. He has followed this up with The Spinner’s Tale which explores what radicalises Pakistani youth, and the impact the actions of such militants and terrorists have on their families and friends.
A police officer for 14 years, Omar has unique insight into not only the inner workings of the police bureaucracy but also the world of crime, and he clearly draws from these experiences for his literary work. Currently on sabbatical, Omar has spent his time penning two novels and is currently working on a third. This weekend Dawn.com caught up with the busy author to discuss his writing process and his inspiration for The Spinner's Tale.
Dawn.com: Some writers often say they never follow any strict writing schedule, and that the writing and ideas just flow. Other authors follow a very rigid schedule to make sure they complete a book in time. Which category would you say you fall under? What’s your writing process like?
Omar Shahid Hamid: I probably fall between those two extremes. There are times when the ideas flow by themselves, but I have learnt that those are the times when one should seize the moment and discipline oneself into writing to take advantage of that productivity. I usually have a lot else going on, in terms of work and family commitments so if I don’t strike when the iron is hot the ideas will [go to] waste. But there will be other times when I won’t write for months, just because it isn’t clicking.
Dawn.com: The Spinner’s Tale is an interesting game of cat-and-mouse between the villain of the novel, Ausi, and the protagonist, Omar Abassi. You’re rooting for Abassi all the way to the end but at some level you know that he’s heading down a path of self-destruction – he’s been warned to not interact with Ausi and to watch himself around the prisoner but he just can’t help it. What do you think drives Abassi in the face of such obvious self-destruction?
Omar: Without giving away the story, I think its vanity; wanting to be a hero, wanting to find a silver-bullet solution that will get him out of his problems. Like all young officers, he craves glory.
Dawn.com: Your second novel is an interesting exploration of what drives someone with so many opportunities and privileges to radicalisation. We’ve seen many convicted terrorists in the past decade who’ve had similarly privileged backgrounds but were drawn to a life of violence. Was there anyone in particular who was your inspiration for Ausi?
Omar: The inspiration for Ausi came from Omar Saeed Sheikh, the British-Pakistani jihadi convicted for the murder of Daniel Pearl. I was fascinated by his story when I learnt about it after joining the police and I always wondered what made him do what he did.
Dawn.com: This is the second novel that you’ve published in 2 years. Are you already working on something else? What’s next for you?
Omar: Yes I am working on a third book. I figured I might as well write while I am productive. It’s sort of a sequel to The Prisoner, but focusing on some of the more minor characters. I hope to have it out by next year.
Dawn.com: I found your portrayal of what happens to the families of terrorists very endearing. What made you want to include an exploration of Ausi’s family in the book?
Omar: When I was in CID [Criminal Investigation Department], I came across many families of young men who had become radicalised, and it struck me that these people were the real collateral damage from this whole issue of jihadi violence, because, with some exceptions, they didn’t choose for their children to take up the paths that they did.