Multiple contest winner for short fiction, Mehreen Ahmed is an award-winning Australian novelist born in Bangladesh. Her historical fiction The Pacifist is an Audible bestseller.
NF: Tell me about your personal writing journey. What drew you into writing?
MA: As a child growing up, I often wrote diary. Our house was by a river. The river had inspired my writings, and jottings to a great extent, seeing the river flow, I often thought about all the little stories that the river had seen or carried on its journey to merge with the ocean. That was the time when plots started to shape in my mind. It was a dream one day to write a book and get published.
NF: Your writing has an almost dreamlike quality, with unrelated images popping up together, and events happening in random order. What influenced your writing style?
MA: James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Orhan Pamuk, Rabindranath Tagore, all these postmodern writers, have influenced me. I loved Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, Silent House, and Shesher Kobita (The Last Poem). With the advent of stream-of-consciousness style, the non-linear thinking process was becoming more acceptable as a literary form, although it was daunting. Millicent’s (Milly) appearance in Leopold and Molly’s thoughts in Ulysses, Mrs. Dalloway’s backtracking thirty years in the past, Selâhattin’s repetitive, circular monologues, and the postmodernist concepts of love and marriage in Shesher Kobita (The Last Poem) are a result of such techniques to give a kaleidoscopic sense of unrelated, or incoherent images to be juxtaposed. It was most fascinating how those authors did it. I wanted to try it out.
NF: Now, let’s talk about Incandescence. Why did you choose to submit the book to Impspired?
MA: Impspired in the UK is a literary small press featuring many award-winning and nominated authors/writers. I have published with them before and my smaller pieces have made it to the Top 10 Read several times. I knew they would publish Incandescence because of the style and genre which they usually publish.
NF: In the Introduction, you mentioned that you were inspired to write your book from reading Rabindranath Tagore’s Shesher Kobita (The Last Poem). Please provide a brief synopsis of Shesher Kobita, especially the characters’ actions and motivations that led you to write Incandescence.
MA: The synopsis of Shesher Kobita is that the main character is an Oxford-educated barrister, Amit, who falls in love with a governess after he was betrothed to an equally-qualified girlfriend from Oxford, Ketoki or Katy. The governess, Labonno Devi had charms, wit, and a poetic mind that his level-headed, sharp, westernized girlfriend lacked. However, Amit and Labonno end up not marrying one another in the end, and he justifies this by saying that marriage has a way to sully the purity of romance.
The circumstances leading up to those decisions of not marrying for love are different in both books, however, the end result may be the same. In both cases, the actions taken by the characters preserve the romance in a way as the characters Rahim and Mila continue to love each other. Both books are open-ended and inconclusive. Some themes are like that, they are difficult to resolve. Which is what also gives a book its transcendence. While Amit’s love for Labonno is filed away in poetry, Mila’s love for Rahim is incandescent affection where the hearts meet and swim in an ocean of love once in a while, as Amit justifies his decision in Shesher Kobita.
NF: Both love sanctioned and love forbidden (at odds with conventions and morals), permeate your novel. In what way is love a theme in your own life?
MA: In my life, I have loved just one, whom I have also married. I am happily married although it may seem traditional and dull compared to my portrayals. But this novel is a work of fiction, and although morality is important to impart to my readers, it has been creamed up with a subtle flavor of entertainment.
NF: The characters in your book see love and marriage in very different ways. Whom did you base the characters and their views on?
MA: I have observed characters throughout my life who are less than human when it came to love and romance, but more than human when it came to helping the needy and the distressed. While they may have had amoral leanings, they were otherwise kind-hearted people who knew to do the right thing at the right moment by being super generous. I found this paradox really attractive. These were not dull people by any long shot but perfect candidates for fiction. It’s up to the readers to glean from it whatever they wish.
How do people judge the likes of Madame Bovary and Lady Chatterley’s Lover? I sometimes wonder. I judge them as victims of unrestrained pleasure. Neither of them knew how to abstain from illicit love. But then, being judgmental is not my place as an author. My job is to portray them as realistically as possible.
NF: Mila believes love in itself is always honorable, even forbidden love. No matter the consequences. What do you believe?
MA: I also believe that in its purest form, which resides in the hearts, love is honorable. Whether it’s an affair or not, whomever it may be with, even aunts, uncles, and prostitutes. It is that unshakable feeling of love in one’s heart that cannot be tainted, no matter how illicit or profane from society’s viewpoint.
NF: You weave an interesting history of the region into the characters’ lives. When you began writing Incandescence, had you planned to broaden the focus of the book, or did it develop as you wrote?
MA: It developed as I wrote along. I realized after a while that I could not see the ending. It just kept going until one day the story itself decided that it wanted to end. At that moment, the book ended. The characters rested.
NF: Another theme that runs through the book is an examination of what we value, and what we’re willing to give up for it. Is it family? Is it tradition? What personal values did you examine as you wrote this book?
MA: Tradition and family are both inseparable. What was being examined was how to choose the correct path. Moral behavior is highly subjective, depending on the individual at any given time. My personal question was whether or not morality can be benchmarked. In the affairs of the heart particularly, should we just surrender regardless, or should there be some restraint? Is there any other way to prevent tragedies? There is always a choice, whether or not we exercise it or not in a proper manner, or to what extent. To me, this really depends on the individual’s strength of character. Life is not as black or white, but is graded in shades. And in an imperfect and flawed human society, where is that path we seek? It is complex, but what rises out of the complexity is also important. Hence, out of these complexities rose Incandescence, to search for righteousness.
NF: Incandescence shows how people follow tradition (such as the tradition of families coming together to negotiate a wedding), and at the same time live thoroughly modern lives. How has this played out in your life?
MA: I was born and brought up in that tradition. It has played out a great deal for me. My family was both cosmopolitan as well as traditional. We have a mixture of both kinds of people living under the same roof as it were, a cocktail of east and west but respecting each other’s take on life and how they have decided to lead it. I am the product of this, I think I have the best of both worlds.
NF: What projects are you working on now?
MA: I am taking a break from a longer project, and working on publishing flash/micro/short stories, etc.
NF: Do you have a vision for where you want to be as a writer 5 years from now, and 10 years from now?
MA: I do have a vision, yes of course, and I’ll try to chase it up, too. I would like to publish more books, maybe through literary agents. It could be a pipe dream, I don’t know.
ABOUT MEHREEN AHMED
Included in “The Best Asian Speculative Fiction Anthology,” her works have also been acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, DD Magazine, and others. She is a featured writer on Flash Fiction North and Connotation Press, a reader for The Welkin Prize, Five Minutes, and a juror for KM Anthru International Prize. Her works have been translated into German, Greek, and Bangla, reprinted, anthologized, and have made it to The Best of Cafelit, Mad Swirl, and the Top 10 Read on “Impspired Magazine” multiple times.
For a list of her many publications, awards/accolades, and audiobooks, see:
Her latest book, Incandescence (2022, Impspired) is available on Amazon:
You can find Mehreen at:
ABOUT NOLCHA FOX
Nolcha has written all her life, starting with poop and crayons on the walls. Her poems have been published in Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Alien Buddha Zine, Medusa’s Kitchen, and others. Her three chapbooks are available on Amazon. Nominee for 2023 Best of The Net. Interviewer/book reviewer. Faker of fake news.
“My Father’s Ghost Hates Cats” https://amzn.to/3uEKAqa
“The Big Unda” https://amzn.to/3IxmJhY
“How to Get Me Up in the Morning” https://amzn.to/3RLDaKc
“Memory is that raccoon” https://www.amazon.com/dp/9395224622/
“Cow Candy” https://www.amazon.com/Cow-Candy-Nolcha-Fox/dp/9395224789/