I’m thrilled to be talking with Marzieh Abbas today. Marzieh is spearheading a collaborative effort to bring books to the children of Karachi, Pakistan. She mentioned her desire for children in her community to have books, and the writing community of Twitter joined her mission.
Thank you so much for joining me, Marzieh! Before we discuss Books for Karachi Kids, we’d love to learn a little bit about you and how you came into writing.
Marzieh: Hi Kelly, I’m so honored to be here talking about books! I came to writing through some combination of fate and chance and I’m so glad I did! I’ve always loved reading but I never dreamt of being a writer! I am a business graduate, living in Karachi, Pakistan and I used to run a very successful home-based bakery for eight years. It brought me a lot of joy and I loved creating themed desserts and working with some of the best party planners in the city.
Wow, that’s so exciting! I think there’s such an art to baking. Definitely a recipe that calls for a pinch of science and a handful of love. But I’m guessing things changed as life steered you in a different direction.
Marzieh: In May of 2019, a little after my second child turned two, I was on a hiatus from baking; it was the month of Ramadan and summer time in Pakistan and I just couldn’t handle orders. I missed baking though and began writing to process the withdrawal symptoms (because baking is very therapeutic for me) and the demands of motherhood. And what started as a journal for myself, soon morphed into letters to my kids and then fictional stories depicting a family like ours. On a whim I decided to research publishers and have my first two books traditionally published by niche Mulsim publishers, one in the US and one in the UK.
Soon after I wrote ABCs of Pakistan and it was picked up by a Pakistani publisher. I took Mira’s Children’s Book Academy course in August 2019 and made lots of friends in the writing community. I also joined Twitter around the same time and found the #WritingCommunity to be extremely helpful. To keep myself accountable and as a challenge to read more kidlit, I set up a Facebook group called Children’s Book Reviews (CBR Global). With the pandemic I was able to attend a lot more virtual conferences. I began querying around March of 2020. And signed with my lovely agent, Lynnette Novak of the Seymour Agency, in September 2020.
You definitely dedicated yourself to learning the craft and it shows! I want to highlight how you took things you loved from your life and wrote about them. Stories can be strong for many reasons, but personal experience can really add a layer of heart that can connect you to your readers. I also hear that you just received a six book publishing contract! Congratulations!
Marzieh: Thank you! It is indeed exciting. It’s a chapter book series with ABDO publishing about a Muslim family and their everyday adventures. My agent passed on a call for submissions and I dove right in. I read chapter books, lots and lots of them (the e-versions; we don’t get the latest books at bookstores in Pakistan very often)! I also heard lots of chapter books being read aloud by authors, teachers and librarians on youtube because of the pandemic. I was waiting for edit notes from my editor on my first book deal (A DUPATTA IS…) and was able to do a thorough study. Chapter books are so different from picture books or MG! I found a critique group by posting on SCBWI’s Blueboard and after a few quick rounds of revision (the deadline for submission was super short) I submitted one complete book and a pitch for five more. Luckily the editors at ABDO loved my writing and found the perfect illustrator, Lala Stellune, for the project.
I’ve loved learning about your journey! And now, it seems your path is again leading you on another new adventure. Recently on Twitter, you had wished for books for the children in Karachi. What is their literary experience currently like?
Marzieh: These kids attend English and English-medium schools. Some are private schools which do have libraries, but I’ve personally visited them and they are fairly dated, plus the private school libraries aren’t accessible to everyone. Some schools are run by foundations which run on donations.
But there is no public library system in Pakistan, and it is my dream to get one going. A truly inviting space for kids to enjoy and share their excitement for books, without having to pay a membership fee.
I love this idea and fully support bringing books to the children of Karachi. It is because of your wish that a group of us through Twitter created Books for Karachi Kids. We see this as a collaborative effort to share books with a community that otherwise doesn’t have access, as you have described. What do you see as the greatest impact that books could have for them, and what would this mean to you and your community?
Marzieh: Unfortunately in Pakistan very few kids read for leisure. We have no public libraries with a dedicated, inviting children’s section. Books are considered an expense rather than an investment. Many publishers do not distribute to Pakistan and private booksellers often get very limited titles at a very high cost (due to taxes and shipping costs) and they often don’t arrive in the market until years after release, if at all. I feel there is so much to enjoy in literature. I myself was completely unaware of the kinds of books being published in recent years. I think the Harry Potter series caught on here too, but many people don’t know of the wealth of information and the way non-fiction and other heavy topics are creatively approached in kidlit these days.
When public libraries in the US opened up after the covid restrictions were lifted and Americans were able to physically browse through books, (yeay!) it made me wonder how amazing that feeling must be! Holding a hard copy of a recent release in Pakistan! And that’s exactly what I tweeted and a wonderful bunch of creatives have risen to aid me in realizing my dream!
And we’re thrilled to be able to work with you on this! What do you wish for the children in Karachi?
Marzieh: I ultimately hope to change the reading culture in Pakistan- from reading just course-related books, to leisure reading. I hope parents will see how books make it so easy for kids to open up and talk about topics we may never have approached, to heal through the hope offered in children’s books and to truly enjoy books, whether they have a moral or not.
I also hope readers will eventually be sophisticated enough, and the love for books will grow enough, to ultimately create a viable market for foreign publishers to bulk ship and sell books in Pakistan and beyond. This way the cost for books will also fall, and more people will be able to buy them too.
Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Marzieh! I am so happy to be part of this team, and can’t wait to help the children of Karachi. I’ll be providing information on how to donate and where donations can be sent once plans are more finalized. I know you’ve been contacting numerous agencies and locations and it seems we’re getting closer to sharing that information. A special thank you to our team members: Carrie Boone, Amy Miller, Mark Wright, Jenny Mattern, Jyothi Nookula, Kaye Wright, Krista Legge, Mary Hellen Berg and Tony Tong.
And lastly, I am giving away one non rhyming picture book critique to a randomly chosen winner. If you’d like to be entered, please follow Marzieh Abbas on Twitter @MarziehAbbas and comment either on this post or on Twitter. Giveaway ends on 6/11/21 at 12pm EST. Have a great day everyone and stay tuned for more exciting new from #Books4KarachiKids!