We bid a fond farewell to our Education Coordinator, Nafiza Azad, who we thank for her work at the Festival—and wish all the best for the launch of her new book, The Candle and the Flame!
Firstly, congratulations on the publication of your first novel, The Candle and the Flame, that will be published on May 14, 2019. Can you tell us a bit about the book?
Thank you so much! The Candle and the Flame is about Fatima, who works as a messenger in Noor, a city located on the border of a desert and a forest in a country ruled equally by Ifrit djinn and a human king. When Fatima’s mentor, an ifrit called Firdaus, is killed in front of her, Fatima’s djinn fire awakens and she inherits a power that places her in the middle of a simmering war.
To protect those she loves and the city she lives in, Fatima must come to terms with who she is and the fire that burns within her.
What surprised you the most about the publishing process?
To be quite honest, I am still surprised to find myself on this journey. For the longest time, I didn’t think becoming a writer was an option for me. I have always written but to actually get recognized for my writing? I don’t know if that will ever stop surprising me.
Why do you think it’s important that books, especially YA books, are diverse and representative?
Oh goodness. This is an essay question and ties in directly to my answer to the previous one. Because I never saw someone like me writing books or featured in YA novels—at least not those readily available—the idea that I, as a POC, could be an author never occurred to me. Everyone deserves reflections of themselves in literature. Positive reflections that do not depend on readily accepted stereotypes. Reflections that are not the token best friend, sidekick, cannon fodder. The world is a diverse place and it is time literature reflected that. Thankfully, 2019 will bring some amazing novels featuring diverse characters and written by diverse authors. Books such as Wicked Fox by Kat Cho, The Weight of the Sky by Hanna Alkaf among others.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
There is nothing specific that I can pinpoint, honestly. It could be anything—like the glint of the sunlight being reflected off a glass window, or the sound the wind makes in a tunnel, or a particular sentence overheard on the Skytrain. If the cheesiness is excused, life inspires me. People and their circumstances inspire me. Because I predominantly write fantasy, I work to dress up the mundane in magic. I use fantastical elements to draw a portrait of an unfamiliar world that nevertheless houses familiar people, feelings, and flaws.
What is next for you? Are you working on anything at the moment?
I just sent off a proposal to Scholastic and am waiting for a response. I have a middle-grade novel waiting to be revised while I research another project that’s tickling my bones. I have so many stories to tell. I hope I get to do them justice.
While we are sad to see you go, we are excited to see where your writing takes you. What has been your favourite part of your role as Education Coordinator with the Festival?
VWF has a program called Writers in the Classroom which coordinates author visits to classrooms. I loved making the connections and seeing kids and authors interact. The authors and the students both had positive experiences. It was great to witness that.
What is one memory of your time with the Festival that will stick with you?
It was a crisp fall morning and we were at a school in Tsawwassen. Maggie de Vries was there for a presentation to grades three and four. The kids were in the large school library, flooded with sunshine. An air of irrepressible excitement had kids squirming and fidgeting in their seats. Some of them were peeking at Maggie, whispering “It’s her! She wrote that book we read. She’s here!” When Maggie finally took the stage and asked a question, all the hands in the audience went up.
That image will always be with me.
That is a lovely note to end on, Nafiza. Thank you so much for chatting with us. From all of us at the Festival, we wish you the best of luck with your writing.