Today I would like to introduce my special guest Tahir Shah to the ‘Let’s Meet’ segment. He is the author of an impressive fifthteen books, Timbuctoo, Travels With Myself, In Arabian Nights, The Caliph’s House, Trail of Feathers, Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Middle East Bedside Book, are to name just a few, and the filmmaker of documentary films; Afghan Gold, House of the Tiger King, The Search for King Solomon’s Mines and Lost City of Gold, which are shown worldwide on National Geographical Television, and The History Channel.
The latest, LOST TREASURE OF AFGHANISTAN, has been screened on British TV and shown worldwide. While researching the programme Shah was arrested along with his film crew and incarcerated in a Pakistani torture jail, where they spent sixteen terrifying days and nights.
Today we chat about Tahir’s reasons and inspirations behind the books he has created; his take on social networking and his preferences in book formats.
“Not only impossible to put down, this book also feels like a magical story book which sweeps you back in time through oriental history and fantasy.”
5 star Amazon review for In Arabian Nights
“The Caliph’s House is a triumph! I howled with laughter from beginning to end”
5 star Amazon review for The Caliph’s House
“I was sad to reach the end and to have to leave the world that I had grown to like”
5 star Amazon review for Timbuctoo
MW: Welcome to the Let’s Meet segment! Thank you for taking part. What is your genre? Why did you choose it?
TS: Most of the books I have written fall into Travel Literature... and I’m not sure if I chose it so much as it chose me. During my late teens and my twenties I travelled a great deal off the beaten track, and I started writing about my experiences.
MW: Tell us about your path to becoming an author. Did you have any idea at the start what the process really entails?
TS: No. Not at all. Not really. Even though my father was an author (Idries Shah) and just about everyone in my family is a published author going back two or three generations. I didn’t understand at first that writing is a craft, like any other. It’s a skill you have to hone and perfect, and that only with time you reach a level of competence... rather like a carpenter or a basket. A great deal of people who write to me, people who want to write, want a shortcut... and there aren’t any shortcuts really in learning a skill.
MW: Do you work on more than one manuscript at a time?
TS: When I write a book it’s just that one project that I grind away at. I find that it’s the system which works for me and every author has a certain way that works for them. I do have numerous projects in the pipeline at once and try to keep an eye on the big picture.
MW: What is the best comment/compliment you have received about your work?
TS: It was from my English teacher, Mr. Bullard, who taught me at prep school when I was 11. He wrote to me several years ago out of the blue and said that he had followed my career and that he was very proud. He has died now, sadly, but he had a way of bringing English to life... until then it had been taught to me in the most tedious way.
MW: How many books have you published? Are they traditionally published, indie published, or a combination?
TS: I think I’ve published about 12 books. I don’t really keep count because that doesn’t interest me much. Almost all of them have been with big publishers like Random House and Orion. But the penultimate one Travels With Myself, I published with Lulu.com as a kind of experiment. And my newest book, a novel called Timbuctoo is self-published in a grand limited edition.
MW: How much time do you spend on Twitter each week? What about Facebook and other social media?
TS: Several hours. It’s very very important and is an area I force myself to devote time to.
MW: Do you work with a writing group?
TS: No. I don’t like talking about writing much because I see it as a craft and something you do rather than something you drone on and on about. I can’t stand it when authors feel all self important. Drives me MAD. For that reason I tend to avoid literary festivals and the like, because they are usually packed with authors being self-congratulatory.
MW: Do you create an outline before beginning a new book?
TS: YES. A huge one. I work away at that in increasing detail until I have a very very solid foundation structure. Sometimes I don’t look at it much, but it’s always there on my desk. And, when I write, I write a book quite fast. I usually write 3500 to 4000 words a day, every day until it’s done. No breaks. And I don’t get up much from the chair until my wordage is done. Have to keep the pressure up. But that’s just what works for me.
MW: Which authors, past or present, have greatly influenced your style, your voice?
TS: Sir Richard Burton and Heinrich Barth from the 19th century for their sheer dedication. Bruce Chatwin and Mark Saltzman for their ‘voice’.
MW: When you decided on your story, how did you set about researching?
TS: I love roving about in libraries and that’s what I usually do. The internet is great too, but dusty dark damp libraries have a kind of secret magic of their own. Favourite is the London Library.
MW: Do your books have book trailers? How important as a marketing tool do you think they are?
TS: Growing in use and importance. I am in the process of making a film promo for Timbuctoo. I was down in the desert south of Marrakech this past week filming it.
MW: I love my kindle and believe it is a marvellous invention. However it doesn’t quite replace my love for the printed book; the smell, the feel of the pages, even better if it is an ear chewed second hand version! Do you have a preference for e-book formats or the traditional paper and hardback versions?
TS: I adore fine quality, well bound hardbacks. I don’t even like paperbacks much. But at the same time I appreciate the eBook format because I believe if it gets people reading then that’s a good thing.
MW: Are you the type of person that constantly carries around a notepad to jot down ideas or are you more in the technical age and use a dictaphone or other sound recording devices?
TS: I do always have a pen with me. Always. And I write stuff down. But I have an extremely good memory for detail and for conversation. I can remember entire conversations verbatim.
Thank You for appearing in the ‘Let’s Meet’ segment this week.
Here a list of links to get in touch with Tahir Shah. www.tahirshah.com/ www.timbuctoo-book.com @HumanStew on Twitter Tahir Shah’s Facebook page