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Face Behind the Workspace with: Huma Qureshi

Face Behind the Workspace with: Huma Qureshi

Face Behind the Workspace is an opportunity to peek into the often private spaces in which we work, to learn how others organise themselves and create a habitat where they feel inspired.

In this edition, we hear from Huma Qureshi, the journalist turned author who creates her first drafts in a Mark+Fold notebook. A great advocate for 'layflat pages and good paper,' Huma shares her process for transforming these hand-written pencil notes into finished novels, with the help of inspiring cinematic scenes and a gigantic green desk. 

 



What’s the best workspace you’ve ever had?

Two years ago, my husband and I renovated a 1960s house and part of the renovation included converting what was once the old garage into my writing room. I have a gorgeous glossy forest green desk that runs the whole width of the room in front of the windows, plus a vintage armchair for reading. I feel very lucky to have this space, after years of working in cafes or at the dining table.

I hear a lot of writers say they need to be in blank spaces in order to write and authors who lock themselves in bland hotel rooms to finish first drafts away from distractions, but I know it wouldn't work for me. I prefer instead to be surrounded by all the things that I love.

 


Do you have any routines or rituals that make you feel organised?

I like to make to-do lists, always by hand in my Mark+Fold Diary and Layflat Notebook. There are different parts of life I need to keep organised and I find a single to-do-list encompassing everything isn't actually that helpful, so I split my lists in three instead, in separate notebooks. I have a routine of starting and ending each day by going through each list and I always do it with pen and paper, never on a screen. The act of writing it down helps me remember what I need to do the next day as well. 

 

What helps you concentrate?

I walk every morning for at least three and a half miles, after I've dropped my children off at school. Our mornings start early and can be a rush; I find a longish walk helps me transition from being mum-at-the-school-gates to being a writer again. Though I love podcasts and audiobooks, I prefer not to listen to them when I'm walking because I want to empty my head, rather than have it full of someone else's words. 

Is there a soundtrack to your workspace?

Right now, the windows are open as it's a lovely day and so my soundtrack is the rush of a breeze dancing through the willow tree and the soft sleepy call of the wood pigeons. These days, if I do have music on, I find I'm listening to a lot of Yumi Zouma and The Japanese House. 

What is your earliest memory of paper?

My mother studied politics for her Masters and when I was little, I remember finding a tiny book amongst her things. I must have been too little to have started to learn how to read, because I had no idea what this book was about. The book was very small, with a soft red bound cover and a red ribbon as a bookmark with a gold star embossed on the cover. The paper was like silk, soft and thin with a slight sheen but seemingly untearable. I took this book as my own and loved playing with it, pretending to read stories from it to my dolls. It was only decades later that my family joked about how funny it was that I used to play with Mao's Little Red Book!

What makes a good notebook?

Pages that lay flat, paper that is not thin. In a ideal world, a hardback cover that doesn't stain. I used to write on dotted pages but now I prefer lined; it seems neater somehow?

Do you have a stationery guilty pleasure?

I went through a phase of only writing in pencil in my notebooks and bought a box of double-sided Louise Fili Perfetto Pencils - one side lead, one side red, with the thought of using the red side for editing my work. But the pencils are so beautifully packaged in a black vintage-style box with gorgeous typography that I can barely bring myself to use them!

 

What do you love most about your work?

I love the connection that my books can make with readers across the world. I'm forever deeply touched when a reader finishes my book and then goes to the trouble of looking me up online to then send me an email to tell me how much my book moved them or made them feel less alone. It's very meaningful to me and says so much about why stories and creativity matter so much.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I had always wanted to be a writer. According to my mother I wrote my first book, a picture book, when I was about four or five, about a rabbit who had lost his tail. I can't remember ever wanting to be anything else.

What inspires you?

So many things! In my writing, I'm obsessed with exploring family relationships and family dramas, and love and marriage, secrets and intimacies, and so on, and so I'm inspired by other writers who also explore these themes - some of my favourites are Alice Munro, Anne Tyler and Lily King.

I write in quite a visual way, in that an image will often come to me quite clearly like a movie scene, and so I'm also inspired a lot by film. I especially love the story-telling in Mia Hansen-Løve, Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig films. I love interior aesthetics, and I spend a lot of time creating the worlds in which my characters live, and so I'm greatly inspired by the way interiors can tell stories too; I'm really inspired by images of houses designed by Beata Heuman, and the paintings of Lottie Cole. 

A still from Marriage Story, directed by Noah Baumbach

What frustrates you?

The publishing process can at times feel full of cloaks and daggers and it is not a level playing field for all authors, which is deeply frustrating and difficult at times to bear. I have to put a lot of distance between the commercial side of publishing and the creative act of writing, otherwise I'm not sure I'd find the will to go on.

 

 

What career advice would you give to your teenage self?

I don't know if it's career advice especially, but I would reassure my teenage self that there is nothing wrong in being sensitive, even though other people will tell her she's too sensitive all the time as if it is a bad thing. I would tell her that it's precisely this sensitivity, the way she feels so deeply, and the way she is sensitive to the way other people feel also, that will one day suddenly pour out into her writing. She will never believe that one day she'll be the author of four books - and hopefully even more. But it's this sensitivity that will make her writing special. She just has to believe in it.

Huma Qureshi's books

Huma's picks from Mark+Fold range

 

Mark+Fold layflat notebook, edition of 100, green with neon thumbcut

 

Special Edition Notebook Grass Green

 

Mark+Fold week-view 2025 diary in Moss

 

Mark+Fold Diary

 

Mark+Fold Solid Brass Pencil Sharpener

 

Brass Pencil Sharpener

 

Mark+Fold sticky notes post-its, mint green yellow square grid, printed in the UK

 

Post Its 

Huma's new book Playing Games, reviewed here in the Guardian, is out in paperback on Thursday 4th July 2024. If you'd like the change to win a signed copy, along with all 3 of Huma's other books, PLUS a Mark+Fold Notebook Bundle, head over to our instagram profile for details...