Siddiqi’s The Centre (Zando/Flynn, Aug) sees Pakistani translator Anisa Ellahi attending a shadowy language institute in London, where promises of quick instruction come at a gruesome, darkly comic cost.

What drew you to the mystery genre?

It was just a story that I found both hilarious and disturbing. And as I wrote, I noticed it had a sense of something unfolding, and I liked this—it kept me committed to the story, kept me writing and knowing, to some degree, where I was headed.

The book’s protagonist moves from Pakistan to London at the same age you did, and makes some sharp observations about the way class functions in both cultures. What was it like for you to make that move to attend university?

It’s an interesting age to move, because you feel as if you are a complete adult, but in fact I was also scared, and surprised by the differences, and sometimes out of my depth. I didn’t think of myself as “brown” or “Asian” before coming to the U.K.—such labels only come into play when you’re asked to situate yourself in the presence of another. And then, as a Muslim woman, my faith was something I’d felt was taken for granted in Pakistan, but suddenly I felt like I was being asked to explain, and even defend, myself.

How much of that experience did you harness for the narrative?

I wrote the book during the pandemic, and, like Anisa, I think I was dealing with a sense of aloneness and listlessness, of confusion and self-doubt. I miss Pakistan. And I sometimes think of the person I would have been had I stayed there. The writer that I would have been. She is a mystery to me, that person, and when I’m in a generous mood and giving myself the benefit of the doubt, I hope that she would have been somebody who I would have felt proud of, someone who would have had a moral compass that resonates with the one I have now. But other times, I think she would have been a little shit, and that we would have hated each other. Maybe we would have been enemies. Maybe that should be the next novel.

What did you learn about yourself while writing this?

I can be intensely self-critical, and I wrote the novel quickly, partly to outrun this inner critic. I think, in the process, maybe I befriended that monster a bit. We’re in a weird codependent relationship, she and I. But we’re working on it—at least we got the novel done. And I learned it’s okay to say strange things. People won’t mind as much as you fear they will. I’m less scared now; the love of my close ones is so strong that it encompasses even the parts of me they don’t quite understand.

Correction: Due to a typo, Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi's first name was misspelled in an earlier iteration of this article. We apologize for the error.