Sunday, 23 December 2018

The Long Road to Publication: Part 7

by Andy Smith

SO: I’ve recovered from the shock of getting a publishing contract. What happens next? Two things.

Photo by Alex Loup on Unsplash
First, my completed novel ‘Breaking the Lore’ disappears into the publisher’s offices for copy editing, proof reading and various other processes. What these are, I don’t know. There seems to be lot involved in turning “finished manuscript” into “book ready for publication”, and I have no idea what mysterious practices go on to make that happen. (I’m sure the WWJ folks could explain it, if they wanted a suggestion for another article?) Anyway, all I know is it seems to take longer than you would imagine!

Now, being sensible and fair, I know there’s more to it than that. My book is just one of many being published by Canelo, and it has to be fitted into a suitable slot in the overall schedule. The time of the proofreaders, editors, cover designers, etc. has to be allocated to work on lots of different titles. I do know that, and I do appreciate that there are a lot of things which have to be done – but I still want to see it available! Unfortunately, I’ve got to wait until April.

Second, I need something to keep me occupied until then. As I said last time, I’ve signed a two-book contract with Canelo. The idea is that book 2 (with working title very subtly not mentioned) will be out next summer. Before that, however, I’ve got to write it. So I’m working what feels like 24X7 on doing so. I’d started on a sequel some time back, although very slowly. At the time I was more concerned with getting somebody to take on the first one. Now that they have done, I’ve got no more excuses. Crack on.
Photo by Wadi Lissa on Unsplash

So far it’s going reasonably well (I think), but the next few months will probably be a bit hectic. If I had to give myself some advice I would say: work on the assumption that the first book will (eventually) be taken on, and get moving on the second one earlier than I have done.

Fingers crossed that both books do well (I’ll hopefully confirm publication dates next time.) However, if they do, then book 3 will probably need to be written 25X7! For now though it’s time to have a break for Christmas.

Until next time, Merry Humbug.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Young Muslim Writers Awards 2018

by Catriona Troth

On the first of December this year, I had the pleasure of once again attending the annual Young Muslim Writers Awards, organised by the Muslim Hands charity. This event has been showcasing young talent since 2010. One of the early winners, Mina B Mohammad, went on to turn her short story into a novel which she published at the age of just 16. So the event, held this year in Senate House, University of London, is one I always look forward to.

In addition to the awards for writers in different age groups, YMWA also gives out a Special Award to a young person who has made an exceptional contribution to the education and empowerment of young people. In the first year I attended, three years ago, the award went to Malala. This year it was given to the children of Grenfell. The award was accepted by a group of eight children of all backgrounds who were all members of Kids on the Green – an organisation that is helping the young people to come to terms with the trauma they have suffered through music, art and drama. The group spoke movingly about dealing with panic attacks and flashback, of losing their homes and having to live in overcrowded hotel accommodation. Then they asked the audience to stand and hold a minutes silence in honour of the 72 Grenfell residents who lost their lives.

Once again, those presenting the awards reiterated the importance of hearing stories from the voices of all our communities.

Zainub Chohan, the awards’ organiser, reminded us of the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the danger of the single story.

Irfan Master, author of Out of Heart, spoke of giving a writing workshop in a school where many of the children were of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage. When he invited them to begin by creating a character, they all started with character with white British names. When he challenged them, they told him, “No one wants to read stories about us.”

Tim Robinson from the Anne Frank Trust pointed out that he was standing on the stage where – in the recent BBC television drama, Bodyguard – the Home Secretary was blown up by a bomb. Many viewers followed the gripping series, only to be disappointed that the showrunners fell back in the end on the tired trope of a Muslim terrorist. These stereotypes need to be challenged, he said, and it is the voices of young Muslims that will do it.

As always, it was the children’s own words that spoke most powerfully. Robinson quoted from a Instruments of Harmony by Amiera, shortlisted in the KS4 poetry category.

We will catch the lost voices of the bold, 
And let their stories be passionately told. 
Finally the instruments of harmony will be played, 
And our voices will sing in unity - no longer afraid.

Ameerah, winner of the KS 3 journalism award for Daggers Drawn, her piece examining knife crime in London described a woman who has just lost her son.

She sits across the table from me, clothed in a light Nigerian robe. Her hair is pulled pack in a neat bun; her face is perfectly made up. The only sign of trauma is in her eyes. Eyes that wander with no fixed point, glistening with tears. Eyes that do not seem to acknowledge there is another person in the room.

But these young writers also showed that they would not be pigeonholed into writing only about ‘Muslim issues.’

Umar who was shortlisted last year for his poem Oggletrog, won the KS1 poetry category this year for his poem Gluttbuts and Trumpalots that again channelled the linguistic playfulness of Edward Lear and Roald Dahl – but this time demonstrated an edge of political satire with its swipe at greed and excess consumption.

Gofradump Gluttbutt, greedy and sly,
Suited and booted in his dotty red tie
Pie factory owner and Chief Taster
Eats like a pig and a horrid food waster

Fatema, winner of the KS2 poetry award held the room spellbound reading her poem, Awakening: the wonderous journey from seed to flower.’

we lie
swathed in robes
of cimmerian

Winner of the KS2 short story award, Numa’s story A Feathery Tale, praised for the judges for its accomplished storytelling and elegant use of language, was a fantasy whose central character was a bird.

Lulu was a hoopoe, with a majestic crown of black-tipped feather that constantly opened and closed like an elaborate book. It was the closing of the day, the blood-shot sun bleeding into the sunset and diamonds encrusted the sky.

Finally, the Writer of the Year was chosen – winner of the KS4 short story award, Sabir Hussain Miah for his story The Worst Plan Ever. Caught on the hop – until he received the news that he’d been shortlisted he had forgotten he had even submitted his story to the event, and certainly didn’t expect to win! – he nonetheless spoke movingly about being inspired by his own experience of bullying to write his story about overcoming prejudice and finding the strength to come out of darkness.

This year, Muslim Hands had announced that was giving the Writer of the Year and someone from their family the chance to visit one of the schools that they have built around around the world. I hope the trip inspires Sabir to yet more amazing writing!

It is always such a pleasure to attend this event. The 2019 event is already open to submission – so parents and teachers, if you have a talented young Muslim writer in your midst, please do encourage them to submit!

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Asian Writer Festival 2018

by Catriona Troth

Having missed last year’s inaugural Asian Writer Festival, I was delighted to find I could make it to the 2018 Festival – particularly as it coincided with the tenth anniversary of Asian Writer magazine.

Asian Writer is produced by Farhana Sheikh, who is also the brains and energy behind Dahlia Publishing. She has been a tireless champion of Asian voices, and for the Festival she had assembled an impressive array of talent from across a range of genres. If you haven’t already discovered these authors, then treat this as an introduction to your next list of must-reads. 

Call Me A Writer

The day opened with a keynote address from Vaseem Khan, author of the Baby Ganesh series of detective novels set in modern day Bombay. In Call Me a Writer, he addressed the perennial reluctance to own that label. Put the cart before the horse, he exhorted his audience – think ‘I am an author’ (not ‘One day I will be...’). In his Commandments of Khan, he also addressed some of the dilemmas peculiar to authors from a non-mainstream background. Put diversity in perspective, he told his audience. Lend your voice to change, but don’t get wrapped up in it.

Write What You Know?

The first panel of the day addressed the validity of the perennial advice given to novice writers – should you write what you know? Both Winnie M Li and Gautam Malkani have followed that advice to an extent. Li’s novel Dark Chapter, which won the 2017 Not the Booker Prize, is closely based on her own experience of being raped by a stranger while out hiking. And Malkani’s second novel, Distortion, was inspired by his own experience as a young carer. But both have stretched their work well beyond the boundaries of their own experience. Li also wrote through the eyes of her 17 year old rapist – or someone very like him - imagining what could have led him to carry out the attack. On the other hand Malkani drew on the experiences of a much wider pool of young carers to create his character Dhilan, while Anappara used what she learnt as a journalist to create her cast of young street beggars, allowing their funny, cheeky side to emerge in a way that wasn’t possible in journalism.

The Asian Writer Anthology 

In honour of the Asian Writer’s tenth birthday, the festival also saw the launch of a new Asian Writer Anthology, featuring writers they have worked with over those ten years. Emma Smith-Barton read an extract from her novel The Million Pieces of Nina Gill which explores a young woman’s anxiety disorder following the disappearance of her brother disappears. Mona Dash read Formations, a short story which explores food as a basis for relationships and identity. And CG Menon’s read her lyrical short story Seascapes was also one of my favourite stories from her anthology Subjunctive Moods (reviewed here).

Menon also talked about how submitting a story to the Leicester Writes Prize had changed her writing life, and urged the audience not be afraid to get their stories out there. “It’s empowering. Every time you are listed, it’s a candle propped up against the howling darkness.”

The Only Way is Commercial 

It has often been particularly difficult for writers from a minority background to break into commercial fiction. As Vaseem Khan discussed in his opening address, too often there is pressure from those within the publishing industry to stick to writing about (as they see it) ‘minority issues’. But after lunch, we heard from two authors who have managed to bust out of those restrictions: Ayisha Malik and Amer Anwar.

I loved Malik’s first novel, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged, a romantic comedy with I described in my review as Bridget Jones with real heart. The sequel, The Other Half Of Happiness is now out and moves on from the minefield of dating to the complexities of marriage. Amer Anwar is an author I had not read before, though I’d heard a lot about him. His debut novel, Blood Brothers, is set in and around West London’s Sikh and Muslim dominated communities of Southall and Hounslow and follows Zaq, a young ex-prisoner manipulated into helping his boss track down his runaway daughter.

SI Leeds Literary Prize 

The final treat of the day was to hear from the all the finalists of the SI Leeds Literary Prize, the results of which had been announced just days before. This is a prize awarded biennially for a work of unpublished fiction by UK-based Black and Asian women, aged 18 and above. Previous finalists have included Kit de Waal and Winnie M Li. This year’s finalists were:
  • Mona Dash, the opening paragraph of whose Let Us Look Elsewhere might serve as a mission statement for the Asian Writer Festival. 
I imagine you come here with expectations. You want to hear tales, of the sari, of the mango, of cow hooves kicking up a dry dust you will want to wipe off with a scented handkerchief. You want to hear of lavender, of turmeric, of jasmine soothing the hot summer evening in a distant tropical country. You expect to be told stories of a certain woman, a certain man in a certain way. You want to feel, but nothing beyond the ordinary, nothing you cannot stomach along with a thick steak, the knife a tad bloody from the rare meat.
  • Yoanna Pak, whose novel Wolnam looks at trans-generational trauma through the eyes of a Korean father and a Canadian daughter. 
  • Khavita Bhanot whose novel Baba ji on Boulton Road, about a young guru in Handsworth was awarded Third Prize. 
  • Yvonne Singh, whose One Man’s Revolution - set during the aftershocks of the financial crisis and which follows a young man drawn into religious sect that declares capitalism the enemy - took 2nd prize. 
  • Omega Douglas, who won the Readers’ Choice award for her novel Hibiscus Rose Jacaranda which captured the shattered sense of belonging of a new resident in London in the face of the government’s ‘hostile environment.’ 

And the overall winner was Shereen Tadros. Her novel Say Goodbye To Her is set in Egypt in the 1950s and addresses the tension between tradition and modernity through the voice of a child narrator. The stunning passage she read broached difficult subject of female genital mutilation with empathy and tenderness. If this does not find a publisher very soon so that I can read the rest, I shall be bitterly disappointed!

You can read extracts of all the shortlisted novels here.

All in all, this was a wonderful event, seamlessly organised. I look forward to next year!