I’m delighted to be welcoming debut Ayisha Malik chatting to us about her debut Sofia Khan is Not Obliged.
Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is the first title in a brand new imprint from Bonnier, called Twenty7. The new imprint is focusing on debut authors. All books are published as e-books first, with paperbacks following within six months.
Sofia Khan is a single 30-year old Muslim woman, living in London with her parents. After her (ex) boyfriend suggested that she move in to his parents’ house after they were married – a house which has a convenient hole-in-the-wall for parental spying – Sofia decides she’s better off without men.
Meanwhile, Sofia has several post-Ramadan resolutions which should (hopefully) enable her to become a better and more insightful human being: give up smoking, unglue self from all social media outlets, serve literature through being a brilliant book publicist, accept that life may never contain sex, remember to continually update blog (Yes, I’m Muslim, Please Get Over It) and scout out more appropriate praying locations (although the medical cupboard at work may have to do). Being a strong independent Muslim woman in the 21st Century is no easy task.
And there’s one more thing: her boss wants her to write a book on Muslim dating. So in between preparations for her sister’s wedding, her best friend’s polygamous marriage and her family’s unsubtle hints about her own marital future, Sofia plunges herself into the less-than-perfect world of modern dating.
With the warmth and authenticity of Bend It Like Beckham and the hilarity of Bridget Jones, Sofia Khan is Not Obliged is an original contemporary romantic comedy about modern life as a British Muslim, the trials of awkward dates and finding love in unexpected places.
Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Please summarise Sofia Khan is not Obliged in 20 words or less.
Sofia Khan is not Obliged follows the professional and personal travails of a thirty year old Muslim hijabi in London.
What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?
A mixture of comic life scenarios, addiction to Bridget Jones’ Diary, and the other side of Muslim life, which people perhaps don’t hear about as much.
What scene did you most enjoy writing Ayisha?
I manage to amuse myself quite easily so that’s hard to choose. Though there’s one scene between Sofia and one of the love interests (I won’t give the story away) where they’re sitting, smoking a cigarette, that I particularly enjoyed. It’s the point where something shifts in their relationship. I like writing about the way people act when they’re not aware of their feelings, or when something is happening but the characters aren’t quite sure what – describing people who aren’t self-aware is really entertaining.
… and the scene that was the hardest to write?
Again, I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s a scene that involved writing about loss. You want to hit the right note and it can be difficult to put this type of loss into words without it becoming sentimental. If it’s one thing I like to stay away from it’s being sentimental. If I’ve not managed to do that I’m going to kick myself.
Do you have a favourite place you go to for inspiration or a favourite activity?
I tend to go for walks to clear my head and think about my characters, what they might say to each other, what they might do in a certain situation. If you see a hijabi walking around South London, talking to herself, that’ll probably be me. I promise I’m not mad.
Which authors have influenced your writing?
Oh, gosh, where to start: Jane Austen. That’s where I began. So much of what she has to say is still prevalent in the Pakistani culture (not religion, which is something quite different). Makes you realise that we’d better hit the fast forward button. Nora Ephron, Helen Fielding – women writers who are brilliant and funny, tackling heavy issues with a light tone. Their genius kills me. I’m also a literary fiend and love the likes of Anne Enright, Jonathan Franzen, JM Coetzee. They might not have influenced this particular style of mine but they make you realise that if you’re going to write then you must write well, whatever the genre.
What are you reading now? Opinion?
The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair. I’m engrossed, although a few things strike me as unbelievable. It was a friend’s recommendation. However, there is a mix of mystery and getting to the nitty gritty of who we are and why we do certain things that makes it very enjoyable. The best writing is always the one that hits the truth of what it means to be human and fallible. Stick in a murder and a love affair between a thirty-four year old man and fifteen year-old girl, and you’re on to a winner.
Have you done any creative writing courses Ayisha and would you recommend to others?
I did my MA in Creative Writing and it did help because I had supervisors who gave me confidence in my writing, cheered me on and pushed me to hone my craft – that kind of belief goes a long way. Working as an editor at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy has also helped – the dos and don’ts have hugely informed my writing. That and it always helps if you have colleagues at the ready with whom you can brainstorm your ideas. I’d definitely recommend a consultancy – but shop around, do lots of research on them and make sure you go with the one that feels like the right fit (and gives the best feedback on your sample pages). I’m not sure about the MA. For me it worked out, but I’ve known others who haven’t had quite the same experience. If, however, you’re not sure whether you want to pursue writing, it can be a great eye-opener.
What has been the worst part of your writing journey so far?
Every part is the worst part! Okay, you get those few highs – when the writing is going well, or someone reads your work and gives you positive feedback, when you get your agent and that publishing deal (amazing! It was all worth it!). But every day you question whether you’re any good, whether you should give up, whether people will like what you’ve written… There are more questions than answers, really. But then you know there’s not really any other option, you just strive to be better. It’s a pretty sadistic way of living.
Finally Ayisha, are there any tips you could share with new writers that have worked well for you?
Best piece of advice I ever received was finish the first draft. Don’t look back, don’t edit or play around with sentences and worry about what you have or haven’t seeded in. Get the story down. With each tweak you are killing the flow of your own creativity. I tend to make notes about subplots, ideas, even sentences and chunks of dialogue, which will need to be added in later and stick them on my noticeboard. Once you have a first draft there’s that sense of achievement and having a finished product, which will keep you motivated. When you edit as you go along you’re basically carving the details into a piece of stone without knowing the overall shape. It is literary suicide. Trust me.
Thank you for sharing with JJ’s readers today Ayisha.
Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
Ayisha Malik is a British Muslim, lifelong Londoner, and lover of books. She read English Literature at Kingston University and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing (though told most of her family it was an MA in English Literature – Creative Writing is not a subject, after all.) She has spent various spells teaching, photocopying, volunteering and being a publicist. Now, when she isn’t searching for a jar of Nutella in her cupboards, she divides her time between writing, being an editor, and studying.
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