Thursday, 3 September 2015

Debut Spotlight: Ayisha Malik

It's publication day for today's debut spotlight guest Ayisha Malik and her debut novel Sofia Khan is Not Obliged which is the first title in a brand new imprint from Bonnier, called Twenty7, which only publishes work by debut novelist, first in ebook and later in paperback.

Ayisha 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.

Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged is Ayisha’s debut novel. @Ayisha_Malik  

'Brilliant idea! Excellent! Muslim dating? Well, I had no idea you were allowed to date.' Then he leaned towards me and looked at me sympathetically. 'Are your parents quite disappointed?'

Unlucky in love once again after her sort-of-boyfriend/possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene.

As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she seeks stories for her book. But in amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and polygamy-inclined friends, could there be a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love . . . ?

Can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel Sofia Khan is Not Obliged? What prompted you to start writing it? 
A mixture of being bored with the way Muslims are constantly portrayed in the media and hearing so many bonkers stories about Muslim dating. Not only are single Muslim women (and men, I guess) trying to find a partner with whom they can share their life within these cultural limitations, but they’re also having to explain that they don’t believe in terrorism, forced marriages and yes, are particular about the meat they eat. There’s a sense of this constant justification and explanation – whether it’s to the outside world about the aforementioned or family about your state of single-ness. I thought it’d be good to intertwine the two in a light-hearted way. My aim was to create a strong Muslim character that challenged common misconceptions (no, we’re not oppressed) who was relatable – I wanted the fact that she’s Muslim to become almost incidental. It’s also a bit of a tribute to London – I’m not sure there’s anywhere else in the world where the things that happen in this story, would actually happen.  

How much research into online Muslim dating did you have to do to enable you to write about that element of the storyline? 
A fair bit, actually. I did join marriage/dating websites and it all proved very useful for the end product. 

Are any of the dates featured in the book based on your own experiences of dating?
It’d be indelicate for me to say! (Although the above kind of already gives it away.) But of course life informs fiction. That’s why we write. 

Describe Sofia in three words? 
Sassy, zany, marmite-esque. 

Are you able to tell us anything about your current WIP?  
I’m working on the sequel and what happens to Sofia in the next part of her life’s journey.

Has your own experience in publishing and being an editor helped you with regards to the whole writing/editing process of publishing a novel? 
Hugely. I was told in my MA in Creative Writing that if you want to get published then get a job in a publishing house – even if it’s as a cleaner. (Thankfully it wasn’t that bad – I started out as a ‘cuttings assistant’ which was a nicer way of saying, someone who photocopies stuff.) I don’t think there’s any substitute for actually being able to write and it’s not the only path but the knowledge that it gave me and also the support that I received from professionals within the industry has been second to none. Especially since I now work as managing editor for one of the biggest literary consultancies in the UK. 

How much do you think your MA in Creative Writing helped you get to where you are today? 
My supervisors and tutors gave me confidence in my writing, cheered me on and pushed me to hone my craft – that kind of belief goes a long way. Before that I was never sure whether I was any good or not. I’ve known others who haven’t had quite the same experience so it’s different for everyone but it was just the boost I needed. It does help you with certain techniques, but nowadays there are writers’ groups and literary consultancies that can do that at a fraction of the cost. If, however, you’re not sure whether you want to pursue writing, it can be a great eye-opener.

As you're just about to publish your debut novel, what advice would you give to other aspiring authors? 
Enjoy writing that first book and the liberty that comes with it. Once you take the next step – finding an agent/publisher – your heart will never be in its usual place. There’s plenty of time for anxiety – for now, savour the freedom. That and never give up, of course. But then you don’t have to say that to an aspiring author. They never do give up. That’s how they become an author. 

Are you going to/have you treat yourself to something special to celebrate publishing your debut novel?
I treated myself to a week in Istanbul where I thought about nothing except where we’d eat and whether I should buy this pair of python leather loafers. I did. It’s not a particularly difficult life though is it, so everything is kind of a treat. 

Finally have you anything exciting planned for publication day itself? 
My lovely publisher is planning a lunch to celebrate and I’ll be spending the evening with good friends to continue said celebration.

Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik is published today by Twenty7 as an ebook (£4.99) and paperback in January 2016 (£7.99) 

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