This is the last interview on my blog for #RamadanReadathon and I’m actually really excited to introduce Yasmin Rahman as today’s guest author. Her short story Fortune Favours the Bold will be included in an upcoming anthology, published by Stripes this August. Keep reading to find out about their awesome initiative to support BAME writers in UK YA.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Yasmin Rahman is a British Muslim born and raised in Hertfordshire. She has a First Class MA in Creative Writing and is currently completing an MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. In her spare time, she makes fan art for her favourite books. Her designs are currently being sold worldwide by bestselling author John Green. Yasmin also co-founded and edits Scrittura, an online literary magazine. She is currently working on a novel exploring mental illness within the Muslim community. You can follow her on Twitter @YasminwithanE.
ABOUT A CHANGE IS GONNA COME
Featuring top Young Adult authors alongside a host of exciting new talent, this anthology of stories and poetry from BAME writers on the theme of change is a long-overdue addition to the YA scene. Contributors include Tanya Byrne, Inua Ellams, Catherine Johnson, Patrice Lawrence, Ayisha Malik, Irfan Master, Musa Okwonga and Nikesh Shukla.
Plus introducing four fresh new voices in YA fiction: Mary Bello, Aisha Bushby, Yasmin Rahman and Phoebe Roy.
Hi, Yasmin! Thank you so much for joining us! For anyone who may not have heard about A Change Is Gonna Come, can you briefly tell us what it’s about and how you ended up having a story being published in the anthology?
YR: A Change is Gonna Come is an anthology being published by Stripes featuring short stories and poetry from a selection of BAME writers – including four fresh voices (of which I am one!) The stories all focus around the theme of change, hence the name, and the project is designed to represent and celebrate diverse voices and different cultural identities. (It also has maybe the best cover I’ve ever seen on a book! Props to Lucy Banaji for the amazing illustrations.)
As for how I got involved – Stripes put out an open call for submissions from unpublished writers, which I saw floating around on Twitter and heard about through some friends. Since it was free to enter and the theme was so broad, I decided to submit something just for the heck of it. I was pretty gobsmacked when I received an email a few weeks later saying my story had been selected!
How does your short story respond to the theme of ‘change’? Was it something you had already written or did you write it after hearing about the opportunity?
YR: Fortune Favours the Bold was something I wrote last year on my MA. It was initially the start of a novel, but it fit the theme of change so well that I edited it into a short story. It’s about a teenage Muslim girl in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. I wanted to show how these attacks affect Muslims uniquely, how there’s an extra pressure on us to defend our religion and prove that we don’t condone terrorism. The change for the protagonist comes near the end, where she makes the decision to do something outside of her comfort zone. She’s inspired by someone she meets, and the influence of this person is what prompts her to actively move towards change, rather than to just desire it. I wanted to show the effect people have on each other, how the smallest interactions can have huge impacts.
Aisha Bushby, who is also in the anthology, mentioned that “This year, Stripes is publishing as many BAME UK YA voices as the rest of the industry combined.” What do you think other publishing houses can do to change this fact?
YR: I’d love to see more initiatives like this anthology, where publishers actively seek out new voices from marginalised backgrounds. I really want to see a rise in more #ownvoices books and stories with more diversity. However, I think it’s not fair to put all the responsibility on publishing houses. I think literary agents could do more to champion diverse writers, rather than just diverse stories. I also think more needs to be done to nurture BAME writers. When I was growing up, I never once thought I could have a career as a writer (my parents were big believers of the whole housewife/accountant/doctor/lawyer career exclusivity for Asians) and this was furthered by only seeing white authors and reading about white characters. I think if we encourage BAME writers (especially children and teenagers) and show them that it’s possible for them to be both the protagonist and the creator, there will be a wealth of extraordinary, diverse stories in the near future.
Wisely said, I couldn’t agree more! You’re currently working on a novel exploring mental illness within the Muslim community. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Why is it important for you to tell this story?
YR: I’m writing this novel as part of my MA dissertation, so I’m still very much in the early stages! It’s about three girls who are grouped together by a suicide pact website. They start off as complete strangers but as they complete a set of tasks set by the website to prepare for their deaths, they become close friends. It’s written in multi-POV, but the main protagonist is a Muslim teenager who struggles with depression. I really wanted to write about mental health in the Muslim community because it’s so often swept under the rug, completely ignored and left to fester. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for a long time and this novel is a way of putting my experience into words, I guess. I wanted to dispel the myth that mental illness is because of lack of Deen and can be completely prayed away. I also wanted to point out the differences between cultural and religious attitudes towards mental health because I think too often the two are considered synonymous. The protagonist in my novel feels completely desperate and helpless, and the novel is about how finding people who understand and empathise can be a life-changing thing.
Finally, who inspires you to write, and what are your favourite stories featuring Muslim characters?
YR: I guess my biggest inspiration is in knowing that my nieces could one day read my books and see themselves as the protagonists. Also showing them that they can break away from the traditional career routes and follow their passions. My classmates and tutors all really inspire me too. I’m a sucker for self-doubt, and they’re always on hand to re-motivate me.
As for stories, I absolutely love The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I’ve been collating a list of books featuring Muslim characters (with great recommendations resulting from #RamadanReadathon!) and am planning to make my way through them soon. I’ve been in a bad reading funk for the last few months (university woes!), but I’m REALLY excited to start reading Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik, which has been sitting on my bedside table for ages.
Thank you so much for your time! We’re so excited to start reading all the incredible stories and poems that will be featured in the anthology.
A Change Is Gonna Come releases August 10th 2017 from Stripes. Pre-order the book on Amazon UK or Book Depository and email your receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive some pre-order goodies – an enamel pin and an exclusive print designed by Yasmin. Don’t forget to add it on Goodreads!