By Burhana Islam (Author and Teacher)
Thanks to my dad and our regular trips to the library, it seems that books have always been such a meaningful part of my life. My childhood bookshelf (albeit being rented) had always been filled with strong female-leads, lost heroes trying to find themselves and, well, dragons.
Looking back on it now, I find it so strange that I fell so hard for stories that neglected the existence of Muslim representation. In fact, there was very little ethnic representation at all back then - sadly, this was less than 20 years ago and animals got more airtime than Asians did. Because of that, I subconsciously grew up with a whitewashed worldview. My expectations of what it meant to be ‘normal’ was shaped by what I read and I genuinely found myself searching for belonging and fulfilment away from home.
It didn’t take me long, however, to both find myself and remind myself that our never-ending, dysfunctional family was every part of the home I had ever needed. Nowadays though, I can’t help but wonder in a world that seems simultaneously connected and disconnected, and filled with confusion and misinformation, about how the next generation will fare.
That’s where writing came in.
I wrote the book I needed when I was growing up - a collection of stories that empowered our Muslim youth regardless of our respective backgrounds.
After the success of ‘Rebel Girls’, an award-winning nonfiction children’s book, I wrote the book I needed when I was growing up - a collection of stories that empowered our Muslim youth regardless of our respective backgrounds. ‘AMAZING MUSLIMS WHO CHANGED THE WORLD’ was a celebration of the success and achievements of our people. It was born out of the desire to stand proud of our identity despite the rhetoric intended to dismantle it.
Because I was on the 'Penguin Random House Write Now' scheme at the time, I already had an opening into the publishing world so when I finally pitched my idea, there seemed to be a lot of interest. Publishing tends to be a very slow world, but my experience was completely the opposite. Trust me: researching and writing five mini-biographies per week, while editing the five from the previous week, alongside overseeing artwork as it trickled in (all while tending to a teaching career) was an incredibly tough feat. I look back on it now and wonder how our team managed it within the space of eight weeks. There was actually more to it than that, but that intense period of time (as well as the endless proof-reading) is what I remember most.
I’m so grateful for it and how my life has changed because of it. All this time, I had thought that writing was outside my realm of possibility. I didn’t see myself in the books I had read or the authors I was familiar with, so my ten-year old self didn’t even dare to dream about this. Since I can’t go back and tell her, I regularly tell my nieces, my nephews, my students and siblings, and anyone who’ll listen, that these crazy ambitions are actually possible.
For writers out there, I’d say have faith. It does seem like the publishing landscape is changing. More voices are beginning to be heard.
For writers out there, I’d say have faith. It does seem like the publishing landscape is changing. More voices are beginning to be heard. There is still a lot of work to do and a long way to go, but see it through and know that it's a huge achievement when you do.
In the meantime, here are my top tips for anyone considering to take their writing more seriously:
Born in Bangladesh, raised in Newcastle and currently residing in the outskirts of Manchester, Burhana Islam is a storyteller who is passionate about exploring themes of heritage, belonging, identity and faith in her work. She studied English Literature at Newcastle University before deciding to become a secondary school teacher, sharing her love for stories with a new generation of curious, young minds. MAYHEM MISSION is her debut children's fiction book, and she is also the author of AMAZING MUSLIMS WHO CHANGED THE WORLD (Puffin, 2020).
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