Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Q&A with Ayisha Malik

Ayisha Malik is the author of the novel Sofia Khan is Not Obliged. She has worked as an editor at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, and she lives in London, England.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Sofia and her friends and family?

A: Sofia was always going to be a character who subverted expectations. Every cliché you can think of in literature to do with Muslim women was going to be challenged by her.

As a hijabi Londoner myself, I used Sofia as a vehicle to express many of my own ideas and beliefs. It felt like a very natural and organic progression. Her family and friends were all going to play a huge part in Sofia’s life to show the nuanced lives of Muslims and how we are not a homogenous group.

Q: Many reviews of the book compare it to Bridget Jones. What do you think of that comparison?

A: I’m very happy with it. The idea was conceived as a Muslim Bridget Jones and so it’s not a surprise. I think it’s a great compliment, while acknowledging that it is also a unique take on BJ.

Q: In an interview with the New Statesman, you said, "Part of the fun of writing the book was just that it was telling people about a very normal Muslim existence..." What has been the response to the book and what do you see as its impact, particularly given the current political climate?

A: The response has been, by-and-large, wonderful. What’s been great is that I get messages from Muslims and non-Muslims alike, saying not only that they love Sofia and the book, but how relatable it is.

I think this is important – that non-Muslims are able to read it and identify with aspects of Sofia’s character. It highlights something we often forget when watching the news: no matter our differences, we have our humanity in common. That and a pretty ridiculous sense of humour.

I hope that the book’s readership continues to expand because I believe diversity in literature increases understanding and can help to promote tolerance and understanding. Rather a lot to ask from a book, but that’s why the reading experience is so wonderful.  

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes as you went along?

A: It changed every 50 pages! Although of the three love interests I always knew which one she’d end up with.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m now working on the sequel: The Other Half of Happiness. I think there’s plenty to be said about what happens after the so-called happily ever after…

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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