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