Anyone who associates the words “literary festival” with “white, middle-class pseuds” would have had that myth dispelled by this hugely entertaining talk with Ayisha Malik, a young Muslim who joked her way through the story of how she wrote the “Muslim Bridget Jones”.
And that phrase isn’t the same white, middle-class pseuds pigeon-holing Malik’s work, but exactly the goal she set herself for her first novel, Sofia Khan Is Not Obliged. After quitting her job at a publishing house because she couldn’t work on other people’s books and write for herself at the same time, she landed a two-book deal for the diaries of her heroine Sofia which she cheerfully admits she nicked from Helen Fielding. Now here’s the second, The Other Half Of Happiness.
I love hearing writers talk about how they write, and Malik was engaging forthright, such as describing how becoming a full-time writer meant she could spend the day in her pyjamas. Malik was amusingly self-deprecating – introducing a reading with the words, “don’t fall asleep” – and it’s humour that her discussion with Gwyn Garfield-Bennett kept coming back to as the technique she used to combat stereotyping and prejudice.
It’s a tricky balance for publishers, who are trying to promote diversity and publish more BAME authors, but without labelling individuals. Malik cites how a lot of Muslim women’s literature has been (understandably) concerned with oppression, but she modestly doesn’t see herself at the vanguard of a new generation of writers bringing the genre into the mainstream. Positive discrimination – discuss.
Hang on. Here I am applauding Malik (and probably myself) for promoting a society tolerant of religious differences, when two nights before I was applauding Richard Dawkins for calling all religion out as bunk. So is it possible to be both tolerant and intolerant of the same thing at the same time? Seems so. We want to have a multi-cultural society by welcoming other religions, even though their religion is as meaningless as our religion. Sometimes being a white middle-class pseud is really confusing.