For our September book, Ayesha At Last, Book Box Love Club members sent in your own questions for the author, Uzma Jalaluddin. Please enjoy her responses (including some great book recommendations) below. Warning: spoilers if you haven't yet finished Ayesha At Last!
When did you know you wanted to become an author?
My interest in writing comes from a deep love of reading. I was a voracious reader as a child and still am today. I read across genres – mystery, fantasy, non-fiction, romance, historical – as long as the story catches my interest, I’m invested. I worked on my own writing voice in tandem with my reading. As a child I would write short stories and poems, and for years I wrote in a diary. Becoming an author was always a secret dream, and for a long time, it was one I never thought I would achieve. I’m happy that my years of secret scribbling have paid off!
Did you have a favourite character? Did you draw on people you know in life for your characters?
I love all my characters in different ways, but I have a special fondness for the character of Khalid. People like Khalid simply don’t exist in literature, not as real nuanced people, the sorts of Muslim men I grew up around. So when he showed up in my imagination nearly eight years ago dressed in his long white robe, kufi skull cap and beard, so sombre yet looking for love, I knew I had to tell his story.
Why did Khalid feel it necessary to cut his beard and wear plain clothes? Did he feel the need to blend in? Did he feel like he was losing an important part of himself?
I’m a fan of the romantic comedy genre, and love when writers shake things up. There is one trope in the rom-com that shows up again and again – the make-over scene. This is when the young female protagonist removes her glasses, puts on make-up, gets her hair done, and causes universal jaw dropping. I thought it would be fun to invert this trope. I also wanted to give Khalid the opportunity to ‘play dress-up’ by wearing something different. He starts off the novel dressing like a stereotype, someone perhaps who readers find puzzling. By the end of the novel I wanted to show Khalid, and readers along for the ride, how intrinsic his clothing is to his identity, but that his faith is also dynamic enough to withstand changes in dress; it can be ‘edited’ (as Amir put it) yet still remain a central part of who he is. Plus, I wanted to give Ayesha the opportunity to see him in a sexy suit. She quite enjoyed the sight!
Is there any chance you will be writing a sequel?
I purposely left some story lines open when I wrote the novel, because I like to think of my characters continuing with the next chapter of their lives long after the final page of Ayesha At Last. As for a sequel, there are certainly enough story threads to keep me puzzling. I have no firm plans yet, but I do wonder what happens to Zareena, or how Farzana will try to foil Khalid and Ayesha’s relationship.
We know all great writers are readers. Do you have favourite Canadian authors?
Favourite author questions are so hard to answer. I love to read, so it’s more what I am reading at the moment. I am a huge fan of my friend and talented writer S.K. Ali’s debut novel Saints and Misfits. Ausma Zehanat Khan writes a fabulous mystery series featuring a Canadian detective, Esa Khattak. Her latest is A Deadly Divide and it is fantastic. I enjoy the dry wit of Thomas King, and the poetic longing in Esi Edugyan’s work. Linwood Barclay always keeps me guessing with his tales of suspense. I grew up reading L.M Montgomery, and I was so happy to discover Donald Jack’s satirical novels in university. There are plenty more Canadian authors I admire, but then we would be here all day!
Why do you think reading and storytelling is so special?
For me, reading has always been a pleasurable way to visit and learn about different lives and perspectives. The books I read make life seem full of possibility and adventure. Reading and listening to stories has also made me a more empathetic and compassionate person, a gift that has helped me live a better life.