From working in criminal law to writing a light-hearted book for pre-teens, Melati Lum shares her inspiration behind her first book Ayesha Dean- The Istanbul Intrigue. I’m already looking forward to the sequel!
1. Tell us a bit about yourself …
I was born and raised in Adelaide, Australia, from migrant parents who came over to study, but ended up staying. Both of my parents are originally from Malaysia, but my mum is Malay and my dad is Chinese. My dad reverted to Islam while he was in university.
I’ve spent most of my adult life having something to do with the law, in particular criminal law. I’ve worked as a trial lawyer for the prosecution of serious or major crimes in my state, and previously had the opportunity to work in the prosecution of war crimes at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
I’ve loved reading since I was a child, and have wanted to write a book for a very long time. Finally about a year ago, I resolved that I just had to start…
2. What inspired you to start writing The Istanbul Intrigue?
When my son was in the later years of primary school, I remember having a particular wish that I would love to be able to find some books for him to read that could reflect his experience as a Muslim growing up in Australia. It was the same wish that I had as a child, wanting to read a book where the main character was not necessarily fair-skinned and fair-haired. So while I wasn’t quite quick enough to catch the current reading age of my son, I thought I’d really like to write a children’s book that Muslim children growing up in the west could relate to and enjoy.
3. I once toyed with the idea of writing a book, I think I wrote about 2 paragraphs, and never went back to it again…How did you motivate yourself to continue writing and to actually complete the book?
I’ve also written a number of ‘two paragraph books’!! The fantastic ideas never quite made it past one page… For Ayesha Dean’s story, I was at a point in my life where I had spent years working quite intensely on difficult criminal law cases with not much time to focus on other interests. Writing is something that I’ve always wanted to do, but never really made time for. So I just started with the intention of actually finishing it this time. Once I started, I really enjoyed it. It’s like that feeling you get when you’re reading a book that you enjoy, and you really get inside the characters’ heads. I wanted to know what would happen to the characters, and what would happen next… I also enjoyed having that creative outlet to balance out the bad stuff I dealt with in my day job.
4. What advice would you give to budding writers, or anyone who has ever thought of writing a book?
Since I’m relatively new to writing, I’m still in the stage where I’m taking advice from others. However, I can say that if you want to write, just start. Write everything down even if you think that it’s rubbish, you can always go back and change it later…
5. Have there been any intimidating/therapeutic aspects about putting pen to paper? What were they?
I think it’s always intimidating putting something that you’ve produced out there for people to comment on! But I think the therapeutic aspect probably outweighs the other. For me, finally being able to finish writing a story that was longer than two paragraphs was a goal fulfilled… and nourishing creativity (when I get around to it) is something that I personally feel has a positive impact on my soul.
6. What overall message do you hope to convey with your book, and what impact do hope your book will have?
Muslim children particularly in western countries face many challenges just being Muslim in today’s world. Depending on how you look at it, there appears to be incompatibility between being a practicing Muslim and popular culture, or just appearing ‘normal’ to the majority of people in a western context. More often than not, whenever a child reads about Muslims in the media, some negative connotation is involved. This can have the effect of creating feelings of marginalisation and a sense of being almost insignificant in society.
Ayesha Dean- The Istanbul Intrigue is a light hearted romp with a teenage Muslim heroine that I hope children can be proud of and relate to. I hope that having more Muslim protagonists in children’s literature who are confident, comfortable and happy living and sharing their lives with non-Muslims, will contribute towards shaping a healthy sense of identity in young Muslims. I also think in general that if non-Muslim children can read more about Muslim heroes and heroines, the potential for empathy and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims can be increased for future generations. Obviously this won’t be achieved with one book, I’m a fangirl of some fantastic Muslim authors out there. But I hope Ayesha Dean’s story can contribute to the overall message.
7. What book do you most often give as a gift to others, why?
I rarely give the same book more than once because reading is such a personal experience, I find that everyone seems to have different tastes. However an author/poet/sufi who makes a trusty ‘go-to’ gift is anything by Jalaluddin Rumi. He never fails to amaze and melt the heart…
You can help bring this fantastic book to the world by supporting Melati’s LaunchGood campaign!
Ayesha Dean- The Istanbul Intrigue is due to be released on 10 April 2016 and will be available to order as an EBook or Paperback from www.amazon.com and other outlets online.
The original version of this article was first published on Creative Ummah.