Zahid Hussain on The Curry Mile

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The Curry Mile is a warm novel which follows the story of daddy’s girl, Sorayah Butt. When her dream life in London ends in heartache she returns home to Manchester. When the family business threatens to belly up without her intervention, Sorayah is forced into a dilemma: should she rescue the business or should she leave her dad to face the consequences? A deftly written novel that depicts the experiences of migrant communities living in the UK today. 

When you were writing The Curry Mile, did you have a reader in mind?

I didn’t write The Curry Mile with a reader in mind. I wrote it for myself and for everyone. I wanted to write a book that would have wide appeal, that would resonate and ring true. I don’t know if other writers have a particular reader in mind. I would guess that most writers principally write for themselves, which is probably a practical necessity as writing is a lonely business.

I didn’t want to write a book that would just be for Asians, nor did I want to do what is normally the case that books written by Asian pander to a white audience. There were lots of challenges that I faced in crossing that divide or eradicating it and it revolved around the use of language. I wanted to fuse Urdu/Punjabi and English. Ultimately, I had to make some compromises. The final decision to remove the Glossary was not mine, but the publishers as they felt the context would make the meaning of the Urdu/Punjabi words self-evident.

The novel is centred around Asian families and their restaurant businesses – did you draw on real life experiences here?

I do have family in the trade, but I have never worked in a restaurant. One of my cousins provided me with the insight into the culinary side of things. That said, I do have experience of a trade: my family was in the ice-cream trade. The icy business, if I can call it that, is a pretty heated place and I could a lot of stories about that, some that would really surprise you. So perhaps in some way, I did draw from direct experiences too.

There is a real sense of British Asian culture and what its like to grow up in Britain – did you hope that would inspire people to read your novel?

I tried to craft a novel with universal appeal and with a universal theme: the struggle between young and old, men and women, the status quo and tradition, father and daughter. I think that the book does portray what it means to be Asian and grow up in Britain. I think the mixture of the universal with an insight into what makes a modern Asian brings something quite special to the fore. I haven’t felt that a lot of the literature out there has done that, but we do have a new wave of indigenous Asian writers coming through and I am being to feel that we are finally beginning to hear the real stories…and I find that more and more people are interested in hearing the stories.

There are many cultural sensitivies which are dealt with in the core of the novel, were you careful not to cause offence to the communities you were discussing in the story?

Some people, although a small number, have been offended by the novel. The majority of people that I have spoken to have found the book very enjoyable and accurate. And readable.
The small majority that have criticised the book have done so on the basis that the issues raised by the book shouldn’t be aired in public. Also, they think that some of the characters behave in an immoral way. As a writer, my job is not to judge the characters, that is for the reader. They have to draw their own conclusions. I think that book isn’t offensive and what it actually does is highlight key issues and ultimately it is a moral book without explaining the novel’s plot. When I have discussed the book with those individuals and explained certain things they often change their minds. It seems that many people have pre-conceived notions and many who criticise haven’t actually read the book.
 

How long did it take to write The Curry Mile, and how did you get through that period?

It took about five years. That said, I did four very different drafts in that time and they were all markedly different. I got through that period, by simply carrying on with my full-time job – I only write in my spare time. One day, I would like to write full-time and then, hopefully, it won’t take as long!
 

What advice would you give to wannabe authors?

Getting published is a key worry for writers. I would say focus on writing a good book first and worry about the marketing of it to agents when it’s ready.

Zahid’s top ten tips to become a published author:

1) Read, read, read
2) Find critical readers who will read your work and advise you objectively. Family and close friends are rarely the right people
3) Be honest with yourself
4) Don’t give up – event the best have been turned away
5) Read what you write aloud. It’s amazing what your ear can pick up that the eye can’t.
6) When writing the first draft, just zip through it, get it out, don’t look back, don’t analyse, just write – most writing is not writing, it’s editing.
7) Identify what makes it easy for you to write: music, chocolate, a walk in the park…
8 ) Identify what makes it hard for you to write: rainy weather, noisy people, traffic…
9) Avoid what takes you away from writing and focus on what inspires you to write
10) Surround yourself with positive people and of course, write, write, write!

Zahid Hussain was born and raised in Lancashire. He is a business and management specialist and speaks six languages. He currently works as a social entrepreneur in Manchester. The Curry Mile is his first novel. To find out more visit his website at http://www.zahidhussain.co.uk