Ayisha Malik

Where did the inspiration for Sofia Khan is Not Obliged come from?

It was a combination of the absurdity of the Muslim dating scene, my love of Bridget Jones and the fact that there aren’t enough Muslim heroines in literature. The dating book thread actually came from an old colleague at work, and the editorial team were keen for me to write something similar. I didn’t quite get into it though and felt it worked better by incorporating it into a piece of fiction.

Sofia Khan is young, single and working in publishing. Is this book semi-autobiographical?

I wouldn’t say autobiographical. There are elements that of course sprung from my own dating experiences, but this is very much a work of fiction.

Who would you snog, marry, avoid? Conall, Naim and Imran HITW?

Marry Conall – of course – maybe snog Naim. Although, come to think about it, probably snog Imran and avoid Naim. He’s no good, really.

Who made the link to ‘Bridget Jones’ – you or the marketing department?

That was me.

Tell us more about the writing process? Where did you find the time/ space to write and how long did it take?

I work part time as managing editor at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy and so that gave me the time to write. It took me, on and off, a few years. I tend to take long breaks between writing. I get distracted very easily so I try to lock myself away for solid blocks of time to really get the words down on paper.

So you work in publishing as an editor. Was it difficult to keep your inner critic in check during the creative process?

I didn’t think about editing as I wrote. I’ve done that before and it kills the writing momentum so my aim was to get a first draft down and then think about the editing. I’m also lucky because I work with people who will brainstorm with me and plot out ideas, as well as read my work and offer constructive feedback. I like to keep the editorial part of me and writing part of me as separate as possible but the former undoubtedly creeps in.

How did you go about finding a publisher and securing a publishing contract?

I submitted to a few agents and the wonderful Nelle Andrew at PFD read the first 100pp and said she wanted to represent the book. From then on it was her editorial input and hard work that secured me a two-book deal.

Without giving anything away, did you always know Sofia’s fate before you started writing?

No, I didn’t. It became clear who she’d end up with once I’d introduced three different love interests though. The plot changed a fair bit after the first hundred pages.

There’s lots been said and written about diversity in publishing this year – what’s your take on things??

I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this time in publishing where people – writers, publishers, booksellers – are making more of a concerted effort to bring diversity to the industry. It feels all the more important, as a Muslim woman, that minorities are given a platform to write their own narrative. Britain is home to us all and if we are truly a part of the fabric of this society then this should be reflected in the literature, specifically the popular literature, that is available. I know that for me, writing as someone from an ethnic minority and getting published feels like saying, ‘I am here and I am not going anywhere.’

What are your writing goals for 2016?

Finish the Sofia Khan sequel and have a break. For a while. And then it’s time for a non-Sofia book three, I think.

Read our review of Sofia Khan is Not Obliged.

Ayisha Malik is a British Muslim, lifelong Londoner, and lover of books. She read English Literature at Kingston University and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing (though told most of her family it was an MA in English Literature – Creative Writing is not a subject, after all.) She has spent various spells teaching, photocopying, volunteering and being a publicist. Now, when she isn’t searching for a jar of Nutella in her cupboards, she divides her time between writing, being an editor, and studying.