What a night! I spent the last few hours in the company of some of the richest, diverse and talented writers. The first thing that struck me, I was listed for a VIP table. I don’t know if it was a mistake but I wasn’t about to complain. I guess wearing a sparkly gown, headscarf and matching handbag and not forgetting my gorgeous silver heels, I did fit into the evening nicely! Everyone kept asking me what award I was up for? I was a little tempted to make something up but the sheer thought of being caught out stopped me.
After all, I was given the best seats in the house. I had to be on my best behaviour because my kids were watching! The night began with powerful poetry from Dreadlock-Alien, electrifying performance from Warsan Shire and hypnotic rhymes from Amir Sulaiman. I have to confess Warsan Shire haunted me all evening. She is a talent to watch out for! Not just a Somali poet, but a writer, freelance journalist and spoken word artist. She won the title of International Slam Champion 2007.
The Rt Hon Stephen Timms – a pleasant man with a positive message. He spoke of Muslim writers and his hope that they are seen as talented artists and not just members of the Islamic faith. Another one of my favourite speakers of the night was Sadiq Khan, Minister for Communities. He talked about his involvement in projects to help ethnic minorities integrate in Britain. It wasn’t all serious speeches; there was entertainment from the likes of Aa’shiq Al Rasul, Khayaal Theatre group and the Flutebox by Nathan Lee. If that wasn’t enough to lighten the mood, there was the like of James Caan from Dragon’s Den to drool over. Finally, the judges from the very best of British publishing: Penguin, Bloomsbury, Canongate were present to give out awards to the winners.
Presenters Shelina Zahra Janmohamed and Hasan Mahamdallie were fabulous in keeping the audience entertained. But personally I felt let down by the actual awards presentation. Once the winners were announced and given their awards, they were quickly whisked off stage. I was told there wasn’t enough time to hear their winning pieces. The MWA were on a tight schedule. Cameras rolled and lights flashed blinding any who were caught looking. It was a live televised event to many countries around the world.
Afterwards, I was lucky to be able to speak to some of the winners. Hanzla Arif Macdonald, winner of the short story competition and poetry competition for the 14-16 age groups was excited to attend the awards with his parents and younger brother. To my surprise, he had won an award at last year’s MWA. As one judge put it “he will come to be a name to remember.” Other humble winners were Shameam Akhtar for her unpublished poetry and Reba Khatun for unpublished –children’s story. Both ladies appeared a little shy to talk about their success, but very glad to have submitted an entry. I guess it goes to show if you don’t write you won’t ever know. If you have a passion to write then let yourself be heard. You never know where it may lead.
Rukhsana Bhatti is a writer and mother of three. She is currently rewriting her children’s fantasy novel which was given brilliant reviews when it was pitched to EMI Media at DMU this year. She blogs at http://rukhsanab.blogspot.com/