Posts Tagged ‘muslim boys book’

Living Islam, Danyal, and The Victory Girls

Assalamu alaikum.

Yesterday found me in a tent, in a field, in Lincolnshire (an English county I’d never visited before) as Day Two of the famous Living Islam event got into full swing. I had agreed, with Kube, to run a couple of writing workshops for Muslim Scouts, and had devoted many spare moments over the last couple of months to generating ideas for activities that would (hopefully) not resemble some sort of punishing Summer School!

Living Islam, in Lincolnshire


Anyway, that these young writers came up with such impressive results had far more to do with their enthusiasm and creativity than the somewhat experimental format of my workshop! Please read on and enjoy Eesaa’s composition below.

By way of context: I worked with one group of girls and one group of boys, all aged 10-12. They had to write, in instalments, the next part of The Victory Boys to follow a section I had read. To complicate matters, and to tap their imaginations, the children had to

(1) write in new characters (Danyal for the boys, and a whole team of Victory Girls: Isha, Saara, Yasmin and Aishah – selected by the tried-and-trusted Cinderella “Whose Shoe?” method!);

(2) add mystery objects from randomly chosen boxes (ranging from a banana skin to a plaster (that’s a Band-Aid, y’all!) to a mobile phone); and

(3) take blindfold shots at a goalnet.

(4) Finally, they were also asked to include some of the agreed descriptions and traits of these new characters in their writing!

The most impressive pieces of written work were rewarded with free personalised copies of the book – many thanks to Kube Publishing for providing these! Here is one of the winners:

As Mr Bateman walked off, Saleem thought, “Hmm, a speedy substitute…”. He looked over at Danyal sitting on the bench in his shorts and scratching his short, black hair. As Saleem walked over to him Danyal looked up.

“Yes, Coach Saleem!” As soon as the words came out of his mouth Ibrahim, on the pitch, was fouled and his knee started bleeding. Limping off the pitch Ibrahim put a plaster on his knee.

“Danyal, you’re on!” said Coach Saleem. Danyal jogged on and got into the striker position with just 5 minutes left. News came through on mobiles that the leading team had won their game so Shabab Al-Nasr had to win.

Back on the pitch a superb through ball by Junayd had released Danyal who raced clear and… slipped over a banana skin! It had been thrown by one of Rovers’ defenders. The ref blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. PENALTY! With 1 minute left Shabab Al-Nasr had won a penalty!

Danyal stepped up nerveless, even though the pressure was immense. As Danyal ran up the keeper waved his gloves distractingly. The ball hit the crossbar… then post… and went in!! The final whistle blew and Shabab Al-Nasr celebrated. They had won!

by Eesaa

The Greatest Story Never Told?

Assalamu alaikum.

My Year 9 English teacher was a man named David James. (That was the year they started calling Year 9 Year 9, incidentally. I’d been in Year 2 only months earlier.) I was inclined to like him because he had the same name as a young, upcoming goalkeeper at Watford, who’d been touted for big things.

Anyway, like any good goalkeeper (just ask Peter Schmeichel), David-James-the-English-teacher didn’t mince his words. He seemed rather fond of literature (fortunate, that); coaxed his inaugural Year 9 students into the inaugural Year 9 play (‘The Machine Gunners‘ by Robert Westall); and declared that everybody had at least one novel in them.

Of course, he was referring to ones life story.

Well, the phrase “You haven’t lived!” is perhaps better used on a thirteen-year-old than on most, and sure enough my novel (we were all forced to write one) was accordingly lifeless. Not that I based it on my own life – I seem to recall it was some sort of man-on-the-run story, though I have no memory of where he was running to or what he was running from. And no, Sigmund, none of this is allegorical!

I suspect Mr James was not licking his lips at the prospect of having to read sixty-odd books that all began with the formula, “I was born in [——-] on the [–]th of [——-] 197[-]…” but was hoping rather to see some application of his students’ own experiences in their creative writing. In my case, he would have deduced that nothing particularly interesting had ever happened to me (and he would have been largely correct!)

But let’s assume for a moment that JK Rowling has never disarmed a wizard by shouting “EXPELLIARMUS!” at the top of her voice, and that Jules Verne might not have made it to the centre of the earth before writing his novel. In that case, it must be possible to write about things that fall within the realm of possibility (however improbable) but are quite outside of ones own experience.

In my case, these days at least, whenever I try to think of something beyond “unlikely”, my imagination begins to play lift music and the elevator itself grinds to a halt. I prefer the workmanlike route (the staircase, if you will). It’s extremely familiar and even if I do have to stop for a breath here and there, I’m not likely to get stuck for long. I sometimes toy with the idea of going for something more extravagant, but I’m too much of a simpleton-surrounded-by-modernity to get away with it. Anything I wrote wouldn’t even survive a quick pass round my far more scientifically advanced family (heck, I’m the only one of three brothers-in-law without one of them eye-phone thingies).

So, for me it’s all about characters (see my ‘Mr Bateman’ article if you need convincing): how they behave, the lessons they learn and teach one another, and, more ambitiously, what they try to teach the reader.

Imam Munieb is a case in point. As a good friend commented in a recent email to me,

I really like the character of the Imam Munieb, I wish we had more Imams like him, unfortunately I cannot think of even one Imam that comes close to Imam Munieb’s personality. Maybe our community need more Imam Muniebs.

Anyone reading the first few chapters of the book, however, might well consider this an absurd opinion. The Imam Munieb who we meet at the beginning of the book is far, far removed from the Imam Munieb to whom we wave goodbye at the conclusion. So what is so likeable about his character?

Imam Munieb in mid-positive-influence of Saleem

Well – and for the umpteenth time I apologise for not giving much away here! – for me, it’s because Imam Munieb is willing to undergo a change. He puts his trust in God and is prepared to follow wherever this road takes him. He even seems prepared to risk an element of criticism and ridicule for his actions.

Is this a message for the reader? Yes. But authors read their own books too!

In truth, all the good you find in Imam Munieb’s character is nothing less than a rallying call to myself and anyone who might read the book. It is not autobiographical in the way I might have understood David-James-the-English-teacher to mean back in Year 9 (i.e. me with a different name) but the hunches, feelings and aspirations of the Imam are well grounded in my experience (the difference being that, for the Imam, the limit is my imagination; for me, the limit is my action!)

I have no doubt this is a great deal closer to what Mr James would have liked us to make of our life stories all of those twenty years ago; make it a riveting read, and all the better if you can foster some reflection and purpose at the same time.

So, what of David James’ own life? Well, from the clues I have been able to gather, he made a very successful journey into storytelling (I found some particularly gushing reviews on the Internet) so he must certainly be a master of pulling together his own (and other people’s) experiences to wow an audience.

As for the David James who appears to have had less of an influence on my life: well, he got a transfer to Liverpool FC at the end of Year 9, shortly after the performance of that inaugural play I mentioned. Oh, and he went on to play for England a few (fifty-three) times too.  More importantly, he’s something of a writer himself!

Dinnerdinnerdinnerdinnerdinnerdinnerdinner (Mister) BATEMAN!

Assalamu alaikum.

Q. What is The Victory Boys about?

A. Simple, really: Islam and football. Right?

On the face of it, yes. They’d be the two main categories I’d go with (as is probably clear from the tags I’ve been using!) Indeed, after I had told a (grown-up) friend of mine that I had written the book, and he’d read the preview at Kube, he wrote in a message,
I have already placed an order for it. The book seems to have all the stuff I like, Islam and Football.
(Me too!)

But I hope that the reader will find there is quite a bit more packed into the pages, and I’ve tried to be quite subtle with a lot of the points I wanted to make. After all, if a book becomes too overtly preachy, it risks becoming something of a drag, and may neither reach nor strike a chord with its intended audience.

So, if you need subtlety… who ya gonna call?

Well… not the Ghostbusters; mosque neighbour and superhero of sociability Mr Bateman!

Mr Bateman (surname borrowed from someone I worked with in a department store during university holidays) simply needed to exist for a variety of reasons, even though one may rightly presume that he is neither Muslim, nor a member of the Victory Boys’ football team. By design, he serves a number of functions in the book which I should not like to have made more explicit by other means.

(1) Intercultural/religious ‘mover and shaker’
Mr Bateman is not a Muslim, yet the scenes in which he appears (talking to the Imam, supporting the team, attending an event at the mosque) clearly depict him as an interactive, open-minded and well-liked member of the community. He appears to be quite without prejudice. This would be of little benefit to anyone if his actions were not reciprocated; thus his friendship with Imam Munieb highlights the importance of Muslims having an involvement in their local community regardless of religion, culture, etc.

(2) Positive outlook
It is clear that Mr Bateman thinks the best of people. In his first appearance, one might expect him to chastise the boys (read the book to find out why!) – instead, we find him talking in a most supportive, empathetic and forward-looking manner. Later, it is Mr Bateman who offers an inspiring cameo contribution to a critical team talk. His words also offer an emphatic endorsement of ‘black sheep’ Saleem at a time when it would undoubtedly be difficult for (certain) others to see the good in him.

(3) A little bit outspoken…
Whilst incredibly personable, Mr Bateman is not afraid to voice his opinions. Look out for a short-but-spirited analysis of the state of education, in sharp contrast to Imam Munieb’s views on this topic! Does it matter what either man thinks, in terms of the story? Not really. But this simple scene allows us to witness two people with opposing viewpoints, retaining respect for one another and not transforming a conversation about a topic into something heated and personal.

(4) (Not) the ‘straight’ man
Comedy double acts often feature a ‘straight’ man: someone who is not meant to be funny (but often is, intentionally or otherwise). I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that Imam Munieb and Mr Bateman would be likely (or willing) to appear at your local comedy club any time soon, but certainly I like to think they complement each other well in terms of humour. As you might guess, Imam Munieb is the ‘straighter’ of the two, i.e. the one less likely to realise when others – or himself! – are being funny (at least to the English sense of humour). Mr Bateman has a droll and jovial way about him and, whilst he doesn’t say anything side-splittingly hilarious in the book,  one senses a sharpness to his observations.

At least two of these objectives were in my mind before I wrote a single word of the book, so… could I have achieved any of them without Mr Bateman? Possibly, but looking back, I’m very glad he came along. Every community should have at least one Mr Bateman (and ideally many more!)

Funnily enough, the friend who sent me that message has a lot in common with Mr Bateman, especially in terms of his positivity and warmth with others (Masha Allah).

Hopefully, one might become aware of other characters carrying important messages throughout the story. By normalising positive behaviour across the book’s characters, but without seeming trite, I hope Mr Bateman & co. can have a subtle but worthwhile effect on readers… of any age!

“Getting it right”; or: “One man’s fine-tuning is another man’s nit-picking”?

(This post continues At the negotiating table)

Assalamu alaikum.

When we left the publishing process at the end of the previous post, it was June 2010 and – to my mind – the script was finally ready to become a book. Presumably it would just take a few weeks to get some pictures drawn, and maybe a month to have a few million copies (!) printed?

Er…no.

In fact, the first task to arise after this point was to come up with fourteen chapter titles. This was a simple enough process: I suggested some, the editor approved or improved them, and we settled on these titles. And then…

…then…

…exactly why did it take twelve more months for The Victory Boys to be released?

Well, first of all, as I subsequently had it explained to me, the publishing world does not move quickly. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially if one is not aware of the reasons why there should be any delays. In my situation, there was an added complication: the editor with whom I had been working, quite reasonably took up employment elsewhere, meaning that the publishers needed to recruit a new editor. Enter Brother Yosef, who contacted me in January 2011 with great enthusiasm regarding my manuscript.

I had already learned a lot about myself (and the limits of my patience, astaghfirullah) during the preceding months, but now that I had been paired up with a new editor, I saw no reason to endure any further delays. I remember insisting to poor Yosef over the phone, “It’s ready as it is; I don’t want any more changes… it’s just waiting to be printed…”

Quite understandably, coming from a position that I could not fully appreciate at the time, Yosef must have seen things slightly differently. You will often hear the effective football manager/team coach being praised for his “man-management” skills – usually demonstrable when the team’s  (hitherto) off-field hellraiser suddenly takes to turning in match-winning performances – and I think this bodes well for Yosef should he ever fancy himself as the new Saleem (you’ll have to read the book to get that reference!)

Check out the professional (and soothing) tact and diplomacy in this email:


As I have already alluded to elsewhere, Yosef’s input in fine-tuning the text (and pulling out some blatant errors that I had not spotted) was invaluable. In a few instalments we tinkered with the text, sent it back and forth to each other, and eventually arrived somewhere we were both satisfied. This was not always without an element of compromise and reasoned explanation, as can be seen in this excerpt of the edited work-in-progress (click to enlarge):

Yosef and I discuss a point using the MS Word 'comment' function

At the same time, work had begun on commissioning some pictures for the book (Eman Salem the selected illustrator). You might recognise this early sketch of Hasan (those who like to play ‘Spot the Difference’ are free to point out how this picture evolved by the time the typeset version of the book was complete!)

Ultimately, and after an out-of-house designer had been recruited to produce the (very striking!) front cover, the book was finally ready to become a reality. As Yosef put it, in his email of 21st April…

Alhamdulillah!

(Not to be continued this time… but comments very welcome!)

At the negotiating table

(This post continues In pursuit of a publisher…)

Assalamu alaikum.

In the preceding post of this series, I alluded to some negotiation regarding the book’s content. In this instalment I shall go into some detail regarding the general dialogue shared between myself and the publisher.

One of the weaknesses of my manuscript – bearing in mind its purported target audience – was that quite often the frustrated reformer/sociologist in me leaked out through the character of Imam Munieb. Thus, scenes of youthful exuberance from the boys would sit alongside reflective outpourings the like (but not the quality) of which might be found in Atif Imtiaz’s ‘Wandering Lonely In A Crowd‘ which reduced the poor beleaguered Imam to a vehicle for those thoughts. This was all too apparent to the outgoing editor and her panel of reviewers. Not surprisingly, this was one of the first features to be lost from the script, and with my full blessing!

The Imam: one-time carrier of his author's baggage

There were also some minor issues regarding the Imam’s speech, which was an interesting topic in itself. For one thing, notwithstanding the genuine uniqueness of Imam Munieb (at least in my experience), some of his characteristics, including his speech, were based heavily on brothers known to me (not imams, I hasten to add!) It was probably due to the fact that these personality traits were not based solely on any one person that I inadvertently allowed his speech quality to fluctuate. One finds that even after the imam’s verbal makeover, he is a genuinely articulate speaker in his second language, but that his word choices and/or grammatical structures are occasionally limited. Furthermore, the Imam (prior to editing) had a greater propensity for slang than the, er, ‘reformed‘ Imam.

The main aspect upon which I dug in my heels related to the book’s ‘prodigal son’. I will not elaborate too much on this because it is central to the plot, but I shall outline at least the nature of the suggestion and my (polite) objection to it. It was simply this: that one of the characters undergoes a (positive) transformation – he is by no means the only character about whom this could be said, but his development is particularly poignant because it describes a movement towards his Lord. It was suggested that this character should publicly reflect upon his transformation so as to put the reader in no doubt as to its significance. However, I felt that understatement was the appropriate pitch to aim for, and that the character’s development – whilst overwhelmingly positive – was more promising than complete. I also felt that the engaged reader would be up to the challenge of inferring my characters’ states; I have read a great many books that virtually instruct the reader about characters and situations, and leave nothing to be surmised.

Without giving too much away, there was also an issue of family dynamics, and I felt that the proposed (somewhat) fairytale ending was not in keeping with the family I had described in the book. Sometimes we take baby steps though we know running to be superior; nonetheless, for one reason or another, we do the former.

I was extremely pleased that the editor, Sister Fatima – who is vastly more experienced than I in this field – was open to my arguments and indeed agreed with my reasoning on these points. So, after a tidy-up here, a rewrite there, the momentum was building. I’d even signed a book contract by June (2010), so surely the book would be out any moment… wouldn’t it?

(To be continued…) (once again!)

 

The real Imam Munieb… er, sort of.

 

In pursuit of a publisher…

(This post continues Victory-Boy Meets World…)

I cannot claim at the outset that I hoped or expected to get The Victory Boys published. I’d always felt that I had a chance of having something published one day if it was a good idea and if I had long enough to do justice to it. My recollection is that I didn’t begin the book with the notion that it might be published; I was just trying to say something, maybe even get it off my chest. I know quite a few people who say that the best way of venting their spleen is to write it all down. I totally empathise with that sentiment, but it didn’t do me a lot of good at school, so I try to be very careful what I write these days!

Anyway, after three chapters or so, the idea suggested itself that I was on to a good thing. By the end of it, I was confident that I’d written something worth reading and, heck, if no-one wanted to publish it, I’d jolly well publish it myself! As it was, and particularly because my manuscript was, by design, a Muslim football book, I sent off two chapters to a couple of Islamic publishers (as per the submission instructions on their websites), and busied myself with other matters whilst waiting for a response.

Out of courtesy to the first of the publishers to reply, I will not name them here. It is enough to say that they wrote me a very encouraging reply which ultimately boiled down to “Loved the script; sorry, don’t do fiction.” Oh well.

A few days later, I heard from Kube. The (then) editor, Sister Fatima – an established author herself – was also full of enthusiasm and asked me how much of the book I had written, and if she could see more. I was delighted to pass the whole thing to her, and soon after she told me that she would be referring it to a panel, who would give their collective verdict on whether the book should be published, and what (if any) changes might be required. This process was estimated to take roughly five weeks.

Sure enough, about five weeks later, I found an email from Sr. Fatima waiting in my inbox. Having felt my heart beat just a little faster as time had drawn inexorably toward this response, and knowing very well that – in terms of a verdict – this was probably it, at this point I gave a model demonstration of ‘skim’ reading, finding what I wanted to know in approximately one-zillionth of a second and disregarding all of the finer details!

The beginning of sister Fatima's email

As one may infer from the last part of this excerpt, there were some changes to be made before the book could be published, although this also opened up a period of negotiation and compromise regarding some of these stipulations and suggestions. More on that in the next instalment!

(To be continued…) (again!)

Victory-boy meets world!

Assalamu alaikum everyone.

Fourteen months (or so) after I wrote the manuscript, the postie has delivered it back to me in book form!

The book, in hand

I thought this might be an appropriate time to outline, in part, the story of the story, if you follow me.

I’d toyed with a few ideas for a manuscript for a while, and even begun writing a couple of things, only to abort the mission in both cases. The main reason for this was that my opportunities to write were more snatches of time than sustained periods of quiet contemplation about the storyline; what would be required to get from A to B; the nature of the characters, and so on.

When the chance to write is limited to half an hour here or an hour there, and especially if these windows of opportunity are opened sporadically and do not occur soon after one another, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain any momentum or to feel like you really know your characters or your direction at all. I was constantly haunted by the inevitability of having left something glaringly incongruous somewhere in the script; quite apparent to every reader but invisible to the beleaguered writer.

So it was that, in the Easter (school) holiday last year, I went to sleep with an idea in my head and woke up in the morning still feeling good about it. I didn’t know where it would end up at that stage, and I won’t (in this post at least) go into the many influences from which the idea was conceived. In any event, I sat down at my computer and wrote the first chapter, much of which remains in its original form in the finished work (notwithstanding the invaluable contribution of a meticulous editor by the name of Yosef, who threw out a whole load of ‘t’s and found much better things to do with the ‘i’s than merely dotting them!)

Since my mother always taught me the importance of keeping the lady in your life happy, I showed the fruits of my labour to my wife, who was quite impressed. This was actually crucial in terms of what happened next, because she was just as keen for me to pursue the project as I was! Accordingly, she engineered a lot more time (than she’d probably hoped at the beginning of the holiday) for the children to be busy with things that didn’t involve their daddy, which meant that I often had two/three hour chunks of time in which to work away on the script. Add that to some sessions burning more than a little of the midnight oil, and by the end of the week we were looking at a completed manuscript…

(To be continued…)

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