Posts Tagged ‘muslim boys’

The Victory Boys – book trailer

Assalamu alaikum (peace be upon you all). Insha Allah this finds everyone enjoying a blessed Ramadan (and possibly having enjoyed the Olympics too…)?

If you’re looking for your next dose of wholesome sporting action… well, look no further!

Available from all good booksellers!

When fiction comes to life?

Assalamu alaikum; peace be upon you all, and a belated Eid mubarak too.

We held an Eid barbecue at our local mosque yesterday. It was opened up to the whole community; not just the local Muslims, but our neighbours, friends, and a few dignitaries as well.

Wanting it to be special for the children, a number of activities were organised, including a bouncy castle, a tug of war, a Qur’anic recitation event and – I just couldn’t resist this one – a ‘Beat the Goalie’ competition.

'Beat the Goalie': the grand final! My able deputy stares down the barrel...

For such a competition to be a success, there are a few essential ingredients. I can think of five.

(1) Participants.
No problem here. Three penalties per turn, anyone scoring all three to write their names in the Hall of Fame and take their place in the grand final later in the day. The queue to take part was predictably long at all times.

(2) A space.
The majority of the events took place inside the large prayer room, with the bouncy castle at the opposite end. Plenty of space, but a need to be very careful.

(3) A ball.
Easy enough in normal circumstances, but given the surroundings, a sponge ball was deemed to be appropriate.

(4) A goal.
Fortunately, a member of the community bought two of these as a gift for the mosque. They arrived less than 24 hours before the event and one was promptly assembled in time for the big day.

(5) A goalkeeper.
Well, you can guess who took on this role – at least until my knees couldn’t take any more! (I didn’t quite make it to the grand final myself…)

The event unfolded in a manner entirely in keeping with the spirit of The Victory Boys. It is impossible to measure the enjoyment experienced by the children who took part, whether firing blanks in front of goal or bagging a hat-trick of penalties and making yours truly look a little silly in the process. By the end of the activity, the main task was to prevent the enthusiasm of the grown-up spectators from turning it into a competition for themselves!

The second goal was erected today, and now occupies a space at the opposite end of the yard from the first. It is the same yard in which I imagined many of the scenes from the opening pages of my story, with Junayd, Ibrahim & co. tearing around delightedly and giving everything to score between the brick-stack goalposts, consumed for a moment in the joy of sport, and at the same time unknowingly cementing bonds of brotherhood.

The yard, the goals, are ready.

The new goal, born today.

Once upon a time there were brick-stacks for goalposts...

The other end. (Note the bricks in the corner).

Taking a breather at the barbecue, a neighbour pointed out to me the rear of her house, adjacent to the yard. I mentioned The Victory Boys to her, and my hope that her greenhouse would be safe from footballs. She reassured me that she only had a pretty resilient peep of chickens out the back; it was next door’s greenhouse.

Mr Bateman’s house, perhaps?

“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…)

Jumpers for goalposts? (well… chair legs and rugby posts anyway…)

Salam, one and all.

I cannot deny that, when I was a boy, I was hopelessly obsessed with football.

Among the habits I developed during this time, were:

*recreating goals I had seen in my bedroom (to clarify: the recreations took place in my room – few, if any, worthwhile goals had otherwise occurred there to my knowledge);

*drawing stick-man diagrams of goals I had witnessed, either on television or by the team for which I played. (Since I also started out as a goalkeeper (and was somewhat narcissistic) I did detail some of my finer saves as well, though I was certainly no Hasan…);

Hasan: Definitely a better goalkeeper than I.

*arranging my cuddly toys in formation to play out (often frantic) games between chair legs using one of those rubber balls with impossibly high bounceability so appealing to young children – if the placement was just right, it was possible to contrive a shot that would hit both posts a good six or seven times in total, which I assume would be a record were it ever to happen in, er, ‘real’ life…;

*tottering down to the rugby club with my friend Simon, a ball, and a sheet of fixtures he had prepared for the ultimate precursor to ‘Fantasy Football': we would take it in turns to be goalkeeper/entire-opposing-team, and provide our own commentary as we played out the league games in the manner we felt they should unfold!

There were probably many more examples of cringeworthy, football-related deeds on my part, and one has to wonder what form these might have taken if I have already confessed to football matches with cuddly toys. Years of therapy (read: marriage) and disillusionment at the dismal performance of my own team have helped to dampen my enthusiasm to a more appropriate, balanced level, but it should not be assumed that any of these states of childishness are beyond me, and being the father of two boys is unlikely to help my rehabilitation (I also have high hopes for my daughter Insha Allah…)

Some of the agents provocateurs of my age of football fever were particular comic books, novels and TV series relating to football. I distinctly remember enjoying the sheer amount of football action in the books of Michael Hardcastle (I have no recollection whatsoever regarding plot, but I’m sure there must have been one!) and I have sought to emulate this concentration on the football itself in The Victory Boys. I was also a fan of Roy of the Rovers, especially since in those days I was enjoying a prolonged flirtation with Liverpool FC, whose then player-manager Kenny Dalglish seemed to me the real Roy Race.

My favourite comic book, however, was the Football Picture Story Monthly series. Why, oh why, is there not an equivalent series now? Even speaking as a teacher, I would love to get my hands on some of those books (and dearly wish I’d kept my own…) as it doesn’t take a skilled detective to know that the majority of boys love football, and comic books do not carry the same level of commitment as even a short novel – perfect, then, for the reluctant reader.

However, my favourite football novels of the day (and remember, this is before the day of High Fidelity-the-book, never mind the hugely disloyal film of the same name – the romance of football ruined by the romance of romance!) were definitely, without a shadooo of a dooot: Jossy’s Giants.

For those who haven’t seen it, Jossy’s (Glipton) Giants are a team of one-time losers who are transformed by the inspirational figure of Joswell “Jossy” Blair, whose own career was curtailed before it had truly begun, let alone blossomed. From the pen of the renowned darts commentator Sid Waddell, the books are written with more than a little humour and enough match action to satisfy the young football devotee.

A very tough act to follow, in my humble opinion!

Jamal

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