Posts Tagged ‘muslim’

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!)

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!)

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

Can faith and football flourish side by side?

Assalamu alaikum (peace be upon you) and welcome to the world of The Victory Boys, from Kube Publishing.

In fact, the world of The Victory Boys is not so very different from the world in which we live (except that the characters are fictional, of course, and do not in any way resemble any of the people I have ever known, nor myself in a dark mood…)

Indeed, the inspiration behind the book was in large part my perception of the ease with which community apathy might be replaced by purpose; all-pervading futility by positivity, and how the idea of any one, or handful of individuals, could be the catalyst for dynamic, uplifting change.

Imam Munieb, with ‘black sheep’ Saleem

The main adult character, Imam Munieb (you may have had the, er, pleasure of receiving his Tweets) could only be described, were the word to exist, as a footyphobe. At the outset, he sees absolutely no benefit in playing, watching, or possessing even the most rudimentary knowledge of such base, worldly entertainment. Unfortunately for him, the boys at his madrasa (school) do not share his views on ‘The Beautiful Game’, and given that they’re nowhere near so receptive to his classes, something has got to give…

In the next few posts, with the book release’s imminence imminent,  I’ll be linking the odd excerpt and introducing a few of the characters from the book.

Get involved – let me know your thoughts on the concept, the characters, the excerpts, and – hopefully in the very near future InshaAllah – the book itself!

Jamal

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