Archive for the ‘The World of the Victory Boys’ Category

A little taste of what’s to come… inshallah!

Assalamu alaikum everyone – peace be upon you all!

Drumroll please…

Yesterday, after several ‘takes’ (I had to take the rubbish out, then I took my family grocery shopping, then I took a nap), a brand new book trailer was born. And here it is! What do you think?

(Here’s the trailer for the first book too, for those of us who like to reminisce!)

Jamal

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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?

The Football Convert

Assalamu alaikum – peace be upon you all.

It’s been a whirlwind year for Imam Munieb. As the short excerpt at the bottom of the page will demonstrate, it began with a considerable amount of frustration at the condition of the boys in his madrasa, and in particular their evident love of football above anything else. (Imam Munieb would freely admit that, back then, he had no time for the game whatsoever).

The Imam on football: he used to bleat about it; now he tweets about it!

Now the Imam finds himself the humble founder of arguably the most successful extra-curricular venture ever to be undertaken at the mosque, the reluctant star of The Victory Boys… and even an occasional dabbler in the world of social networking!

So, why the change? And what exactly does the Imam know about football? Perhaps this interview with theKubekidsblog will shed some light…

 

Kube: What possessed you to start a football team?
Imam M: Yaa akhi, I hope your readers will not think it is a case of possession. Actually, I have a group of boys at the weekly madrasa – they are all about 10 to 14 years old. All they talk about is “football this”, “football that”. I began to think that maybe football was their life. But Islam should be their life, and I wanted them to see this. But you know, after a while, I started to think: maybe there is room for football in their life too. So I tried to marry the football to the deen, in a good, halal way.

K: Do you know much about football?
I: What would you like to know? It is a round, leather thing. Inside there is air. Also there are two goals and you have to kick the ball into these goals.

K: Can you explain the offside rule?
I: I have heard of this off-slide rule but no, I do not know how many points you will get for an off-slide.

K: How will you be able to manage a team knowing so little about the game?
I: I have made the good intention, and I pray for its success, Insha Allah. I hope that maybe I can find someone to help with the team and I have a young man in mind who I think will be perfect. Also, the boys are telling me we need a good coach, but I do not plan for any long journeys to games. We can play in the local park. Or catch a bus if we need to.

K: Has the introduction of football made a difference to any of the boys’ attentions in class?
I: I feel yes, Masha Allah, there is a big difference now. Before the boys didn’t want to learn about their deen. Now they see the team and the deen are things which bring them together.

K: Do you think the team are good enough to win anything?)
I: They think they are good enough! I think you will have to read the book to find out if they really are!

Chapter 4, "A Change of Heart"

 

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!)