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!

PLAYER PROFILE: Ibrahim, prolific poacher

You can’t win a game without goals, and for The Victory Boys there’s no one more accustomed to doing just that than Ibrahim!

The irrepressible Ibrahim. Occasionally outspoken. Often unstoppable.

Known at madrasa for his quick wit and ready opinions (which aren’t always too well received – just ask Imam Munieb!), on the pitch Ibrahim is certainly blessed with an eye for goal.

The Victory Boys have the greatest respect both for him and his striking prowess, even if his instinctive style doesn’t hit the target every time. (Unfortunately, whether going for goal or opening his mouth, Ibrahim is often known to shoot first and think later!)

An example of Ibrahim choosing the wrong moment to open his mouth...

“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.

 

PLAYER PROFILE: Captain Khalid

Every team needs a strong leader. Someone who sets an example. Someone who can pick everyone up when they’re down. Someone with an unquenchable thirst for success. Without doubt, in The Victory Boys, that leader is Khalid!

Khalid - in one of his tougher times!

A self-styled Libyan lion, Khalid’s fiercely determined nature doesn’t always make for things running smoothly – but more often than not The Victory Boys are indebted to him for his contributions. Not least when he shows a bit of quick thinking at free-kicks… (see Chapter 12 for more on that!)

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!)

PLAYER PROFILE: Junayd, tigerish tackler

Meet the (Bengal) tiger of the midfield – and star of The Victory Boys front cover! – Junayd!

Junayd: timid and tenacious rolled into one

He may have a useful family connection in the The Victory Boys set-up, but rest assured that Junayd’s selection is purely on merit. His tigerish tackling and considerable coverage of the pitch means that his opposite number is never afforded the luxury of time on the ball.

By contrast, he’s a fairly quiet and straightforward young man off the pitch, and some would say he only ever finds himself in the most minor of trouble – usually due to his association with livewire team-mate Ibrahim!

On occasions, Junayd appears to be somewhat troubled. Find out why, and whether his situation improves, by reading the book!