The Plan

As we approach the end of 2008, I, like may others, am inevitably evaluating the year gone by.

2005 was inconsequential, hence my vow to make 2006 count.
2006 saw the publication of my first book as well as the unravelling of my first marriage.
2007 began with the death of my father but turned into a fantastic and crazy year at Asian Woman magazine.

2008 saw me struggle with the aftermath of Asian Woman. As I explained in Under Pressure, it seemed that the year passed by in slow motion, with little passion or intensity.

That’s not to say that good things didn’t happen. I published pieces across a range of publications, including the Guardian and, of course, I got married (to a man I actually wanted).

But even with those great things, I still feel like I’ve been floating through the year aimlessly. I think it’s partly due to the lack of a full time job. While freelancing is great, it doesn’t provide the fast-paced working environment I enjoy or the pressure I need to be productive. This is why I’m setting myself clear goals for 2009.

A list means that I have a tangible set of criteria to measure 2009 against. And, yes, being the geek that I am, I have included deadlines in brackets (the * indicates deadlines that may run late depending on external factors). It’s not a particularly long list but I think it’s a worthy one.

Find a job I enjoy (15 Feb*) (done 27 Aug)
Finish second book (15 May) (done 30 April)
Get fit (15 May onwards)

Enrol in a Spanish class (15 May onwards) (done 29 Dec)
Publish second book (15 Dec*) (done 04 Dec)
Attend a protest (31 Dec) (done 03 Jan)
Visit two countries I haven’t seen (31 Dec) (done 20 Dec)

Happy New Year.
Here's hoping it all goes according to plan.



I’ve been meaning to write about Rhys Jones and the sentencing of his killer for a few days now. For those of you unfamiliar with the case, Rhys was an 11-year-old boy who was shot in the neck and killed in Liverpool, UK, in August 2007.

The case eally affected me. I was horrified that someone so young could be killed in such a senseless way. Rhys reminded me of my nephew who was of a similar age at the time. With the number of young people recently killed by knife and gun crime, his name is the one that stuck in my mind the most. The capture and sentencing of Sean Mercer, Rhys’s murderer, is such a relief and has almost restored my faith in the police and legal system.

It’s the normal things about Rhys that broke my heart: the fact that he was on his way home from football practice; that he was the star player of his under-12s football team; that he turned towards the gunman after being distracted by the sound of the first bullet. What did that second bullet feel like? Was he still conscious? Did he feel pain? Was he scared? He was just 11 years old.

Mercer has been sentenced to 22 years in prison, which is exactly where he belongs. He knew he had struck Rhys but then continued to aim and then fire a third shot towards his original target. I mean, how fucking callous can you get?

Stephen Jones, Rhys’s father, said "Finally justice has been done for Rhys". I felt relieved for them. They know a peace that many other parents, not least those of Stephen Lawrence, may never know.

People say that having a child is life changing; that nothing compares to it. I’ve heard parents say it’s like being in love but a type that never fades, that is always fresh and new. They say that this type of love is stronger and brighter than the love you feel for your parents or siblings or even your partner. If that is true, then I can’t imagine how painful it is to lose a child, especially in such a senseless way.

My heart goes out to Rhys’s family.


Under Pressure

Firstly, why do I get lambasted any time I say I love Under Pressure by Bowie and Queen? I know it’s not their best work but it’s still a frickin’ good song. Yes, that beat is responsible for the travesty that is Ice Ice Baby* but it’s so infectious, it has to be genius.

Anyway, back on topic… Contrary to the post title, I’m not actually under pressure of any sort, which is kind of the problem. You see, I need pressure to get things done. I never used to be like this. I used to be the kind of person that did things that needed to be done as soon as humanly possible. I used to pay bills as soon as they came in or put in a load of washing as soon as I had a drum’s worth or submit my columns a week before they were due for print or buy a winter coat in the Autumn. Now I’ll almost freeze my arse off before draggiing it to the shops.

I think I know when this change came about. I spent 2007 at Asian Woman Magazine and the experience changed me. It was so intense, so full on, so 100% 24/7, so unbelievably demanding, I felt like I was spending every second of my life fire fighting while juggling a million different things. Now take that description and times it by ten and you’ll get a rough idea of what it was like. It was as traumatic as it was exciting, and it taught me the real meaning of working under pressure. 

After leaving (as much for my health as for my sanity), everything calmed down to the point where I felt like I was living in slow motion. After that kind of existence, “normal” life seems stripped of adrenaline – bland and sort of tasteless. It took me a long time to come down from the highs of that type of life. One of the things I haven’t got back, however, is the ability to pace myself. Now I need pressure to be able to work so I leave everything until the last minute. I spend days procrastinating, knowing that deadlines are looming but I wait and do nothing until the axe begins swinging over my head. It’s a terrible way to work but I haven’t managed to snap out of it.

The reason why I bring this up is because I have six months to finally get the second book wrapped up. Six months isn’t actually a lot of time for most authors but to me, it seems like an eternity. And that worries me. I don’t want to suddenly snap into action in May 2009 and find that a month isn’t enough to perfect the book. I want to work on it today and tomorrow and every day, and polish it to the point of perfection. Instead, I find myself procrastinating. 

I’m going to try and stop being this flake I don’t recognise. I’m going to try and go back to the person who was organised, stable and knew exactly where she was going and what time she was getting there (though I don’t know if I’ll recognise her since she never spoke in the twattish third person).

I’ll buy my winter coat and take it from there.


* I actually also think Ice Ice Baby is a good song but admitting that kinda dilutes my opinion about Under Pressure… and makes me look like a bit of a troglodyte.


Under a Woman's Skin

I bought The Writing’s on the Wall, I went to see Destiny’s Child at Wembley in 2001 and I marvelled at Beyoncé’s talent and ability. But, as her fame and ubiquity grew, I went off her because I got a little sick of hearing her name. It was only recently when I watched the video to If I Were a Boy that I was reminded of just how talented she is.

She puts across a simple message in a striking way: If I were a boy, I would be a better man than you.

It struck a chord because I’ve been at the wrong end of that kind of relationship. Anyone who has dated a superflirt will know what I mean. 

People have called me a flirt. Some say I‘m a little flirt, others say I’m an outrageous flirt. Some say I flirt insidiously, others say I flirt indiscriminately. One has even said that I flirt with girls as much as I flirt with guys. But, no matter how much of a flirt people think I am, I’m nothing compared to the superflirt. 

Every woman reading this will know a man like this. He is the one that girls flock to at a party. He is the one that is charming and funny and disarming. He may not be the best looking guy at a party but he’ll be talking to the best looking girl while you look over, quietly gritting your teeth because he’s meant to be with YOU. 

He will dance with a woman, compliment another on her hair or her eyes, tease another about how short her dress is, all the while tripping others up with his dimples or crooked smile or whatever secret weapon he was bestowed with. These men see nothing wrong with their behaviour. They think it’s harmless fun and label their women as insecure if they complain. 

And that’s why Beyonce’s video works so well. It asks the simple question: how would you feel if I behaved the way you do? The video might make a few superflirts question their ways but I don’t think they can help themselves; I actually do think it is in their nature and I’m not exactly a great believer in The Changing of Ways.

To the women who are in this kind of relationship, I guess I’d say I feel sorry for you because I’m no longer stuck with a superflirt. 

But I’m also a little jealous of you.


Now, the Backlash?

It took me a while to warm to Barack Obama. I hadn’t read either of his books and didn’t know enough about him to hail him as the Saviour of America and All That Is Beyond like everyone else around me.

The turning point came when I heard him talk about Iraq and Pakistan – not because his foreign policy resonated with me, but because he pronounced ‘Iraq’ correctly instead of calling it ‘eye-rak’ like Bush et. al. I know the reasoning is silly, but I *have* previously admitted that my political opinions are based mostly (if not entirely) on strange reasoning and irrelevant factors – my mantra during the US election was ‘McCain isn’t a leader. He has no neck!’.

Obama’s win was definitely surprising and inspiring to many people, but he’ll have to be something between a saint and a superhero to live up to the hype. If we know anything about the media, it is that they build people up because they love tearing them down so much.

Can Obama survive the backlash? Yes (he can). Can he really soothe the world’s ills? I doubt it, but I hope he has the strength and mettle to be a principled president. I hope he is sympathetic towards Palestine and diplomatic with Iran. I hope he makes things better. There’s no reason why he can’t. He does, after all, have an ample neck.


Blind Faith?

A friend, writer Ariane Sherine, is launching the Atheist Bus Campaign on 21 October 2008.
The short explanation:

The campaign has the slogan 'There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life'. It is designed to reassure people that they won’t be consigned to eternal damnation should they renounce religion and God. The motivation behind the campaign is explained on the Facebook group page, and in Article 1 and Article 2, written by Ariane for the Guardian’s Comment is free section.

If you are an atheist, please join the group and support the campaign. If you are not an atheist but aren’t particularly bothered about the wrath of God, do also join. If you’re not a Facebooker, you can e-mail Ariane through the link on her site with “Atheist Bus” in the subject line to register your support or interest. 

For the record, I haven’t joined the campaign because I do believe in God, but I think it’s a great idea purely because it provokes thought. It has reminded me of some of the questions I’ve asked in the past: do I believe in my religion because I’ve been conditioned to or because I truly believe it? Can the things I disagree with really be explained away with deeper knowledge and research? Can the fundamentals of my faith really be applied fully and properly in today’s world?

I believe in God. I believe there is a balance in my life that I haven’t achieved alone. I believe that I have been both tested and guided. I believe that many of my prayers have been answered because someone was listening.

The thing is, God is different from religion, albeit not entirely separate. I have discussed some of my issues with Islam before – sometimes questioning it, sometimes defending it – but to question the entire religion is a different thing entirely. I will admit that in the past I have thought, ‘What if Islam isn’t real and true? What if we just believe it because we’re meant to?’. Of course I immediately feel guilty about these thoughts, but surely it’s healthy to question the things that govern our lives?

I’m interested in asking followers of religion, and particularly of Islam, how they maintain strength of belief. In an age where science screams so loudly and atheist proselytisers tell us we’re not really enlightened if we still believe in God, how do followers objectively and logically maintain belief? These are not rhetorical questions. I genuinely want to know if there are Muslims out there who have ever questioned the worth of their worship. And if not, how are they so sure?


We Ain’t Got No Alibi

I wish John McCain’s Bangladeshi daughter was prettier. It may be an odd thing to lament but I have my reasons. You see, Indian women are renowned for their beauty; Italian, French, Spanish and Mediterranean women are exotic; Scandinavian women are leggy and blonde; Oriental women are mysterious and alluring; Latin Americans are seductive and sensual… the list goes on. But Bangladeshi women – well, no-one really knows or cares about us. And those who do, more often than not, think we’re all short, fat, ugly and downtrodden.

Take an episode of American sitcom How I Met Your Mother: A New York taxi driver tells Barney (one of the protagonists) ‘I’m from Bangladesh.’ Barney asks, ‘The women hot there?’ The driver takes out a picture of his wife. Barney recoils and whispers, ‘A simple no would’ve sufficed.’ I was amused but couldn’t help but grumble about our reputation for being a bunch of munters.

You see, your mates would never pat you on the back for scoring a Bangladeshi girl, a Google Image search for ‘Bangladeshi woman’ isn’t going to throw up a Miss World any time soon, and Lenny Kravitz would never tell a Bangladeshi woman to stay away from him because he’d never get close to one in the first place.

That’s why we really needed Bridget McCain – perhaps one of the most famous Bangladeshi females at this point in time – to fly the flag for us. Yes, I’m being superficial and vacuous but damnit, we need a boost! We really needed Bridget to stand up and say, ‘I’m not only helping dear daddy on his campaign trail but I am proving that Bangladeshi women are just as alluring and sexy as anyone else.’ Unfortunately, while Bridget is beautiful in her own way, she’s not going to win Miss World any time soon. Zut alors.


Good Catch

Meeting a partner’s colleagues is rarely a great experience. Everyone knows each other and can share conversation, and you end up being the one stuck in the corner or having to have everything explained to them. Luckily, when I met my partner’s colleagues, they were all warm, friendly and interesting (despite being a bunch of accountants…).

A few of them joked and asked me what I was doing with my partner as I was “too good for him”. I don’t think I am, of course, but the compliment did give me an ego boost.
People often tell women that they are far too beautiful/smart/talented for the men that they are with. Sometimes this is okay – women do have a tendency to flock to bastards – but is it okay to say it to a normal couple who are with each other because they love each other? 

Can men take this sort of comment simply because they’re men? I can’t imagine introducing my partner to my colleagues and being told that I’m not good enough for him and that he’s far too handsome/smart/talented for me. I would find it hurtful and it would probably make me feel a bit insecure. 

Are men genuinely happy to receive this kind of comment? When we tell a man his woman is too good for him, does he feel proud that he’s managed to get her? Is there really no trace of insecurity?

Men and women may be equal but we’re certainly not the same…

In other news

Lost in suburbia: I had a conversation about whether it was less neighbourly to have a completely overgrown front garden or to use a (loud-ish) hedge trimmer on a Sunday. I decided it was the latter, after which I felt kind of depressed that life has come to this. All I need is a pair of kids and a four-wheel-drive and I will have become that woman.

Having kittens: A friend’s cat has had kittens. I briefly considered taking one but decided against it because a) I can get a bit Monica Gellar when it comes to cleanliness and b) I’d become the woman who lives alone with a cat and I’m not sure if that woman is better or worse than the suburban nightmare woman. 

Sex Kitten: I’ve decided my eyes bags are sexy in a Marisa-Tomei-I-was-up-all-night-doing-never-you-mind-what kind of way instead of making me look like an exhausted heap. Woot woot.


Azzurri Blues

I’m off to have some cake in a minute to console myself after Italy’s 3-0 loss to Holland. I can’t claim to be a football fan: I only ever watch it at international level and barely know my van de Sars from my van Nistelrooys (I guess you could call me a fair-weather football fan) but I have always supported Italy and do manage to get wrapped up in their matches. Hence, the cake. It’s okay though. Italy always start off slow. They *do* have a tough group but at least there’s no Zidane to contend with. So I’m hopeful...

On a completely different note, is it me or is there a sudden increase in really annoying kids in adverts? That kid in the Oreo advert that talks to the dog makes me see red; those kids in that count the Rice Krispies drive me up the wall; and even the new Petit Filous girl (with the thick eyebrows) annoys me. Am I alone in this? Am I the only person whose blood starts to boil when one of those adverts come on? I'm getting annoyed just thinking about them.

Ok, now I really do need some cake.


And then a hero comes along…

I’ve spent so long in front of my computer today that I’m almost cross-eyed. I’ve given up trying to be productive and am writing here instead. Do forgive me if this entry is more disconnected than usual – it is almost 2am.

So anyway, I had a conversation with an ex-colleague today, in which she commented that she was extremely surprised at how friendly I was when we first met because she “doesn’t generally get on with girls”.

The reason behind this is quite obvious: she’s absolutely stunning, which can automatically make other females bristle in her presence. Luckily, there are a few things that make me jealous and another female’s level of attractiveness isn’t one of them. Beauty doesn’t threaten me since I grew up with five beautiful sisters and am used to being the ‘average’ one in the room.

Intelligence, on the other hand, is a different matter altogether. Put me in front of a Riazat Butt (the Guardian's religious affairs correspondent) or a Tahmima Anam (Harvard-educated, award-wnning Bangladeshi author) and I’ll grumble with envy. It’s a good envy though because I have a lot of respect for smart women. In fact, I think it’s a shame there aren’t more strong females in the public eye – Asian or not.

I can name fictitious kick-ass women that I love – the women in Law & Order (played by Stephanie March, Mariska Hargitay, Angie Harmon and Diane Neal) are absolutely fantastic and represent some of the best female characters on TV – but ask me about real-life heroes and I can name only men.

Who can blame me when Margaret Thatcher, the assassinated Benazir Bhutto, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton represent the strongest female figures of the past few decades? Yes, there are women like Mother Teresa who contributed a lot to the world and who were strong in their own way, but you can hardly describe them as ‘kick-ass’.

Suggestions, people! Bonnie can keep her hero, I need a heroine.


Silver Tongues

I cringe as iPlayer runs through the opening credits of Women in Black Episode 4 (aired Thursday on BBC2). Why? Because 10 minutes or so into the programme, I will appear in all my fatigued glory, full colour and extremely close up.

I don’t like doing TV. Don’t get me wrong – the process is fun but watching myself is always painful. In the past, I’ve prescribed to the idea that ‘Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard’ but as I said in ‘The Second Coming’, I think I need to engage in shameless self-promotion more often and TV does that if nothing else. Though, luckily, on this occasion, the programme in question was genuinely interesting and insightful.

I do a lot of public speaking so it’s not like I’m one of those sweaty, nervous wrecks in front of an audience (let’s face it, if I can lecture 170 14-year-old boys, I can talk to anyone!), it’s just that as a writer, you’re expected to be highly articulate and wonderfully eloquent, which doesn’t really makes sense: I’m a writer. I write… and delete, rewrite, restructure and so on and so forth. You can’t do that when speaking!

I’ve had friends push me in front of audiences at parties, saying, “You’re a writer. You can make the toast”. Yes, as a writer, words are my tool (as Raef would say) but it doesn’t necessarily make me a good speaker.

As I watch myself on screen, I cringe at the close-ups and can see that I’m talking too fast. It’s okay though. As Hattie will probably point out, at least my hair looks shiny :)

Ok, Criminal Minds is on so I’m off.


Older? Yes. Better? Erm…

I know I haven’t written for a while – I’m sorry. To get you started, I’ve written a piece for the comment section of the Guardian website. You can access that here.

Anyway, turning to my real point… I’m turning 26 on Saturday. This is kind of a big deal for me. I know that traditionally there’s no significance about age 26 (unlike 16, 21 30, 40 and so forth) but for me, it’s HUGE. You see, all through my adult life, I have been disgustingly unhealthy, but have always said that I’ll change my lifestyle at 26.

Friends will tell you that I eat like a pig. I admit that I can’t remember the last time I ate a piece of fruit and ‘Salad? I don’t do salad’ has turned into a bit of a catchphrase. I don’t do an ounce of exercise and am generally pretty damn unfit. The fact that I never put on any weight has only encouraged my terrible eating habits.

The thing is, I’ve been told many a time (by sisters, friends, colleagues) that I’m ‘fat on the inside’ and that ‘one day’ it will hit me; one day my metabolism will slow and I’ll wake up and suddenly find that I’m 16 stones. And I’ve never doubted that – in fact, I’ve always said, ’26 is when I’ll start being healthy. 26 is when it all starts to go south; 26 is the point of no return’. It is the age I said I’d get a pension, start exercising, start eating fruit, start recycling more and generally be more responsible.

And I’m really going to try and stick to it. I know I can’t cut back on the amount I eat – I love my food – so I will start exercising to balance out my slowing metabolism. I’m actually kind of looking forward to it. I’m generally quite good at sticking to things once I’ve made up my mind about them so we’ll see how it goes.

On top of all those changes, I have been in a contemplative mood, wondering what other things 26 will bring. You see, my debut novel was released on my 24th birthday. At 25, I became one of the youngest writers to have published comment in the Guardian newspaper (which was a pretty big deal for me) so the gauntlet has most certainly been set…

Here’s the year ahead; to getting older and getting better.



Pieces of Me

Anniversaries. I’ve never really paid attention to anniversaries. Ask me when I got engaged and the only reason I’ll be able to tell you is because it was on Valentine’s Day (yes, I know it’s clichéd but that’s his doing). Ask me when our first date was and I’ll draw a blank. I’ve never organised a birthday party (for myself or anyone else) and don’t even bother asking me when any of my siblings or friends got married.

There is one anniversary, however, that I can’t forget – the first anniversary of my father’s death. My father passed away in the early hours of Sunday 29th April 2007 and as the 29th draws closer this year, I find myself affected by it more than I expected. 

You see, I never got to really say goodbye. In some ways, I never even got to say hello; I had seen my father only once in the six months preceding his death. I remember my family prompting me to visit him in the week leading up to it and I put it off and put it off. I had seen him in a hospital bed many a time before and didn’t want to do it again. On Saturday 28th April at exactly 7pm, my sister called me and told me I really should visit him as he was in a bad way. She told me that visiting hours ended at 8pm so I could see him the next day after 3pm, which I decided to do.

Having agreed to visit him the next day, I still called up one of my friends and asked if he could get me to the Royal London in an hour. I remember that conversation and I remember both of us deciding that we’d miss visiting hours and that we would go the next day. 

At 1.30am on Sunday morning, I got the call telling me “he’s gone”. I rushed to the Royal London, not really knowing why I was rushing. My five sisters were in various stages of breakdown but the most unnerving of all was my mother. You see, my mother has always been the steely, dispassionate and formidable matriarch of the family, but in that hospital room, she broke down exposing a vulnerability I had wanted to see all my life but never want to see again.

As I look back, a part of me thinks I handled it ok – I went back to work after one day off and yes, I did break down in tears on one occasion when a colleague asked if I was ok but in general, I managed to hide my state of disarray. 

Another part of me knows that I’ll never get over it. This part tears up every time I think about what my father did for us, how hard he worked and how little he got from us in return.
This 29th April will be hard but hopefully it’ll be a little easier than the last one. And hopefully the next one will be a little easier than this one. And hopefully it’ll keep getting easier until, eventually, I can get to May without falling apart.


What doesn’t kill us is making us stronger

There are people among us who had fantastic childhoods; belong to loving families; and who have a well-adjusted outlook on life. These people have fathers that support them, mothers that comfort them and bosses that respect them. 

I used to envy these people, thinking that they were a lucky minority. I used to think that they led charmed lives, full of opportunities seldom afforded to people like me. I thought it would be great to have things so easy.

As I have grown older, however, I have completely changed my view. You see, those of us who have experienced serious problems – whether it be physical abuse, poverty, the loss of a parent or the loss of a child – know what the lows of life are like, and consequently are able to appreciate the highs that much more.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that the hardships we go through shape who we are and if we survive the trials we face, we come out the other end as a stronger, tougher and perhaps more interesting person. 

I’ve met people who think they’re subversive because they turned down the offer of private schooling to mix with the masses – who wants to be that person? Who wants to be a part of the Waltons when the Simpsons are far more fun? 

Yes, it screws you up and yes, you have to try harder in almost everything you do but like I’ve said before, pain just lets us know we’re alive and I’d rather that than live life on a happy but uneventful plateau.


# I’m Gonna Live Forever #

So I was sitting on a Jubilee Line train on Thursday, travelling from Stratford to North Greenwich, when I noticed that the guy next to me was reading my column in The Docklands. I surreptitiously watched him and was pleased to see a smile spread on his lips. I was so tempted to take out my headphones, point to my picture and say, “That’s meeee,” but chances are, he would have looked at me and said, “Uh, oh-kay. So?” at which point I would have gone red with embarrassment and hung my head in shame.

The thing is, it gives me a strange sort of thrill when I see people reading my work or when I’m recognised. Is that sad? It is kind of pathetic in a fame hungry sort of way, right? This doesn’t sit very well with me – you see, I’m many things but I’m pretty sure I’m not fame hungry and yet I get this silly thrill when I’m recognised. Next thing you know, I’ll be listening to Bros and auditioning for Big Brother 37 or whatever series they’re on now...

Attention seeking aside, in a strange reversal of roles, I am 95% sure I sat opposite The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker yesterday on a train from Lewisham to Charing Cross. I was so tempted to ask but was far too embarrassed to. As soon as I got off the train, I dug out the G2 in my bag but unfortunately it was Alexander Chancellor who wrote Friday’s column. It is now my life’s mission to find out if Charlie Brooker owns a yellow and black striped scarf (since that was the only distinctive thing he was wearing). If it turns out that he doesn’t, then I most likely gave some random guy an ego boost since I spent the entire journey staring at him intently. [Update: Charlie was kind enough to repsond to my query... it wasn't him.]

Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m off to find a Z-lister to go partying at Mo*vida with…


// No Comment

Since starting this blog almost two years ago, I’ve been asked many a time to enable comments. I have chosen not to for a number of reasons: 

1. My entries are generally random musings and not really intended to draw feedback or comment (i.e. criticism!).
2. I don’t really have time to reply to comments (i.e. criticism) but generally have to have the last word so I don’t think I could resist doing so (hence allowing precious time to be eaten up).
3. I’m a little scared that no-one will comment, exposing the fact that no-one reads the blog (even though I know it is read judging by the numbers recorded by statcounter).

Those reasons still stand but I think it’s finally time to bite the bullet. I hate enforcing the moderation facility – I know it can be frustrating when a comment you make isn’t posted immediately – but I’m afraid it’s a necessary evil. You see, I get hate mail from time to time and I don’t want to give these people a forum to propagate their vitriol. 

In fact, I looked through some of my hate mail (call me a masochist but, yes, I keep it) and some of the choice words used to describe me are as follows: deceitful, artificial, bitch, stupid bitch, sick bitch, dirty bitch, dumb little spoilt bitch, lifeless bitch, little white wannabe, desperate, slag, whore, mentally ill, self-obsessed, dirty little maggieeeeeeeeeee (anyone want to educate me as to the definition of ‘maggieeeeeeeeeee’?). Yes, I can be a bit of a bitch but y’know, the rest is just unnecessary.

So, yes, comments have been enabled and will be moderated before being posted. Feel free to comment and/or criticise – as long as you refrain from using expletives and text speak, there will be no problem posting your comment. Plus commenting will make me feel better about point three mentioned above (and may prevent me from resorting to posting comments myself under ‘Anonymous’… though of course I wouldn’t stoop that low… *cough*).


A Brick in the Wall?

This week I was given the formidable task of convincing kids in Tower Hamlets that reading actually is quite important. Those of you have read my Great Expectations entry will know that I genuinely hold reading in quite high regard. Now I’m not saying that I’m some sort of great authority on the path to success but I’m convinced that the advice I have to give (stay in school, don’t do drugs and read godamnit!) really can make a difference.

Having run ten sessions across five schools in three days, I met a wide spectrum of kids. The pupils I worked with ranged from 12 to 18 in age. Some were a little cheeky, some were very vocal, others were quite shy but they were all responsive, which is what I was really hoping for. Even the group of 170 Year 9 boys I was worried about proved to be a fantastic audience (and not because they’re starved of female attention like a friend suggested).

It kinda made me realise just how much potential kids in Tower Hamlets have and how it is possible for them to succeed, if only they could find a way through all the barriers in their way. Perhaps I am another brick in the wall but that’s okay, it’s kinda the point I wanted to make; there is a wall – make sure you’re on the right side. 

I will admit when I first stood in front of a class, a supposed paragon of all that is possible, I did feel a little fraudulent (they’re meant to look up to me?) but as I went on, I really felt appreciated because these kids related to me and were genuinely proud of me. 

Yes, I am scaring myself a little since I usually find comfort in relentless cynicism, but I reckon these kids ended up inspiring me more than I hoped to inspire them.

Spoonful of sugar, anyone?


So how much do you earn?

I mentioned in my last entry that I would be talking a little more about how it isn’t easy making a living as a writer. This ties in quite well with a question I was asked today during the short school tour I’m doing this week: so how much so you earn?

Kids (and adults) have this general view that published authors can immediately give up their day jobs and rest on their laurels. This is all well and good if you’re J.K. Rowling but the truth is, most authors don’t have bestsellers to their name and can’t afford to live off book sales alone. Some have day jobs, others work as journalists and many rely on income from readings, event appearances and tours.

When I first entered the wonderful world of publishing, I was very naïve and actually pretty clueless about the numbers that govern the definition of a successful book. I remember being told that the UK average of copies sold per book was around 4,000 – I thought it was more than triple that.

More illuminating was Sathnam Sanghera’s recent column in The Times. The column outlines some surprising figures: statistics from Nielsen Bookscan show that, of 200,000 books on sale last year, 190,000 titles sold fewer than 3,500 copies. More shocking is that of 85,933 new books, as many as 58,325 sold an average of just 18 copies. 18 copies!! Am I the only one that finds this unbelievable? It suddenly makes me feel very good about my own book sales, which thankfully run into four figures, not two.

These numbers are great for self-validation. After all, other than book sales, there is no real or objective way to quantify how good a writer is. So I guess the honest answer to the question posed at the top is, not a lot but I’m damn happy regardless.


The Second Coming

Right. I have decided that my next big aim in life is to finish editing my second book. Having loosely finished writing it in January 2007 (yes, 2007 – a whole year ago!), I kind of let it lay there. This was mainly due to my job at Asian Woman Magazine which, as I outlined in my previous post, took over my life, leaving little room for much else. Having said that, I must admit that procrastination definitely played a part in the delay. You see, every writer I know loves writing but hates editing. I know exactly what needs to be done – in fact, I have useful little notes written in blue all over my manuscript telling me exactly what needs to be changed – but you know, after having written 82,000 words, the last thing you want to do is change them. But I know it has to be done so I’ve vowed to get on with it… starting tomorrow.

Anyway, the title of this post isn’t a reference to the fact that it’s Easter but a reminder to myself of how I must treat my second book. You see, I have been told time and time again that I should have pushed the first book more. I was slapped on the wrist for giving away free electronic copies of the book and for refusing to do photoshoots for promotion purposes. There was no mass mailshot to everyone in my address book persuading them to buy Life, Love and Assimilation; I refused to add randoms to my Facebook account just to publicise my book to them; there was never a big picture of the cover on my profile telling people to buy it; and I didn’t even really plug it to full potential on the various shows that I appeared on. Perhaps this was due to the fact that Life, Love and Assimilation was very raw, unpolished and in some ways, never really intended for mass public consumption or perhaps it was my English sensibilities that prevented me from being pushy – either way, I was told by all quarters that I should have pushed it more, with more than one person talking about a re-release.

I will not be re-releasing Life, Love and Assimilation as I believe in moving forward but with the second book, I will try to be a little pushier. As much as I hate to admit it, I think my attitude towards promotion is a little naive. I have this romantic view that art should be free (which I still believe) but I guess writers do need to eat, and without a full time job and a steady income, I guess I need to sharpen up. After all, it’s not easy making a living as a writer – more on that in my next entry.

For now, I just wanted to publicise the fact that I plan to finish my second book in the coming few months. This way, if I don’t, all my readers can point and laugh at my public failure. And anyone who knows me to any degree will know how much I hate to fail.