Meet Nafeesa Hamid in person at the BookBlast 10×10 Tour event, Waterstones, Birmingham, 24-26 High Street, B4 7SL @Bhamwaterstones 6.30 p.m. Thursday 25 October. Theme: The Things I Would Tell You: British Muslim Women Write with reference to the anthology edited by Sabrina Mahfouz. In conversation with Elizabeth Briggs SAQI BOOKS chair, and poet, Aliyah Holder. Book Tickets
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Pakistan and came to the UK at aged four. I grew up in Alum Rock, inner city Birmingham where I lived until nineteen. There was (and still is) a massive sense of community in Alum Rock, which is lovely for the most part, but also means everyone knows everything about everyone. I attended school in Alum Rock – Shaw Hill Primary and Park View Secondary (involved heavily in the Trojan Horse Scandal).
What sorts of books were in your family home?
Religious books mainly (Islamic) in other words Quran, Hadith books, Islamic Studies etc. My personal childhood book collection consisted of a lot of Jaqueline Wilson and Enid Blyton. My older brother introduced me to the classics at quite an early age (Lolita, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Color Purple, Great Expectations are some that stand out). We also had a lot of Urdu study books as me and all my siblings were expected to learn Urdu.
Who were early formative influences as a writer?
Rumi (I stole my older brother’s copy), Omar Khayyam (my father inadvertently introduced me to Omar Khayam when I found an old pocket sized copy of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that belonged to my father, in our house), Jaqueline Wilson, Benjamin Zephaniah, Khaled Hosseini, Simon Armitage.
Do you write every day, and do you write many drafts?
I try to write every day, even if it’s for ten minutes or if it’s two lines. I don’t think I do as many drafts of poems as some poets I know – I find editing very difficult in terms of just starting it, but do enjoy the process once I get going.
As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing?
My proudest pieces of work are my commission for TedxBrum 2016 on the theme of The Power of Us and my debut collection with VERVE Poetry Press called Besharam.
My earliest poems are definitely cringeworthy – very melodramatic.
Books that changed your life?
The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Persepolis, Stuart: A Life Backwards, Lola Rose, The Kite Runner, To Kill a Mockingbird . . .
Your views on book publishing?
I think it’s brilliant! Getting published with SAQI Books and VERVE Poetry Press has really catapulted me forward in my career, providing me with performance opportunities around the UK. As I write mainly for the purpose of performance I have never really thought much about experimenting with how my poems might look on page but have recently found it is something I very much enjoy doing.
How important were, and are, editors? Have you had much encouragement from your editor(s)?
Editors are crucial – getting a different perspective is what takes your work to the next level. Working with Joelle Taylor (guest editor) on my new book was definitely valuable as Joelle helped me with the structure of the book, building narrative, and advising me on how to write on traumatic themes in a safe and healthy way.
Which is more important, style or voice?
Voice. I focus on voice before I do style because of the element of uniqueness that doing so brings – I pick a story to tell and think about who is telling that story and build the tone of a poem from there.
Your views on the explosion of creative writing courses? How helpful are they in reality?
I think creative writing courses are beneficial, whatever stage in your writing career you are at – it is just a matter of finding the right one. I studied creative writing at degree level and learned how to give good critical feedback, work with my peers on a professional level, manage time effectively, was introduced to writers that have since inspired new work (Sharon Olds, Daljit Nagra, Walt Whitman) and was often pushed out of my comfort zone and encouraged to experiment with form, style, technique and voice.
Whilst I was part of the Mouthy Poets Collective I took part in the weekend City Arvon Educator course during which I was mentored by Adam Faulkner, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Cathy Grindrod and Dean Atta. It was during this weekend that I began writing poems for my debut collection.
What are your favorite literary journals?
Wasafiri, Mslexia, Magma.
Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life? What about social media?
I don’t think new technology has changed my writing life at all – I’m a simple pen and paper type of girl. I know that ‘insta-poems’ are a thing and that poetry is a big thing on Tumblr and that there is the potential to go viral but I’m still not tempted to share my work online as I find social media very consuming and believe that you can have a successful writing career without the use of social media. I primarily use social media to share events I’m performing at, and to manage events I run.
If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
Pre-partition, pre-colonial Pakistan to meet my ancestors
Your favourite prose authors?
Khaled Hosseini, Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, Sue Townsend.
Your favourite noir series?
Favourite feature films?
Diary of a Teenage Girl, This is England, Pulp Fiction.
Five favourite bands?
Ibeyi, Wu Tang Clan, Arctic Monkeys, The Smiths.
Your chief characteristic?
Your bedside reading?
Currently: Kaveh Akbar, Calling a Wolf a Wolf.
(Not mine, words from a mentor): “Do what terrifies you”.
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