And the winner is…

…not me – hehe! The results of the SI Leeds Literary Prize 2022 were announced yesterday and, alas, there were no awards for yours truly. But I’m happy anyway – it has been such a positive experience to be longlisted, and then shortlisted, and the amazing and generous Prize Plus programme of support that the SI Leeds team will be providing to all shortlisted writers over the coming year means that this is far from the end of the road.

Of course, massive congratulations go to the first prize winner Suad Kamardeen, and runners up Latoyah Innerarity and Laura Fish, who also won the Readers’ Choice Award, on their achievements. And shout-outs also go to my fellow shortlistees Arianne Maki and Oluwaseun Oluwatosin Akinsiku on theirs. It truly is an honour to join the SI Leeds Literary Prize family with all of them. You can find out more about them and their novels here.

The recording of the Shortlist Showcase held on 11th October, which I talked about in my previous blog, is also available on the same link. The showcase was a celebratory evening filled with absorbing readings, insightful discussions, and joyful audience interaction. Many thanks again to Fiona Goh and the team at SI Leeds Literary Prize, Farhana Shaikh at The Asian Writer (host of the showcase event), and Rosie Dastgir (chair of the showcase) for organising such a lovely event.

So, what happens next? Well, I used to dread public readings, but I am warming up to them now and had lots of fun doing the showcase reading, so I have made a note-to-self to volunteer for them more often. I also want to keep up the momentum with When You’re Smiling, so I will be dusting off the synopsis and polishing up the pitch in readiness for another round of submissions. And I would like to give something back to the writing community as thanks for all the support given to me over the last few years, so I will be planning something on that front.

In other words, watch this space… 😊

Peace and blessings,


Showcase Time!

Hello folks, I hope you’re well.

I’m really honoured to say that When You’re Smiling, my novel, has been nominated for the SI Leeds Literary Prize 2022. The prize is for unpublished fiction by UK-based Black and Asian women. The aim of the prize, in the words of the organisers, “is to act as a loudspeaker for fresh and original literary voices from an under-represented group, and to help them reach new audiences in mainstream culture.” How cool is that?

The winner of the SI Leeds Literary Prize 2022 and the SI Readers’ Choice award will be announced online on Friday 21 October as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival. In the meantime, the lovely people at SI Leeds have teamed up with the lovely people at The Asian Writer to host a showcase event chaired by Rosie Dastgir and featuring readings from the six shortlisted writers.

I’ve been having fun this week selecting a passage for the reading that will complement the two already available on the prize website (which you can read and view here, along with the excerpts from the other shortlisted writers). It is such a boost to have your work recognised when you’ve been labouring over it for years, and even nicer to have the opportunity to share it with an audience when most of the writing process is a lone endeavour (with just your inner critic for company), so I’m really excited for the event.

The showcase takes place on Tuesday 11th October, 7:30pm to 9:00pm. It is an online event and doesn’t cost a penny, but you do need to register for tickets, which you can get here. So, if you’re free and looking for some literary entertainment, do join us. I look forward to seeing you there.

Peace and blessings,


Lessons of a Writer

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

Hello, I hope you are well.

The Koyal Writers have been running a series on their website over the last few months called ‘Lessons of a Writer’. As one-seventh of the group, it was my turn to contribute a few words recently, so I wrote about what I learned when faced with the question of whether or not to pursue writing full-time. You will find my thoughts, and more valuable lessons on a range of topics shared by my fellow Koyal Writers, on our blog here.        

Peace and blessings,


Poem: Celebration Time!

‘Eid day is here!’ the children all cheer
On the sighting of the new moon.
The grownups feel a little bit sad:
‘But Ramadan has left us too soon!’

And then they remember that this special day
Is a time of reward and celebration,
So sad thoughts are all put to one side
As houses buzz with preparation. 

Everyone wakes early to take their baths
And wear their lovely new clothes.
Joy and generosity fill hearts and homes. 
Everything about Eid simply glows!

The ummah* gives praise with each step to prayer,
And hug one another when it ends.
Then they go home to eat their special meals,
And send Eid Mubarak memes to their friends.

And so the day passes with visits and guests.
Eid presents are exchanged with love.
And though tired at the end of the day, they all pray
And give thanks for the gifts from above. 

The story behind the poem

The Qur’an says ‘With difficulty is ease’ (94:6). This applies to many situations in life, including Ramadan. After the challenge of the month comes ease in the form of a great celebration known as Eid-ul-Fitr.

There are many ways the day is celebrated, reflecting the many cultures that make up the diverse, worldwide Muslim population. This poem touches on a few elements common to all.

This is the final poem from the set that I wrote for the local Ramadan guide, and the final in this series now that we are at the end of the month. I hope that you have enjoyed them, and I hope that you have a blessed Eid.

Footnote: *Ummah = the Muslim community.

Poem: Remembrance

Praise Allah! Alhumdulillah!*
For the fatigue in my limbs,
The tightness in my throat,
The parched landscape of my tongue.
For it is with these gifts,
Yielded through fasting, 
That I am reminded how
I am fortunate,
I am blessed,
I am Muslim,
I am His.

Praise Allah! Alhumdulillah!
For it is when I journey 
The road through Ramadan 
With its tiredness, its thirst, its trials, 
That I truly appreciate how
He is Great,
He is Merciful,
He is Compassionate,
He Alone is Worthy of Worship.

So praise Allah! Alhumdulillah!
Praise be to Allah.

The story behind the poem

There comes a point in Ramadan for many people when the fast, or the month as a whole, just gets to them and they feel like they’ve hit a wall. The Qur’an says that God has prescribed fasting for believers so that they can attain ‘taqwa’, which is God-consciousness, and it is often in these moments when Ramadan feels at its hardest that taqwa fully kicks in. The struggling faster asks themselves, ‘Why am I doing this?’ and then they remember – it is about empathy, and appreciation, and soul growth, and drawing closer to God. This poem, originally written for the previously-mentioned local Ramadan guide, attempts to capture these moments of fatigue followed by remembrance, gratitude, and praise.

Footnote: *Alhumdulillah means ‘Praise be to God’, making it similar to the Christian ‘Hallelujah’.

Poem: Whispers

They’re supposed to be locked up.
So what is this thing that still whispers to me?  
It came from the inside. Has one been left behind?
Escaped imprisonment and taken up residence in my mind?

This month is a mirror, an invitation to reflect.
A time to transcend, an opportunity to reject.
No outside influence on which to place the blame.
How is it that I’m still in this game?

Sometimes I’m convinced that had it been me 
Placed on the first path of temptation,
I would have polished off the apple in a heartbeat
Without needing the forbidden-fruit sales pitch.

This thought should scare me, but He says ‘Do Not Despair.’
I see what I am dealing with. There is dark but also light.
The wrong I can set right. And now’s the time to start because
They’re supposed to be locked up.

The story behind the poem

This poem, written many years ago, draws on one of the reported sayings of the Prophet Muhammed, upon him be peace, about Ramadan. The saying goes as follows: ‘When Ramadan begins, the gates of Paradise open up, the doors of Hell are locked, and the devils are chained’. This makes Ramadan a time for honest self-assessment and asks tough questions of believers: if our negative influencers are removed from the equation as a cause of our undesirable and unsanctioned behaviours, and yet we still engage in them, then what does that say about us?

Poem: The Three Parts

The Beginning
Ten days of mercy
For those fasting and sincere
A gift from above

The Middle
Forgiveness arrives
Repentance to cleanse the soul
Emerge pure once more

The End
A protective robe
Giving freedom from the heat
Paradise awaits

The story behind the poems

This set of poems, written in the style of haiku (the very basic 5-7-5 syllabic form taught to children in primary school), is inspired by a hadeeth (saying) of the Prophet Muhammed, upon him be peace, in which he described Ramadan as consisting of three parts: ‘It (Ramadan) is the month whose beginning is mercy, whose middle is forgiveness, and whose end is emancipation from the fire’.

The poems actually started out life many years ago as a group of messages sent to our local Ramadan Radio station. The morning show presenter liked his audience to be interactive and, for some strange reason, that was my idea of participation! I then published the poems in the 10th anniversary special edition of the local Ramadan guide, as mentioned in the previous blog. The poems have gone through a little more editing since then (because it isn’t often that I can look at a piece of work after some time and not find something to change about it) but the essence remains the same.

Poem: Yesterday’s Ramadan

Remember how Ramadan was when you were small?
How despite the challenge, you wanted to do it all?
“They say I’m too young? Who cares what they think!
I’ll give up the food, I’ll give up the drink.
I’ll behave my best. I won’t be bad.
I’ll pray each salaat, just like mum and dad.
I’ll rise early for suhur, pray taraweeh ’til late.
I’m sure I’ll be tempted, but for iftar I will wait. 
I’ll run to the neighbours with plates stacked with food.
I’ll smile like the Prophet* and share my good mood.
I’ll break my fast with zamzam and dates,
And swap samosa stories with all of my mates.
I’ll give my pocket money to children in need,
And I’ll help get everything ready for Eid!”

Now all grown up, you ask, “what went wrong?
I find it so difficult – the month is too long! 
Was it easier back then, or was I far more tough?
Has my faith become weak or has life become rough?”
You feel like you’re lost, like you can no longer cope.
But ‘do not despair’, He tells us; do not lose hope.
That child of Ramadan-past has not gone,
Because deep inside you its spirit lives on. 
So call on your Lord to get you on track,
And soon, through His Love, your child will be back.

The story behind the poem

Ramadan is a blessed and wonderful time, but it is also a challenging one. Fasting can be hard for many, for numerous reasons, but it isn’t just the fast itself that can present difficulties. For some, the abstinence from food and drink (and, let’s not forget, intimate relations) between the rising and setting of the sun is the least of their worries, because it is the spiritual connection to the month that is eluding them, or life that is giving them a really tough time, and that is what is making everything else harder in turn. It is common when in that position to look back to when things were simpler and wish for them to be that way again, and that is the feeling I wanted to capture when I wrote this poem for the Ramadan guide.

Footnotes: *Peace be upon him. **Zamzam is the blessed water from the well of the same name in Makkah. You can learn more about the story behind Zamzam here.

Poem: Abundance

With every minute of every day
Allah gives Ramadan rewards away.
Iftar* is a blessing, so is suhur*,
And so is the hunger and thirst you endure.

You pray morning, noon, and night to Him.
He uses this to wipe away your sins.
With all that you give to those less fortunate
You earn His love, so it’s you that wins.

Taraweeh, I’tikaaf, Laylatul-Qadr** –  
All ways to gain extra reward without measure.
The spirit of unity and neighbourly love
Gives your Lord the greatest pleasure.

So with mind, body, and soul sing His praises –
With each act of worship it’s your status He raises.
And cherish the month, do all that you can,
Because nothing is more rewarding than dear Ramadan.

The story behind the poem

In my previous post with the poem ‘What is Ramadan?’, I mentioned how some of the content I write for our local Ramadan guide is composed with a wider audience in mind of those less familiar with Islam and the holy month. The rest of the content is written for the Muslim readership from the angle of reflecting and reminding, with a view to inspiring readers and helping them get the most from their month. So when doing the special 10th anniversary edition of the book with verse instead of the usual information pages, I shaped those previous reminders of just how much there is to gain from Ramadan into a poem.

Footnotes: *The iftar is the meal at the end of the fast, at sunset, and suhur is the meal taken before dawn breaks and the fast begins.. **There are a number of practices and occasions that are particular to the month of Ramadan, and these are three of them. The Tararweeh is an additional nightly prayer in which the Qur’an is recited in full over the course of the month, while I’tikaaf is a period of total seclusion and immersive worship that some Muslims practice in the last third of month. Laylatul-Qadr, or the Night of Decree, also falls in the last ten days of Ramadan and is the night on which the Qur’an was first revealed. It is described ‘more blessed than a thousand months’, and people try to spend as much of the night as they can in extra worship.

Poem: What is Ramadan?

The most sacred time for Muslims everywhere
A month of fasting, charity, prayer
Reflection, devotion, spirituality

The month in which the Qur’an was revealed
To Prophet Muhammed, upon him be peace 
The best of all humankind

One of the five pillars of Muslim worship
The ninth month in the Islamic year
The first in order of importance

From the break of dawn to the setting of the sun
A challenge to all that are able 
To abstain in dedication to the One

Refraining from food, drink, and more
Rising above earthly desires
To reach a place closer to Him

Learning self-restraint and empathy
Strengthening family and community
All for the prize of His mercy

May He grant this to us all. Ameen.

The story behind the poem

In my post at the start of the month (Ramadan, Reading, and the Pen), I wrote about how I do a spot of freelancing every year for a local Ramadan guide. The primary audience for the booklet is the Muslim community, but as it is distributed free via a whole host of outlets in a very diverse city, I write some of the information pages in the guide with an eye on readers from other faith backgrounds who might not be as familiar as the primary audience is with what the holy month involves. When we swapped out the usual Ramadan information pages for poems in the 10th anniversary edition of the guide, I was keen not to lose the explanatory element for this wider readership, so I retained it by using verse instead.