“I was fed up with usual portrayal of Muslims, forced marriage, terrorists, Jihadi brides’; says Sairish Hussain

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BRADFORD: A writer has been shortlisted for a national award for her debut novel.

Sairish Hussain, 28, is the youngest nominee in the Costa Book Awards – the only major book prize opens solely to authors resident in the UK and Ireland. Her book, The Family Tree, is in the First Novel category, the Asian image has reported.

Sairish, a healthcare assistant at the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “I wanted to tell a story of a British Muslim family, but not necessarily about them being Muslim. I never felt there was a book out there that was about people like me. I was fed up with the usual portrayal of Muslims – oppressive fathers, oppressed daughters, militant young men. Anything with a Muslim character always ended up about 9/11, forced marriage, terrorists, or Jihadi brides. I wanted to show that life, and all of human experience, happens to us too.”

The novel, about a British Muslim family, explores grief, homelessness, addiction, revenge and redemption. Following the death of his wife, Amjad is left with his teenage son, Saahil, and daughter Zahra. The shocking events of one-night change all their lives. As Saahil spirals out of control, his younger sister Zahra is caught between divided family loyalties.

“Amjad, Saahil and Zahra reflect me, my family and friends. We all have stories to tell, and they’re not restricted to being Muslim or northern,” said Sairish, of Fairweather Green.

She wrote The Family Tree as part of a creative writing MA at the University of Huddersfield, where she studied English Language and Literature. “It took me five years to write, as I had essays and disserations too” said Sairish. “I wanted to write about a positive relationship between a father and daughter. Muslim fathers are always portrayed as strict and overbearing, but it’s not always like that. Amjad doesn’t treat Zahra any differently to how he treats his son; she is ambitious and he doesn’t stand in her way.”

She finished it for her PhD, after being awarded the university’s Vice Chancellor’s Scholarship, and the novel was taken up by Harper Collins, which offered her a two-book deal. “I met Lisa Milton, executive publisher at HarperCollins, at Bradford Literature Festival, she kindly agreed to read my work,” said Sairish, who also credits Michael Stewart, head of creative writing at Huddersfield University, for his support.

Sairish started writing as a child and was encouraged by her English teacher at Rhodesway School. “She made me believe in my writing. I hadn’t seen her since I left school 10 years ago, then we met up and I pulled my book out. She was thrilled,” said Sairish, who did work experience on the T&A while at school. “I was the kid always helping others with their essays at school. I always wanted to write a novel.”

Now Sairish is writing her second novel and teaching creative writing part time at Huddersfield University.

A total of 20 authors have been announced across five categories for the Costa Book Awards. The winners of the five categories, who will each receive £5,000, will be announced on January 4, 2021. The overall winner of the 2020 Costa Book of the Year will receive £30,000 and be announced at a virtual ceremony on January 26.