Just over two years ago, I went on a hunt around my house for our dusty old laptop. I rarely used computers or laptops outside of the office, hence it took me a couple of hours to dig out, and I eventually found it buried under heaps of odds and sods in the spare room. It looked very sorry for itself, having seen better days, but all it needed a new charger, and then it was ready to go. And so was I; I was ready to start writing my novel.
I have been a lawyer for the last twenty-four years, but a writer by night is what I became, as I felt compelled to start the novel which I went on to call ‘Stained’. I could no longer ignore the problems that I had seen, experienced and dealt with concerning women in the the British Pakistani/South Asian community. I just had to tell the world all about it. I had always longed to write, and just as it happens for every other writer, my moment came; that point when I resolved to start that serious novel.
‘Stained’ is about Selina Hussain; a beautiful, intelligent, 18-year-old British Pakistani girl, who is raped by a trusted friend of the family. The real essence of the story lies in the lengths that this young woman goes to in order to prevent bringing what she thinks will be perceived as shame to her widowed mother’s door, and tries to ensure their ‘honour’ is not ruined, nor their good reputation tarnished. However, in doing so, her life takes a dangerous path, and leads to the darkest days of life, from which there may be no return.
‘Honour’ is a notion that is difficult to understand unless you have grown up in a community where it is more important than life or death itself. In communities in which I have lived, and worked, I have come across some truly shocking things that have been done or endured, all in the name of honour.
Girls are told from a young age that they carry the heavy burden of the entire family’s honour on their shoulders, and told to fear the consequences should that honour be stained. There is clear and open discrimination, for a boy is rarely treated with the same contempt if he strays in any way. None of this is religious; it is all cultural. Rules made by men, for the benefit of men.
After two years of hard work, writing into the wee hours of the night, my story was ready, and so I started submitting. I was fortunate enough to secure a publishing contract fairly quickly in the USA, however, I have yet to find an agent or publisher in the UK who will take it on.
Many have written back personal rejections, stating the writing is good, they admire what I have done, however, in the case of the agents, they don’t think they will be able to “place it”, and in the case of the small presses, they take on very few books and have to be confident that the book “will sell”.
So I, as a British Asian woman, writing about the problems of British Asian women, can’t seem to convince the British agents and publishers that there is a market for it in Britain today. But how will there ever be a market for such work if they don’t print it?
I have heard this same story time and again, from so many other writers from the black and ethnic minority communities. So much for the publishers trying to improve diversity! However, having said that, after I secured my publishing contract in America, this did lead to some interest, and I do now have a literary agent and a small press in Britain reading the manuscript, and I have my fingers crossed!
I have had some fantastic feedback already, which you can check out on my website.
My novel is to be published in the USA on 3 October 2016, by Harvard Square Editions, and will be available on Amazon in the UK; I hope we can prove the agents and publishers wrong and show there is a place for me and all those other writers from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
Abda Khan was the seventh of eight children to Pakistani immigrant parents, and the first of their children to be born in the UK.. She was the first child in her family to sit ‘A’ level examinations, and go on to higher education. In 1994, she qualified as a Solicitor and began work in a busy Criminal Law firm in Bradford. She married in 1995 and moved to Birmingham, where she set up her own law practice in Smethwick, in 1997. She now lives in Solihull with her husband and children.
Stained is her debut novel. Khan was inspired to write this novel as a result of her experiences. The community described in the novel is similar to the one in which she lived (she grew up in a very deprived, inner city area), and one in which she has worked (her law practice is based in a very working class, multi-cultural town). She has personally seen and dealt with many of the problems that are highlighted by the novel.
Find out more about her on her website: www.abdakhan.com
Follow her on Twitter @abdakhan5