Book People: Randa Abdel-Fattah
I read Randa Abdel-Fattah’s ‘Does My Head Look Big in This’ years ago and have been an avid fan of everything she has written since. We have also had her as a visiting author to our school and I would highly recommend her for middle/secondary school visits – students and staff alike greatly enjoyed her talks. Her latest book is ‘When Michael Met Mina’, and I’m so very pleased to have Randa on the blog today, as part of the ‘Book People’ series.
When Michael meets Mina, they are at a rally for refugees – standing on opposite sides.
Mina fled Afghanistan with her mother via a refugee camp, a leaky boat and a detention centre. Michael’s parents have founded a new political party called Aussie Values. They want to stop the boats. Mina wants to stop the hate. When Mina wins a scholarship to Michael’s private school, their lives crash together blindingly. A novel for anyone who wants to fight for love, and against injustice.
Purchase books by clicking on title links.
Told in alternating voice of Michael and Mina, this is a well-crafted and clever consideration of both sides of the complex refugee debate, which never descends into cliché territory – Randa is a master at steering clear of cliché in all her work. The novel brings politics to life for the YA audience and adds a human face to what can often be a dry topic for teen readers – I’d also highly recommend ‘One True Thing’ by Nicole Hayes (review here) for a similarly political YA novel. ‘When Michael Met Mina’ is highly recommended for readers from 12 years, I hope this will make it on to school reading lists around the country – a fine example of contemporary realistic fiction.
Thank you for joining us here today Randa, and you are going to make one fine academic and add much to that area!
- Tell us about your latest book.
Just over three and a half years’ ago I quit law and started a PhD to explore racism, specifically Islamophobia, from the point of view of its perpetrators. While I was conducting my fieldwork, interviewing people, attending anti-Islam and anti-refugee rallies (awful), a character popped into my head. Well, two to be precise. One was a young Afghan refugee. A ‘boat person’ we see maligned and stigmatized by both sides of politics. Bright, fierce, courageous, scarred, she wouldn’t budge from my head. I thought about what it would mean for this young girl to have fled Afghanistan, grow up in Western Sydney, only for me to then throw her into a private school in the lower north shore of Sydney. I called her Mina. The other person who popped into my head at one of the rallies I was attending was a boy called Michael. As I interviewed people about their ‘fears of being swamped by boats’, about the ‘Islamisation of Australia’, about the so-called ‘clash of civilisations’, I wondered what it would mean to be a teenager growing up in a family peddling such racism and paranoia. How do you ‘unlearn’ racism? How do you find the courage to question your parents’ beliefs? How do you accept responsibility for learning about the world on your own terms? That’s when I decided to write a story that took these two characters, Michael and Mina, and threw them at each other.
- How did you get started as a writer?
I’ve been writing since I was a child. I wrote my first ‘book’ in year six. It was based on Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’. Ever since I can remember I have been writing stories.
- What does a typical day look like for you?
I juggle many ‘jobs’. Motherhood (3 children with another on the way), writer, PhD candidate, human rights activist, community advocate. I can tell you a typical day in the last 3 years. I divided my days between PhD research/writing, and writing my book. In between writing I would write op eds for newspapers on issues that often touched on what I was writing about academically or creatively.
- Can you describe your workspace for us?
I don’t have one workspace. I write when and where I can. I have my study where I do quite a lot of writing but I also like writing in cafes. When I have my little one with me, and feel a creative urge, I write in a play centre or wait until he sleeps in the pram and write in a café. So my workspace is: mobile, noisy, quite often a crossover between intimate and public.
- Any words of advice for young readers and writers?
I always feel uncomfortable dispensing writing advice because everybody is so different. The magic that happens when people write works in different ways and for different reasons for everybody. The most general advice I can give is to read widely, write as often as you can. Sounds so trite but it’s funny how many people approach me at festivals and say they want to ‘be a writer’ but don’t actually write all that much! Purchase these titles by Randa Adel-Fattah here.
- Do you have a favourite book or character (your own or somebody else’s)?
Favourites are always so hard to decide upon. So instead I’ll share with you a book I found in my childhood collection the other day and a visceral feeling of utter love and joy that swept through me as I laid eyes on it. The Book of Brownies by Enid Blyton. Not one of her well-known books, I believe. But it was a book I devoured over and over again and made me fall in love with reading. There are many others but that will do for now!
- If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?
Probably a journalist or academic (which I’m hoping to be).
- What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?
Fetta cheese, black olives, sliced cucumbers and corn thins with a cup of tea. If I’m working from home, it’s a staple breakfast when I write.
- How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?
Subconsciously I’m sure many people I have met are in my books, mish-mashed into characters. Sometimes I am deliberately drawing on somebody I know or have met. I think there was more of myself in my earlier writing. I’ve learnt more distance now.
- If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?
For 24 hours I want the First World to live as the Third World do and the Third World to live as the First World do. I reckon we’d see a fundamental restructuring of the world after that!
Thank you Randa!
Review of ‘The Friendship Matchmaker’ here.