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By Mahsuda, Oct 26 2019 08:51AM

My speech for the Creative Futures Writers' Award, Southbank Centre, 25th October 2019

When I was first asked to talk at these awards over a year ago, I was so excited I went straight to my computer and wrote 90% of what you’re going to hear in one inspiration fuelled flow. If you’re a writer you might know what that feeling is like, being so fired up that you are carried along by something that isn’t entirely you or what you thought was you.

What ignited this fire? The Creative Future Writers Awards, an award I support with a passion because of its inclusion of all the people who do not normally get included.

The carers, ex-offenders, the homeless, the disabled, the working class, the LGBTQ+, people of colour, refugees, survivors of abuse, people dealing with mental health issues and all the other different selves we have that society makes us feel we should hide. In short, people who don’t normally get to stand in places like this and celebrate being creative.

I was one of those people. I’m Asian, that’s probably easy to spot, but I was also brought up by a single parent mother living on benefits on a council estate. I was an undiagnosed dyslexic until my early twenties, suffered from a condition that left me physically debilitated and three years ago experienced an acute episode of post-natal psychosis.

Reading this list of all my different selves makes me think that I shouldn’t even be left standing, let alone standing here.

But this is the thing, what makes me a marginalised writer, also makes me a better writer. And not just a better writer but a better human being. Why? Because these experiences have given me lessons in life and empathy for all the people I meet and all the characters I create. It has taught me that being different is not a weakness, it is an asset.

Who wants to read about a life that has gone perfectly? Who wants to know about the easy ride? Would you go to see a motivational speaker if all they had to say was, I was born into incredible wealth, and because my parents had lots of connections, I didn’t have to work very hard and became a millionaire with no struggle or hardship? Not only would you not go and see that person, you would probably want to hurt that person.

But, if a speaker tells you I was born into poverty, my parents neglected my physical and emotional needs and everyone I knew said I would never amount to anything. But with hard work and the help of strangers, I started a business and though it failed in the first few years I kept on going until… I don’t even need to finish that sentence. You’re hooked, right? That is the power of struggle, that is the power of conflict, that is the power of story because stories are not stories unless they have conflict. And if you have had conflict in your life (and, by the way, I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t) then you have stories. And if you have managed to get through those conflicts to see the other side then you don’t only have stories, you have lessons.

This doesn’t mean we should preach. The artist’s role isn’t to tell people what to think. What the artist’s role is, in my very humble opinion, is to be a guide. A guide of what is happening in our society now, a guide in where we’re heading if we carry on the way we are, a guide in how certain actions in our past can dictate our present, a guide in what is good for us and what destroys us. A guide in being human. Because being human is the thing we all share. It is what makes us weak and also strong. And we can be both. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with being both. So I take back what I said about being marginalised making me stronger. It has also made me weaker. But weakness is only a failing if we let it consume us, if we let it define us. Nothing defines us more than our actions and the action of writing can be the most defining of all, because in the act of writing we expose our strengths and weaknesses. We expose our humanity.

In this room is a thousand stories told through the experiences that only you as an individual can tell. Ideas are common, but your take on those ideas are endless. If I gave you a writing prompt right now, you would all come up with a different story. If I gave you that same writing prompt in a year’s time, you would write a different story. We are moulded by many factors, some of which are highlighted in this award, but we are also moulded by time and new experiences. Nothing is static, everything is transient and what the writers have done in getting into this beautiful book, is try to encapsulate that transience into a moment.

And for us all, as readers, to take what we will from that moment. Because being a reader is just as defining as being a writer.

A final note before I leave, I want to tell all the writers in this room to never feel that because you’re from an underrepresented group you only have to write stories about that group. With my first novel, ‘The Things We Thought We Knew’ I wanted to write a book about council estates that wasn’t about gang violence, drugs and crime and I wanted to write about an Asian family that wasn’t a big, extended family who were just interested in arranged marriages and chapatis. With ‘How to Find Home’ I wanted to write a book about a homeless girl that goes on an adventure and, in turn, take the reader on an adventure that would change the way they thought about homelessness itself. The first story I knew about, I’d lived it, the second story I learnt about through rigorous research and first-hand accounts, but in both cases I wanted the same outcome. To break stereotypes and amplify the stories we don’ normally hear about. Those are the stories that fire me up, those are the stories that make me want to write.

So I want to encourage you all to write the stories that fire you up. Let them set you on the type of inspiration fuelled flow that wrote this speech. Expose your humanity and, one day, I look forward to letting you be my guide.

The Creative Future Writers’ Award is an annual development programme for talented underrepresented writers offtering prizes, mentoring and publication in an anthology. To find out more click below

And to fidn out how to keep this amazing prize free for all of those who enter please click below

By Mahsuda, Sep 11 2019 08:04AM

I'm so pleased to be one of eight brilliant writers in the Audible Original 'HAG' short story collection, now available. Eight female writers from eight regions retell forgotten British folk tales found by Professor Carolyne Larrington. It is a true feast for the ears and I do hope those who enjoy audio get stuck into these fantastic tales along with the bonus interviews with the Professor herself. My own story includes herbs, rubies and a panther princess...

By Mahsuda, Jun 23 2019 01:27PM

It's been an emotional two weeks listening to 'How to Find Home' being aired on BBC Radio 4. As an estate kid from the Midlands, hearing my novel about a homeless woman being read out in a Nottinghm accent by the brilliant Anjli Mohindra ON THE BBC has not only made me laugh but cry at the last few episodes (and I knew what was going to happen).

If you didn't get a chance to tune in, you'll still be able to catch up for a limited period on BBC Sounds (link below). I've also signed up with Audible recently who'll be bringing out audio books for both 'The Things We Thought We Knew' and 'How to Find Home', which means all you audio lovers (and I know there's many of you) will be able to access these novels to listen to soon. Will keep you posted...

UPDATE! Both 'The Things We Thought We Knew' and 'How to Find Home' are now available on Audible. Happy listening xx

By Mahsuda, May 25 2019 07:59PM

It's hard to describe a book launch for your own book in your local libary with your best friends, family and members of the public filling the room. Someone described it to me as having a wedding for one, which is as scary as it sounds. Fortunately for me I had a lovely local student review the whole night for me in her blog. Thank you Alicja Walendziak, you did a fantastic job.

'How to Find Home' is offiically launced into the world! I hope you all enjoy it.

Mahsuda xx

By Mahsuda, May 21 2019 09:21PM

Libraries taught me how to write.

When I was a child, my oldest sister would go to Leicester Central Library and bring us back a stack of books. We were too young to go to the city centre by ourselves and when we did go in with our mum her priorities were C&A, Woolworths and a trip to the fruit and veg market (in that order). The library didn’t have a look in.

We didn’t have many books in the house and in the late 80’s and early 90’s we didn’t have the distractions of tablets, smartphones or even the internet. All we had were a few toys, T.V. and those books from the library. On top of this we lived on an all-white council estate, all white except for my family who stuck out like the token Black and Asian extras in films and T.V. programmes of the time. My mum didn’t like us leaving the house, we rarely had visitors and we NEVER went around to our neighbours. As we didn’t have much money, we didn’t go on holidays or attend after school clubs. So when my sister brought back those books, they became my world. I escaped into books in a way T.V. (as brilliant as it can be) could never allow me to escape. Through reading I created whole worlds and characters in my mind via printed words across a page. Books activated my imagination and put me in the shoes of others as though I was walking in them myself. They also developed my ambition to write.

I would daydream of stories in classrooms and scribble down ideas on the back of council bill envelopes. I was a shy kid and found it excruciating communicating face to face with people but when I wrote, all my words came out clear and clever and sometimes even funny. Then, when I was finally old enough to take the bus into the city centre myself, I spent hours in the same central library that my sister had brought me books from. Skimming through every genre of novel, finding books on the craft of writing and devouring them, even the self-help books that coached me into building my self-confidence were invaluable in helping me to be a writer because they showed me how people worked. I walked up the stairs to the non-fiction section, went to the ground floor for the ‘Top Ten’ fiction books then down into the basement for the CD’s. A whole world of information was contained within three floors, not to mention the cubicle tables for me to write at undisturbed with quick access to reference books.

And all of this for free.

That library is now closed, the contents amalgamated with the old reference library around the corner. This has become commonplace now; libraries being shut down, reduced in size, given less and less staff. Governments show horror at the rise in child poverty yet still continue to slash free services – youth clubs, Sure Start centres, libraries – as though these aren’t directly connected to a child’s well-being and education outside of school walls. Without libraries I wouldn’t have been able to read a variety of books. Without reading a variety of books I wouldn’t have been able to expand my mind or realise how amazingly far my imagination could stretch. Without expanding my mind I would not have begun writing or been able to learn the craft of writing from the best masters of all; other writers. And without writing I would not be the person I am today.

For my second novel, ‘How to Find Home’, I’ve chosen to have my book launch in my local central library. I chose this venue because, if you haven’t already guessed, I bloomin love libraries, but also because I know that all the people who come through those doors this Thursday night – my friends who grew up on the council estate, my family who always stuck out, my writing community and the homeless people who I spoke to when researching this novel – will all be made to feel welcome when they arrive. Because libraries do exactly this every day. You don’t need to show your qualifications, or your citizenship, or your job history to walk through their doors. There are no dress codes or age restrictions. You don’t even have to have any money.

Libraries are for everyone. Because of this they will always be my favourite place and the perfect venue for me to talk to a crowd of people about the one topic that doesn’t make me shy – books.

Libraries taught me how to write. But, more importantly than this, they taught me how to live. I want them to do the same for my kid, hell, I want them to do the same for ALL kids. Let's keep on cherishing our libraries, let's keep on using and preserving them and let's keep on telling everyone who wants to listen about how important they are in our lives.

‘How to Find Home’ Book Launch: Leicester Central Library, Thursday 23rd May from 6.30pm onwards.


Winner of the Bristol Short Story Prize,

the SI Leeds Prize and author of  'The Things

We Thought We Knew' & 'How to Find Home'

mahsuda snaith...

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