Farhana Shaikh: Inside Fiction Writing

Sunetra Senior Monday 29th June 2015 06:43 EDT

Farhana started up ‘Dahlia Publishing’ after the success of her online magazine ‘The Asian Writer’, which receives a global readership. Based in Leicester, always on a mission to stay true to her roots – the passion for literature as well as her background - she provides a service for budding talent who may not otherwise have the chance to grow. We talked more about the seeds – or excerpts – of writing that she looks to nurture, the position of contemporary ‘ethnic’ fiction in mainstream publishing and the courage to sit down and write without compromising your own voice. An entrepreneur of an editor, Farhana inspires as she works:

How did your Idea for a Publishing press come About?

 I noticed that a lot of regional writers seemed to be struggling; it wasn’t so much about them being Asian. They had the persistence – a quality of all good writers - but didn’t quite understand ‘how’ to write, or, they were distracted by the pressure to pursue a more traditional career: accountancy, medicine. Last year, I worked on a big project with a diversity of female writers to produce an anthology- Beyond the Border. So though we publish maybe one to three books a year, Dahlia looks for the most talented, emerging writers across the country and acts as that spurring force.

In terms of content or an approach, what makes a Submission stand out?

 I like character-driven stories rather than those centred on plot.  I want something that will take us on a journey. This week for example, we’re publishing ‘When Ali Met Honour’, a very modern love story.  Our first novel was about a woman on a journey to find her biological mother, and another was crime fiction.  Like all good books, we want quality writing and something people can relate to.

There was an article in ‘The Guardian’ a while back that questioned the obsession with authentic Asian writing; the need to write within cultural expectations to succeed. What is your take on that?

 Authenticity is an abstract concept to try and capture. There is also a difference between writing for the sake of writing and writing what you want. There is a lot of debate around how the publishing industry works, and yes it is largely white middle-class, but that is not a reliable marker either. Ultimately it comes down to whether you’re in it to sell products or look at writing that really shows people something. Dahlia doesn’t even think about fiction in terms of authenticity; it is not for us to say, or fall in to that trap. Our new book is about someone who falls in love with an Atheist, and some might feel ‘would that really happen?’ but it is a great story; moving and sharp. Focus on writing well and someone will pick it up.

Take us through your editing process?

It’s very hands-on. After picking the most promising submissions, we go through an intense developing process. A lot of writers have something good to say but don’t  know how best to say it. It can take a couple of re-writes and I will provide editorial notes on common mistakes such as P.O.V shifts, logical inconsistency, or too many sub-plots. It is about keeping both the writer and reader’s interests in mind. We will also go through a couple of readings using critique from independent book lovers and other passionate writers.

Do you think there is a Recurring theme in second generation immigrant writing?

No, I don’t think there is. Everyone is so different.  However, as I say, I am interested in regional writing; narratives from local towns and the everyday. Our last novel was set in Manchester. It is good when people can feel confident about writing about their hometowns and not feel swayed to write about London. There’s no difference originality, it’s just refreshing to see.

What is your advice for young people who want to write?

Read widely, literally everything, and keep writing, even if you think you’re not very good because you will get better.



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