An Interview With Writer Nazneen Ahmed

Today we welcome to the blog Nazneen Ahmed, Writer In Residence of the Southampton libraries. Nazneen will be running a fantasy writing workshop for children on Tuesday 24th October from 10:30am at the Central Library. Tickets are free but booking is essential, please see below; Nazneen will also be taking part in the Southampton Showboat.

Where are you from?

I live in Shirley in Southampton. I moved here six years ago. I was born in North London, grew up in Surrey and my family are from Bangladesh.

How long have you been a writer and how did you get into it?

In one way, I’ve been a writer for as long as I’ve been able to write! My mum still talks about a poem about daffodils and the rain that I wrote when I was four. I’ve always loved reading and writing, I was the child reading under her covers at night. I wrote three novels as a teenager and a whole set of poems. But bizarrely, I’ve only started calling myself a writer this year, after getting a bit of recognition and confidence.

The recognition came from being selected as one of 12 mentees for Penguin Random House’s WriteNow Live scheme for under-represented authors last year. At the insight day for the scheme, Nikesh Shukla told us all that we needed to start calling ourselves writers, and taking our work seriously. I’m doing that now. It’s a brilliant scheme which you can find out more about through a video I filmed with my editor here:

Tell us about your work, what you write about and why.

I write a lot of things, including academic publications, poetry and non-fiction but the main thing I’m working on is a historical fantasy novel for young people which draws on South Asian traditions of magic and the history of South Asian seafarers in nineteenth century London.

Growing up I never came across children’s literature which told the stories of children who looked like me. Even now, those stories are rare, and often the black and Asian characters are sidekicks or tokens. This is particularly so in the fantasy genre. When I had my son, who is now four, I started writing a story for him, one that would make sense of his mixed heritage as a British-Indian British-Bangladeshi child.

The thing that connects all my writing is that I want to tell the untold stories, the stories of our minority communities in Britain, and how they came to be here. I am a historian in my professional life, and I do research on the long history of migration to port cities such as London and Southampton, and this feeds directly into my creative writing, whether it’s poetry or the fantasy novel.

What have you been doing in your role as Writer In Residence at the library?

Over the summer I’ve been doing a series of animal tea party themed story times for the younger users of the libraries, which have been really fun and which have produced some creative writing of my own, in the form of a response to The Tiger Who Came to Tea, which is titled The Tigress’ Invitation to Tea.

I’m now doing research in the archives (one of my favourite things!) before I launch a creative writing workshop at the library, which will use archival material on migration as the basis of creative prose and poetry and will be called So Write Stories.

I’m also an embroiderer and I’ll be running a parallel sewing project on Southampton’s favourite lines from books which will be called So Write Sew.

If anyone is interested in finding out more, you can contact me on nazneen372@gmail.com or through my residency blog at So: Write Stories to find out more.

What do you like most about Southampton?

I love the creative community in Southampton – it’s small, supportive, and everyone knows each other. I love the Art House, which is my favourite place to write and for me is a symbol of the creative, inclusive spirit of the city. I also love the richness and multi-layered nature of the migration stories of Southampton, which are everywhere around us, if we look hard enough. I was at St James’ Park the other day with my little boy looking at the murals on its history, and found that the football team that used to use the Rec Ground in the 1930s had a black footballer on the team. I want to find out more about him!

Tickets for Nazneen’s workshop can be booked here.

Posted by Charlie Place

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