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Drunk on Ink Q & A with Yousra Imran and ‘Hijab and Red Lipstick’, a novel

Drunk on Ink is a blast interview series by Soniah Kamal author of  the novel Unmarriageable, a parallel retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and set in contemporary Pakistan

Yousra Imran is a British Egyptian writer and author of YA novel Hijab and Red Lipstick (Hashtag Press). She works full time in marketing and events in the higher education sector, and lives in West Yorkshire. When she isn’t writing and reading, she enjoys long walks, listening to vintage Arabic music and watching movies.

About Hijab and Red Lipstick 

Being a teenager isn’t easy. All Sara wants to do is experiment with make-up and hang out with friends. It doesn’t help when you have a super-strict Egyptian dad who tells you that everything is “haram” a.k.a. forbidden. But when her family move to the Arabian Gulf, it feels like every door is being closed on Sara’s future. Can Sara find her voice again? Will she ever be free?

SONIAH KAMAL: First author/book you read/fell in love with? Why?

YOUSRA SAMIR: The first author I fell in love with was Jacqueline Wilson, which would come as no surprise as she was every girls’ favorite author during the 1990’s. I used to enjoy seeking out her earlier titles from the 1980’s, which unfortunately are no longer printed. My favorite book of hers from the 1980’s is Waiting for the Sky Fall, firstly, because there is a mixed race girl on the front cover, and secondly it was the first time I had ever read a young adult novel that spoke about doing your O-Levels (GCSEs), relationships, sex and pregnancy so openly.

To unwind: chai, coffee, water, wine?

Karak chai for sure!

 A novel, short story, poem, essay, anything you believe should be mandatory reading? Why?

I’d like everyone to read It’s Not About the Burqa edited by Mariam Khan. It’s an anthology of essays written by British Muslim women and they are just such a diverse group of women, from different walks of life, different sexual orientations and all doing such different things with their lives. It’s a must-read because not only is this the first time that I’ve seen Muslim women write so openly about sex, queerness, sexual orientation, relationships and issues within society that are traditionally considered “taboo” by Asian and Arab cultures, it’s an anthology that shows readers that Muslim women aren’t a monolith – each one of us is different, and we have such vibrant stories to tell.

Any classic you wished you’d pushed through in your teens?

I think it was probably Charles Dickens in general – growing up I felt like I should read at least one Dickens book from start to finish, and tried Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities and just never got through them!

Favorite quote from your book 

From Mona El Tahawy, Hymens and Headscarves (2015):

“The most subversive thing a woman can do is talk about her life as if it really matters.”

Favorite book to film? And why?

I love both The Color Purple watch trailer and Beloved watch trailer and strangely, Oprah Winfrey acted in and produced both of them! I think it was the first time I watched movies that had such strong, black, female leads. I think the other reason I love them is that the stories involve women finding their voice and standing up for themselves.

Favorite Indie Book Store/s?

The Book Case in Hebden Bridge and Bert’s Books (online).

The one think you wish you’d known about the writing life?

I read some really good advice recently which said “don’t call yourself an aspiring writer. If you write, you are a writer” and I wish I’d owned that sooner.

Does writing/publishing/marketing get any easier with each story/novel published?

Hijab and Red Lipstick is my debut novel so I will have to let you know when book number 2 gets eventually published! But in terms of getting this debut published, I won’t lie – it was hard! Literary agencies kept saying on their websites that they were looking for authors from ethnic and under-represented minorities and I’d make a submission and rejections always came back with “your writing is very good” or “there’s nothing wrong with your writing” “but we don’t see a market for your book.” I disagree – there is definitely a market for books with Muslim characters.

Dog, Cat, Or?


Ideal vacation?

Exploring a historic city – I have wanted to go to Cordoba and Istanbul for ages!

Favorite book cover?

I absolutely adore the book cover of The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls by Mona El Tahawy.

Favorite song?

Lady (Hear Me Tonight) by Mojo

Favorite painting/ work of art?

Probably Osman Hamdi Bey’s 1880 painting Girl Reciting Qur’an.

Any Lit Festival anecdote you want a share? A great meeting with a fan? An epiphany?

Haven’t been to a literary festival since my book got published

Do you have a favorite film, or two, or three?

I love so many films. I love 80’s fantasy movies. The Dark Crystal watch trailer, Labyrinth watch trailer, Beetlejuice watch trailer, Legend watch trailer, Willow watch trailer and Edward Scissorhands watch trailer!

 What is your favorite Austen novel, and film adaptation? Why?

Not an Austen fan – I know, shocking! I prefer the Bronte sisters and George Eliot. The women in Bronte and Eliots’ novels are far stronger and have more complex personalities.

(SK NOTE HERE- we can debate the stronger and more complex- 🙂

Recommend a Small Press and/or Literary Journal?

I can recommend lots of small publishers – Hashtag Press, Bluemoose Books, Red Dog Press and Knights Of.Media

Last impulse book buy and why?

Diary of a Muslim Nobody by Reaz Rahman – I came across it through my publishers, and when I knew Rahman had self-published, I wanted to support a fellow Muslim author

Soniah Kamal is an award winning novelist, essayist and public speaker.  Soniah’s novel Unmarriageable is a Financial Times Readers’ Best Book of 2019, a People’s Magazine Pick, a Library Reads Pick, an NPR Code Switch Summer Read Pick, a 2019 Book All Georgians Should Read, a 2020 Georgia Author of the Year for Literary Fiction nominee and more. Her novel An Isolated Incident was shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction and the KLF French Fiction Prize. Soniah’s TEDx talk is about second chances and she has delivered numerous keynotes addreses. ‘We are the Ink’, her address at a U.S. Citizenship Oath Ceremony, talks about immigrants and the real American Dreams, her keynote at the Jane Austen Festival is about universality across time and cultures and she’s given keynotes at Writers Conferences. Soniah’s work has appeared in critically acclaimed anthologies and publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Georgia Review, The Bitter Southerner, Catapult, The Normal School, Apartment Therapy and more.
She’s on twitter and instagram @soniahkamal

More Drunk on Ink Interviews:

Sejal Shah, This Is One Way To Dance, memoir

Madi Sinha: The White Coat Diaries, a novel

Chika Unigwe, Better Late Than Never, short story collection

Anju Gattani: Duty and Desire, a novel

Christopher Swann: Never Turn Back, a novel

Zetta Elliott: A Place Inside of Me, middle grade fiction

Veena Rao: Purple Lotus, a novel

Tara Coyt: Real Talk About LGBTQIAP, non fiction

Maureen Joyce Connelly: Little Lovely Things, a novel

Molly Greeley: The Heiress, historical fiction novel

Donna Miscolta: Living Color, short stories

Mike Chen: Here and Now and Then, a novel

Ruth Franklin: Shirley Jackson A Rather Haunted Life, biography

Colleen Oakley: Before I Go, a novel

Emily Midorikawa: A Secret Sisterhood: The literary friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, biography

Shabnam Samuel: A Fractured Life, memoir

Elise Hooper: The Other Alcott, a novel

Anne Boyd Rioux: Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters, non fiction

Devoney Looser: The Making of Jane Austen, non fiction

Kristen Miller ZohnThe Currency of Taste- Gibbons Georgian Silver, coffee table book

Vanessa HuaA River of Stars, novel

Chaitli SenThe Pathless Sky, novel

Sonya HuberPain Woman Take Your Keys, memoir

Kathy Wilson FlorenceThree of Cups, a novel

Sara Luce LookCharis Books and More, independent book store

S J SinduMarriage of a Thousand Lies, a novel

Rosalie Morales KearnsKingdom of Men, a novel

Saadia FaruqiMeet Yasmin, children’s literature

Rene DenfeldThe Child Finder, a novel

Jamie BrennerThe Husband Hour, a novel

Sara MarchantThe Driveway has Two Sides, memoir

Kirsten Imani KasaiThe House of Erzulie, a novel

Thrity UmrigarThe Secrets Between Us, novel

John Kessel, Pride and Prometheus, novel

Lisa Romeo, Starting with Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir of Love After Loss

Rachel May, An American Quilt: Unfolding a Story of Family and Slavery

Rebecca Entel, Fingerprints of Previous Owners, novel

Jamie Sumner, Unbound: Finding from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood

Falguni Kothari, My Last Love Story, novel

Tanaz BathenaA Girl Like That, YA novel


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