Today on the blog for Diverse Books Month I’d like to welcome Imran Siddiq. After surviving a brain tumour, Leicestershire-based Imran Siddiq made writing a novel a challenge to conquer. On top of a full-time career, he sacrifices time to write Young Adult Science Fiction. To date he has published four novels, with others waiting in the pipeline. A veteran of writing festivals, a mingler with literary agents, a presence on social media, he is always keen to pass on advice and tips about writing. Sharing is his ethos, and he can be approached for guidance on self publishing, cover design, and other aspects of digital art.
Please read all the way to the end where I have reviewed the first book of his YA trilogy, Disconnect.
1) What does the term “diverse books” mean to you?
‘Diverse Books’ is about adapting genres to have multiples levels of appeal to varying groups. Fantasy should;t just be aimed at the fantasy market. Why can’t it have an element of horror, or romance thrown in amongst the dragons and dashing knights? Okay – so I’m just applying to the plot here. Diversity should be shown by the characters. Often I read about the requirement for more books aimed at boys, as many YA dystopian or coming of age novels have female protagonists. I would like to see more characters that are sexually confused or of ethnic minority background. I’m not saying that because we should to meet a quota, but because readers will come from varying backgrounds. Wouldn’t it be good for a knight on a quest to banish a kingdom of beasts also have the frustration of a forced arranged marriage, or an element of culture put upon them that you wouldn’t have with a ester caucasian protagonist?
2) One of the main themes of your book, Disconnect, is cultural segregation between the overworlders and underworlders, enforced by both sides. Do you see this as a metaphor for cultural segregation in real life?
Absolutely yes with segregation represented by the two classes of ‘Disconnect’. I wasn’t intending to have a dig at any group, whether they be the Overworlders or the Underworlders, but to highlight how when two groups don’t understand one another, they can despise the other for the wrong reasons. Underworlders are dirty but have a community spirit. Overworlders have freedom, wealth, and a lack of responsibility. Underworlders will steal. Overworlders will protect. Both groups will make dangerous stereotypical comments about the others. Both are wrong, yet right in their own circles.
The manner in which we speak, behave, eat, or dress in real life can determine who we become friends with. Have you ever kept your distance from someone in the playground, the office, or a shop because of their appearance or mannerisms? By having diverse characters, we can show such levels of interaction or rudeness.
Fear of understanding, or wanting to understand is a core element of segregation.
3) One of the things that really struck me about Disconnect is that the two main characters both have pivotal moments in the story where they are not what they appear to be on the surface. Again, I have to ask if this has a deeper metaphorical meaning for you in terms of diversity?
The protagonist in ‘Disconnect’ is an Underworlder, but he wants more than scavenging in the dirt. The other main character is an Overworlder, who doesn’t want to lead a lavish lifestyle. They both want to break away from their lives to experience new things. They want to diversify, however when they first experience it, they are deeply afraid. Taking a character out of their comfort zone is when we know if they’re ready for a new world. Can they blend into a diverse situation? Or will they revert to a life they actually want to escape from?
4) There seems to be a widely held belief that the bestseller lists are dominated by “white” authors writing about “white” characters. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing authors of colour or ethnicity and do you have any suggestions for authors trying to break through that wall?
There is a belief, but I think it’s similar to mainstream football. I always hear that there is racism against coaches and players from ethnic minorities – however i put the low numbers of participation down to ambition. If you are good enough, you will succeed. Publishers want to have writers from varying backgrounds because they want to reach into a wider audience. Movies, news channels, and television programmes are increasing their ethnic minority representation to appeal to such audience. But to make it in publishing, you have to be damn good. If your writing works, and it appeals to an agent, then you’ll make it regardless of skin colour.
When submitting to agents or publishers, write the best letter, synopsis, and manuscript possible. Wow them with excellent delivery, so that when they see your name, your background, or your face, they won’t care because your words will have won them over.
I truly believe that when a novel is good – then the character’s colour becomes secondary. Sure, the publisher may change it, but it’s more about your words.
5) Please share with us some of your favourite diverse books and/or authors.
Bali Rai – Killing Honour
Sarwat Chadda – Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress
Sarwat Chadda – Devil’s Kiss
Khaled Hosseini – A Thousand Splendid Suns
6) How are you incorporating diverse characters into your works?
Since the Divided Worlds Trilogy, I’ve started placing diverse characters in, and how made them the main protagonists. In ‘Tyler Nitbone’ the second main character is an Asian girl called Michelle. In other novels, I have protagonists that are Pakistani Muslim, Indian Hindu, Indian Muslim, and a Muslim brought up by adopted Western parents.
I went into Disconnect blind, not knowing much about the author other than a few tweets while I was arranging to interview him through a mutual friend, so it was pleasantly surprising to find I really enjoyed it. It’s been a while since I’ve read any serious YA and I devoured this book in two sittings.
I did get lost a couple of times through technical jargon and settings that I just couldn’t visualise, but the focus on the characters in the story is such that these things don’t really matter. The plot has a very distinct flavour of deus ex machina in several places, but it’s done with such self-deprecating humour on the part of Siddiq that the happy coincidences don’t bother the reader. Siddiq actually pokes fun at them, with one of his characters pointing out how odd all the coincidences are. To be fair, this may be less coincidental than it appears as there are a further two books I haven’t yet read which may explain how Zachary and Rosa have come together.
The plot races on at an absorbing pace with characters that are very likeable. You quickly become invested in Zachary and, later, Rosa and you want them to succeed despite all the prejudice against them. I even got emotionally invested in their two droids, Patch especially. Their human aspects made some of the characters’ treatment of them seem callous.
The segregation between social classes is a theme that runs with strength through this book. Zachary is from the underworlders, basically the janitor caste of the space station, and Rosa is from the Overworlders, the ruling class. Both are so ignorant about what the lives of the other half entail and it’s a recurring prejudice that rears its head even when they’re trying to get some equality between them.
There are emotional moments throughout the book and I will honestly say that I did not see the twist coming. It’s a book you walk away from with a very real feeling of hope for the characters, underscored by a sense of real world hope that the walls of prejudice in real life are also coming down. Morally, this complex story is an examination of discrimination that’s applicable to so many aspects of real world society.
I’d recommend it to anyone looking for some good ‘traditional’ space-faring scifi in the Young Adult arena.
Books available at: http://www.amazon.com/Mr-Imran-Siddiq/e/B00BDSNW9Y