Friday, February 20, 2009

BBC World Service interview with Shelina

Click on this link to listen again to Shelina Janmohamed's interview on the BBC World Service's Newshour on February 18th at 1pm.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The popularity of love, headscarfs and happy endings

We are playing a little game at Aurum at the moment, called 'Guess how far up the rankings Love in a Headscarf has climbed in the last hour.' It went from about 2,000th position in the week before publication (already a pretty spectacular achievement) to about 800th the day of the launch, and climbed to 65th today. It is number 1 in the Islam category and number 2 in the Women's biography category - excuse me, I just checked and it is now number 1 in Women's biography. Amazon have just placed another order for more stock of the books with our sales team.

And it seems as though most of the publicity is only just starting. With a serial starting today in the Daily Mail, an interview yesterday at the BBC World Service and more to come before the end of this week, sales are set to climb sky-high.

One other thing: it is nice to find that it is not just the usual celebrity memoirs and ghostwritten chick-lit that is proving popular with readers nowadays. The success of Love in a Headscarf is proof for first-time authors everywhere, that if you have a story worth telling, tell it, and someone will listen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hot Dates and Headscarves - Interview with Shelina Janmohamed in The Guardian (18 Feb 09)

Buses roll by outside, the day unfolding in a succession of sirens and shouts, and in her small flat in west London, Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is discussing how she came to find her husband. Janmohamed is better known as spirit21, a blogger who has provided a unique perspective on the life of a British Muslim woman over the last three years, addressing issues that range from the political role of Turkey to Jack Straw's comments about women who wear the veil. She is also now author of Love in a Headscarf, a book that hovers somewhere between chick-lit and memoir, as it follows Janmohamed's journey through the process of arranged marriage.

The memoir is irreverent and feminine: perhaps not the most conventional tone for discussing this topic. "I love chick lit," she says. "I noticed when I started reading it that it was very much about 'How do you find the prince?' And what I wanted to do was tell that universal story, but from the perspective of being a Muslim woman."

Janmohamed was always aware that her marriage would be arranged, and is frustrated by the common misconception that such unions bypass the desires of the bride and groom. "The Islamic view on marriage is that the man or woman should make an active choice as to who they want to marry," she says. "And there's no long-term dating procedure, but it's essential that the two people have met, that they've had as much discussion as they like and that they feel comfortable with each other."

Introductions are usually organised by parents and a designated matchmaker, but there was, she recalls, "a lot of frank discussion about what I would want in a partner" beforehand. She credits this with helping her to make an informed choice and teaching her about herself. "You look at your list and you think, 'Gosh, I'm so shallow!'" she laughs, "because it's ·'good-looking, tall, handsome . . .'"

In her memoir, Janmohamed focuses on the intersection between the cultural representations of love and the reality. "The big question I ask is, 'What is love?'" she says. "Because we all watch lots of Hollywood films, and it's always Prince Charming and you live happily ever after. And I still watch them, and I swoon at the hero, and I wish life was like that. But when you come from an Asian background it's different - it's all practical and serious, and if you fall in love at the end then that's very good, dear."

In the book's opening chapter, Janmohamed is introduced to her first prospective husband, and her expectation is that he is destined to be "Mr Right" - that the arranged marriage can exist in tandem with the rom-com. But as her search continues, she begins to recognise the disparity between these two ideas of love. "I think as you grow up and things don't work out as you think they will you get pushed to ask the questions - is my paradigm of the world something that is true? Are we shortchanged today because all we think about is romance? Or is the Asian tradition perhaps too staid?"

Janmohamed is keenly aware of how non-Muslims tend to view arranged marriage and Muslim women in general. She recalls visits to bookshops where she would find "shelves and shelves of misery memoir and all these women in black veils with camels walking in the background and titles like I Was Sold Into Marriage." She smiles flatly. "And the only other stories that we saw were of Muslim women who had somehow broken through this oppression, had decided that Islam was the source of it and had rejected it, and had gone off to be - and the only way to put this is in quotation marks - 'liberated'. And you know, this is a really serious issue, the idea that women don't get to exercise their free choice and are pushed into areas of life that they shouldn't be forced into: that does need to be addressed. But I think it's really important that as part of that wider picture of what it is like to be a Muslim woman there are some positive stories told." She lifts her hands. "I like being a Muslim woman!"

Janmohamed's parents emigrated from Tanzania in 1964, arriving with two suitcases, one son and £75 to their name. Their daughter followed soon afterwards, and was brought up in a fairly liberal north London home, familiar with her parents' culture and faith, while attending a local girls' school and mixing with people from different backgrounds. For many years she kept the three strands of her life - school, home and the mosque - quite separate, but finally began to reconcile them in her search for a husband.

This search began when she was 19 and studying at Oxford. The issue of education was an uncomfortable one, she recalls. Her parents had always encouraged her studies, "but there were people around saying 'Well, just make sure that you're not too educated because the men will be scared of you.'" Still, she stresses, this is another example of the universality of her story. "I think women generally have this idea that they have to giggle at men's jokes," she says, "and can't be too smart and can't make men feel like they don't know enough."

It took Janmohamed a decade to find the man she would marry, but today she hesitates to talk about her husband; she smiles nervously and explains that she doesn't want to reveal too much about the end of the novel. "What I will say is that he went through the whole process like all the others." During the years of her search she was introduced to more suitors than she can even remember, and the book recounts those would-be husbands who most influenced her thinking. "One of the fascinating things is that because the timescale is so shortened, you have to reveal yourself immediately. So within two or three meetings you would be saying, 'What do you want to do with the rest of your life? How many children do you want to have?' And actually I think that's very liberating; you know somebody very quickly.

"So there were men I would meet who were running very late and not think anything of it, not even an apology; and so you would think, 'That person clearly doesn't have any respect for me.' Or people who didn't want to spend any money, and I thought, 'Well, if you're not even going to spend any money to impress me at this stage, you're clearly not going to be very generous when we get married.'" More startling were the suitors who asked if she would consider not wearing a headscarf. "I found that quite shocking," she says, "because I wasn't forced to wear it, I'd taken that choice as an independent woman, and I expected of all the people in the world who would respect that choice it would be my husband."

The discussion of faith in Britain is, she believes, only just beginning. "I think in Britain it has taken a long time to be able to talk about these subjects - in the 60s and 70s it was about race, and you had to be very careful how you framed discussions about race. And now as we come into the 21st century that discourse is about faith. As Muslim women we seem to get stuck in the middle of this - because we look different," she says. "And I get really fed up with reading stories in the papers about how all Muslim women are oppressed. Even when I tell people I have a job and I'm educated and I travel round on my own, people still say, 'Well, you're still oppressed, you just don't know it.'"

"When Islam was first brought here in the seventh century it was extremely radical - which is a naughty word, you're not allowed to say the word 'radical' if you're a Muslim, because it means you're going to blow something up - but Islam was radical because the Prophet Mohammed said women are equal to men, black people are equal to white people, rich people are equal to poor people," she says. "I think Muslims look back to that and say to women, 'Look, you had rights that no one had anywhere in the world!' And that's right, but most Muslim women's lives are not like that. So Muslim women are caught in a gap; they're either told they're oppressed or they're not oppressed. But no one asks Muslim women what they think. And in the grand scale of literature, the voices Muslim women have are very few."

It was this want of a voice that convinced her to begin her blog, while working for a mobile telecoms company. "I started writing because I couldn't find anyone that was expressing a view based on critical thinking," she explains. "There's this view that the Islamic world is violent, oppressed and anti-democracy and all the other stereotypes. And then there's a view within the Muslim community - and we have to be honest about this - that says, 'The west is bad.' But I'm a British Muslim; I'm a Muslim and I'm from the west."

The success of the blog prompted people to suggest she write a book about being a Muslim woman. "And I would think, yes, I must, and it's very worthy. And when I sat down to write it I realised I didn't want to write a story that was 'This is Islam and these are the pillars . . .' People can read that in a text book. I thought I wanted to tell a universal story and the best story to tell is the story of love".

Love in a Headscarf is published by Aurum Press and priced at £10.99

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Paddy Ashdown's A Fortunate Life

As mentioned in an earlier blog entry, Aurum is preparing for the publication of Paddy Ashdown's memoir, A Fortunate Life in April. We were all highly excited last Tuesday when not just one, but two (!!) lords visited our offices - Lord Tebbit, here to see Jeremy Robson at Aurum's sister company JR Books, and Lord Ashdown.

Watch a clip of Paddy Ashdown chatting about his upcoming title and click on the link below the video to preorder a copy from Waterstone's.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Comic fans listen up!

Amongst Aurum's eclectic range of published titles, one of the quirkiest are The Leather Nun and Other Incredibly Strange Comics by Paul Gravette and Peter Stanbury, published in 2008.

The Orbital Comics Gallery will be hosting the INCREDIBLY STRANGE COMICS exhibition from March 3rd until April 9th which links in wonderfully with the book.

Gallery Address: 148 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0LB

For further information and ticket prices, call 0207 240 7672 or email

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Love in a Headscarf: A Note from the Author

As a first-time author the launch of my book this weekend is an indescribably exciting moment. Indescribable is not a good state of being for an author, and yet it is the only appropriate expression for this moment of super-sweet anxiety. My book, “Love in a Headscarf”, will be published this Saturday on Valentine’s Day. As this is a book about love, both romantic and divine, I find this a rather charming and coquettish subversion of our now notorious Hallmark Holiday.

Love in a Headscarf is a light-hearted and humorous book that weaves between multiple layers of culture, faith and raw human emotion. It asks the questions that so many of us ask: what is love, and how will I find it? My search may have started in a different way to many people, and with a different perspective, but it is the same universal human search. At its heart it is the intertwined story of how I found myself, my faith, and love.

Love in itself is also complicated, and I explore the interrelationship between romantic love, companionship and Divine Love. The subtitle of the book “Muslim woman seeks the One” alludes to the enigma of this search, and how often we try to resolve the seeming contradiction of finding and loving a person, with the search and love for something greater than ourselves. The insight and discovery of Divine Love was a major part of my personal journey and the (re)discovery of my faith, and I wanted to take the reader on that journey with me.

These are extremely challenging themes, and I hope readers will enjoy the journey that we go on together through these complexities, but in a way that steps back from the seriousness, and just enjoys the humour and comedy of day to day life. Some of the stories I find quite unbelievable myself, and in some cases they are quite absurd but always very funny. Our modern angst can create some situations and ideas that can only be unravelled by reading someone else’s experiences of it – and sharing one from a completely different perspective is sometimes the best way to do it.

I have been writing for several years about topics such as British Islam, Muslims and Muslim women. It is an area of high emotion, and often of confusion, that bubbles up constantly in our public discussions. I was constantly asked to write about my experiences in order to make a contribution to the debate, but I wanted to do it in an unexpected manner, which is why I chose humour – not something for which books about Muslims are known. So this breaks the mould – so go out and read it, because it is a book about being a modern woman, a modern Muslim woman, unlike anything else, I promise you!

Most people who grow up with multiple cultures and narratives will empathise with the fact that life seems to be full of contrasts and contradictions. The most natural way to convey these is through humour, because comedy itself is created out of those unexpected and contradictory experiences. I also felt that humour was the most accessible medium to unravel serious stereotypes and ideas because, as Peter Ustinov said, “Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious.”

I wrote the book in a style which was new to me, and so I feel both brave and nervous at the same time in revealing a new side of me as a writer. But I look back on the journey that I’ve been on in the book, and realise that the journey itself and the honesty with which it is described are courageous too. I hope that readers will pick up the book and laugh with me at my modern angst and neuroses, will empathise with it, but most of all will finish the book and say ‘that was a cracking good read.’

By Shelina Janmohamed, journalist, writer and first-time author of Love in a Headscarf (published on February 14 by Aurum Press, £10.99)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Harper's Bazaar Review of Love in a Headscarf

Here's a review that appeared in Harper's Bazaar on January 23rd (with the link below):

"An Islamic spin on the ‘Looking for The One' genre. Hijab-wearing Shelina is Oxford educated, more than moderately religious and has told her liberal-ish parents that she's up for an arranged marriage. Unfortunately, her Muslim ideals clash with theWestern ideas of romance she has picked up from films like Grease. Part of you wonders why she doesn't just rebel against the whole charade yet it's also fascinating that she doesn't.There's also great colour from the likes of the ‘buxom aunties' who are present at every meeting, frowning and serving perfectly bronzed samosas."
(Aurum £10.99)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Love in A Headscarf

On Sunday morning at 8am (for all you early birds out there),
tune into Inspirit with Jumoke Fashola on BBC London 94.9
to listen to Shelina Janmohamed,
first-time author of Love in a Headscarf.

An interview with Shelina will also be appearing
in The Guardian's G2 section during w/c 16th of February - I will update on which day exactly in the coming week hopefully - with further features and interviews expected in the course of this month. So keep your eyes and ears out for this exciting new voice in British literature!

February releases

February sees the release of five exciting and varied books from Aurum, covering a range of topics:

Memoir Love in a Headscarf, written by young British Muslim Shelina Janmohamed, is her story of finding love, Muslim style. There is laughter and there is heartache in this modern and topical romance, as well as a fresh look at the life of a Muslim woman in the UK.

Love in a Headscarf by Shelina Janmohamed is issued in paperback at £10.99 from 14th February. You can order a copy at:

We are also seeing the release of music biographies from two of the world’s greatest performers. Nina Simone: The Biography by David Brun-Lambert, is the first full biography of the jazz singer and songwriter. Brun-Lambert charts her life from when she was born, as Eunice Kathleen Waymon in North Carolina, to her fight for racial equality, and her self-imposed exile from America in 1970. This is the first book to tell Simone’s extraordinary story.

Nina Simone: The Biography by David Brun-Lambert is issued in jacketed hardback at £20 and is available at:

Our other musical biography is James Brown: The Godfather of Soul, republished by us after being out of print in the UK for 20 years. Originally co-written by Brown himself, this is a frank, revealing and passionate tale of the extraordinary life of a truly legendary performer.

James Brown: The Godfather of Soul by James Brown with Bruce Tucker is issued in paperback at £8.99 and is available at:

Into sport now and we have The Red and the White: The Story of England v Wales Rugby. Wales has a history of playing the finest rugby of all the home nations, but England has a history of enviable strength, and these two sides are known for their epic encounters on the rugby field. Huw Richards, rugby correspondent for the Financial Times, has chronicled many of the memorable meetings between these two since the 1970s, and shows that it is not just a contest between two teams, but a clash of cultures and histories as well as a titanic sporting occasion.

The Red and the White: The Story of England v Wales Rugby by Huw Richards is issued in jacketed hardback at £16.99. It is available at:

Finally we have The Sharp End: The Fighting Man in World War II, John Ellis’s hugely successful study of the experiences of the fighting soldier in World War Two, originally published in 1980.

Ellis uses testimony from British, American and Commonwealth soldiers from all theatres of the Second World War about their training, attitudes and aspirations, the different landscapes and climates, and their reactions to the experience of battle. This comprehensive and detailed study is an essential for the bookshelf of anybody interested in modern military history.

The Sharp End: The Fighting Man in World War II by John Ellis, with an introduction by Max Hastings is issued in paperback at £9.99.

Ray Harryhausen: Events

In association with Aardman Animations Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton will be signing copies of their latest book A Century of Model Animation on
Thursday 12 March 2009 at 5.30pm
at Watershed, 1 Canons Road, Bristol, BS1 5TX

Following the book signing Encounters Short Film Festival present a
screening of Jason and the Argonauts (U) Dir: Don Chaffey (104mins)
at 6.30pm
Tickets: £6 (£4.50 concessions). To book: phone 0117 927 5100
or buy online at