I have such an intense love for The Henna Wars and am so happy to bring you this interview! The Henna Wars is soft and tender, emotional and sweet all with some great conversations about homophobia and cultural appropriation. Keep reading to check out this amazing interview with Adiba Jaigirdar!
The Henna Wars
When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this rom com about two teen girls with rival henna businesses.
When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.
I love the queer romcom aspect of THE HENNA WARS, can you talk about your inspiration for these characters?
Sure! With Nishat, I really wanted to create a character who was emotionally driven, which led her to make both good and bad decisions. I know that when I was a teenager, a lot of things that I did really came out of anger, resentment, and confusion. Those are things that a lot of teenagers face, especially when they’re marginalised and are facing things like racism and homophobia on a daily basis. This is where the inspiration for Nishat came from: she is a flawed character and a lot of the choices she makes in the book is a result of the racism she faced in her early teen years, and then the rejection and exclusion she faces from her parents. But at the same time obviously, her emotions also have good results. It’s her being emotionally driven that makes her very protective of her sister, makes her love her culture so fiercely, and allows her to have confusing feelings for Flávia.
I’ve been very fortunate to have many Brazilian friends and students, and they definitely inspired Flávia’s character. They played a huge role in how her character was shaped. Obviously, Flávia’s character arc is pretty focused on the cultural appropriation plotline in the book. So, I also had to think about what her own struggles with identity and culture might be for her to be confused about cultural appropriation, and to appropriate someone else’s culture.
Can you remember a time you felt represented in the media?
Nope! I’ve never really felt fully represented in the media, but the first time I felt partly represented was probably when I read The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi, which is about a Bangladeshi Muslim girl who gets sucked into a board game with her friends and younger brother, and have to beat the game master and get out. There are so many wonderful cultural details in that book about both Bangladeshi and Muslim culture!
Do you have any other queer Muslim character/book recommendations?
I don’t think there are a lot of books about queer Muslims unfortunately, but Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi is another romance with a queer Muslim protagonist!
You’ve written short stories in anthologies before, how do you have to think differently about the story and writing in a short story versus a novel?
With a novel you have so much space to explore different aspects of plot and character. With a short story, you only have a very limited amount of space. People do have different definitions of short stories but one of my professors at university told me that a short story should be one that you can read in one sitting, and that has always stuck with me. Of course, even reading something in one sitting comes with a lot of interpretation!
When it comes to writing a short story, I try to have a clear idea of where I want to go with it. What is my short story trying to say? How is it going to end? What is my character’s journey? It doesn’t mean I have to figure out all the aspects of the story, but I like to write short stories very deliberately, because there is very little space to play with.
On the other hand, though I also have an idea of where I want to go with a novel before I start writing it, I can often give myself a lot more space with it. There’s a lot more room to figure out characterisation, and to play around with the plot and characters. I am not as deliberate when I’m drafting a novel as when I am drafting a short story—though this does change when it comes to revising!
How has the process of being a debut been for you?
It’s been a really interesting experience! There’s a lot of up and downs when it comes to being a debut, because you are in uncharted territory. A lot of being a debut has been learning how things are and figuring out what is happening and when to ask questions and what kind of questions to ask. Obviously, the covid-19 has also created a really unique debut experience. There’s a lot of anxiety and stress about debuting during a global pandemic because bookshops are closed and warehouses are closed, and so many people are going through financial hardships, if not suffering through illness because of the virus. I don’t know if I quite have the language to speak about that yet, maybe we will have it after we come out on the other side of it.
What are some of your favorite book covers with POC on them?
We have been so blessed with beautiful covers with POC on them, which are written by authors of colour! I love the cover for Love From A To Z by S. K. Ali. I just adore the beautiful blue colour and the two characters of colour front and center. I also adore the cover for Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, even more after reading the book and knowing the significance of the cover. It’s so bright and bold and beautiful, and I think the cover just captures the heart of the book so amazingly. I also adore the covers of basically every single Sandhya Menon book. I love seeing happy brown kids on covers!
How is it to be a non-US debut, I feel like a lot of books surround events and activities for US authors, but what is it like to be outside of the US?
I think there’s a lot of things that US-based debuts take for granted that international authors don’t necessarily have the privilege of getting. These are things like book launches, being able to see your book in a bookshop, going on book tours, going to different festivals, meeting your agent/editor/publishing team in person, etc. For a lot of non-US based authors these things are privileges that you probably won’t get, or that you can only attain if you can self-finance a trip to the US (which is expensive, and as a brown Muslim…kind of scary). So there’s definitely stuff that you miss out on, and sometimes it can be a little disheartening.
At the same time, we do live in a globalised world so it’s easy to connect with peers over the internet and find communities. I’ve also found that there have been a lot of people who have been actively supporting my book in Ireland and in the UK even though it hasn’t sold rights here yet, which is really wonderful to see. In many ways I am lucky because the UK has an established publishing industry, and Ireland is also very literary, so there are a lot of opportunities to connect with people, like fellow authors and readers. I also think it can be nice to have physical distance from the publishing industry/the book world, and I love living in Ireland so…I’m definitely not complaining!
Prize: Win a copy of THE HENNA WARS by Adiba Jairgirdar (US/CAN Only)
Starts: May 12th 2020
Ends: May 26th 2020a Rafflecopter giveaway
About the Author
Adiba Jaigirdar is a Bangladeshi/Irish writer and teacher. She lives in Dublin, Ireland. She has an MA in Postcolonial Studies from the University of Kent, England and a BA in English and History from UCD, Ireland.
She is a contributor for Bookriot. Previously, she has published short fiction and poetry in various journals and anthologies.
All her work is aided by copious amounts of (kettle-made) tea and a whole lot of Hayley Kiyoko and Janelle Monáe.
She is represented by Uwe Stender at TriadaUS.
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