BY MERHI TALEB
Randa Abdel-Fattah is an author, lawyer and human rights activist of Palestinian and Egyptian parentage. She was born in Melbourne and now lives in Sydney with her husband and two children.
Randa Abdel-Fattah is deeply interested in inter-faith dialogue and has been a member of various inter-faith networks. She has also volunteered with different human rights and migrant resource organisations. She contributes regularly to the Australian press, writing about Palestine and Australian Muslims.
In 2008 Randa won the Kathleen Mitchell Award for Young Writers for her novel Ten Things I Hate About Me, published by Pan Macmillan in Australia. Her first novel, Does My Head Look Big In This?, was an instant bestseller in Australia.
She is currently releasing a sequel to The Friendship Matchmaker and a new adult novel, No Sex in the City, in July this year.
Randa Abdel-Fattah started writing when she was very young. “[It’s something] I loved to do ever since I can remember, she says. Her first attempt at writing a full novel was when she was 15 years old. That book became the first draft for Does My Head Look Big in This?
Her drive, and the momentum behind her writing, is telling a story that engages her readers. “I hope to make them laugh, provoke them, and challenge them by giving them characters that they can relate to and can learn from.” She says she hopes to give readers “an emotionally charged experience” so they can walk away seeing the world a little differently and gain a new perspective on things they haven’t been exposed to.
In both The Friendship Matchmaker and its sequel, Randa addresses the issue of bullying, which she herself once experienced. “Bullying doesn’t necessarily have to be being beaten up or stuck in a corner with someone calling you names,” she says. “It can also happen in very subtle ways, especially among girls who have the power to either include you or exclude you.” She had a strong network of friends in primary school, but admits to her “fair share of being left out”. It’s a theme which runs in both of her books – The Friendship Matchmaker and its sequel. “I’ve drawn subconsciously on those experiences in writing those characters and what they’ve gone through in those books.”
Once Randa submitted the first manuscript of The Friendship Matchmaker, she had started on the sequel even before its precursor was published. “It often happens that way, and it was because I loved the character. I wanted to put her in a new situation, and I wanted to explore the characters again,” she says, explaining she prefers this approach because characters don’t often get a voice in the mainstream space, and because it helps present a different perspective on the main character.
In her new adult novel No Sex in the City she develops themes which explore “a sort of a different of falling in love experience” from that which is often projected as the norm in mainstream media, movies and popular culture. Randa wanted to show there are other ways of meeting ‘the one’, and highlight how people who don’t prescribe to mainstream values or practices go about finding partners. “Wanting all the same things that all the other people want but having a different expectations, or criteria, so to speak,” she says.
For Randa it has been a very smooth ride since she was first published. “For me it’s a dream come true.” Writing is not about being published. “I need to do it. [It’s] a way of feeding my soul and my mind.” She receives email and letters from kids and teenagers around the world who love her books.
Randa manages to juggle being author, lawyer, human rights activist and mum thanks to drinking “lots of coffee”, but also admits it really comes down to good home management skills and multi-tasking. She also has her Mac and iPad with her at all times, and can whip them out in free moments, such as when she’s on public transport or waiting for a plane. “I use the moments in between to sort of take advantage and write.”
At the moment she is writing a four-book children’s series pitched for the same audience as The Friendship Matchmaker and its sequel. She has also signed up to contribute to a human rights-themed children’s series, to be published in 2014.
Randa’s advice to new writers is to write about subjects they are passionate about, as opposed to “writing what you think would be published and what the market wants, because this is going to affect the quality of your work and readers will see through that.” She describes writing as a labour of love and says the true quality of a writer’s work comes out in the editing process, which is hard work. She says people unrelated to the writer usually give the most honest and constructive criticism, and that it’s a good idea to get an agent. If all else fails, her advice is to try publishing online, which wasn’t an option when she started writing. “There is a lot out there to support unpublished writers,” she says. “It’s just a matter of trying to find out what suits you, and not giving up on your dreams.”
Randa Abdel-Fattah – official website: http://www.randaabdelfattah.com/index.asp