We were worried about being late, so naturally ended up arriving first. Whalley Range High School For Girls hosted a visit from Sufiya Ahmed yesterday, arranged with the assistance of the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. It was definitely the right kind of school for a talk on forced marriages, and Sufiya seemed to go down exceedingly well with the girls.
It was a good thing it was girls only, except possibly for the Resident IT Consultant and mcbf’s James Draper who were seriously outnumbered, but suffered in manly silence as best they could. They were both useful. James in that he wore his frog socks (and introduced Sufiya), and the Resident IT Consultant for assisting me in signing in, when I had a momentary lapse of just about everything.
Whalley Range is my kind of school, with some great Art Deco interiors and with a student population who wears purple blazers. They have a large proportion of muslim girls, and I saw many headscarves being worn, although I expect and hope that most of the girls will never have to face forced marriages. Although, there were several who had come across them happening to others.
We have Enid Blyton, and to some extent Roald Dahl, to thank for inspiring Sufiya to write. And the Whalley Range girls brought new and unsuspected skills to the often asked question of inspiration, managing to ask it in many different guises. Sufiya stayed on the ball, and most of the time Enid continued being her source of inspiration.
Sufiya’s father used to make her watch the nine o’clock news, and her work in parliament where she met groups of women who were working against forced marriages, helped decide her that this is an important topic for a teen book.
Then Sufiya read aloud from Secrets of the Henna Girl, choosing the scene on the rooftop garden where Zeba finds out what’s in store for her. After that she did some Q&A and told the girls about a facebook page for the Forced Marriage Unit.
And then, in order not to be too serious she talked about the fun things connected with Asian marriages, like the clothes and the henna patterns. An amazing number of volunteers wanted to come up on stage with her to dress up, and five lucky girls had a go with the clothes, and another three had a quick henna session with Sufiya.
Not surprisingly, Sufiya has never hated books, her childhood favourite was Mallory Towers, and her most recently read book was by Philippa Gregory. Her advice for hopeful writers is to read a lot, to always carry a notebook and to take part in writing competitions.
Judging by the number of questions they had and how the girls flocked around Sufiya afterwards, and the books bought and the bookmarks signed, this was a very successful event, and I hope they went away inspired by seeing someone like themselves doing an author visit in a school. The girls might have been on the young side to be seriously thinking about forced marriages, but they were just right for the event, the dressing up and the henna and everything.