Tag Archives: Sufiya Ahmed

Mcbf, the end is near – for now

There has already been afternoon tea in Manchester. Today – on the last day – there will be more afternoon tea, and a quiz. I’m trying really hard not to mind.

While I’m busy not minding, I give you some more borrowed/stolen photos from the Manchester Children’s Book Festival. It is run (or do I mean organised?) by Kaye and James. They work very hard. By today they must be absolutely shattered. I know I am, and I wasn’t even there.

That’s why I will show you their happy smiles as they rubbed shoulders with the great and the famous this week. The one at the beginning was Curtis Jobling, who they worked pretty hard. Here they are with Curtis and his hat.

Kaye Tew, Curtis Jobling and James Draper

Then James seems to have got Sufiya Ahmed to himself.

Sufiya Ahmed and James Draper

After which we see James wondering what on earth Kaye has to laugh about. Are they not there to work? Their boss, the Poet Laureate is looking on.

Kaye Tew and James Draper

And look, here is James with his arms round Carol Ann and Kaye. He looks right at home.

Carol Ann Duffy, James Draper and Kaye Tew

More ladies for James; Jenny and Rachel.

James Draper with Jenny and Rachel

And with that Cerri Burnell off television.

Cerri Burnell and James Draper

Then luckily we have a break from our pair, as Kevin does his fan stuff with Guy Bass.

Kevin with Guy Bass

But then it’s back to more hanging out with authors, with Kate Pankhurst. James is testing out the intelligent look.

Kaye Tew, Kate Pankhurst and James Draper

Next is Justin Somper with our hard-working couple.

Kaye Tew, Justin Somper and James Draper

Imtiaz Dharker speaks at the poetry event. Proper grown-up it looks, and no Kaye or James. (Though I’m sure they were there…)

Imtiaz Dharker

Andrew Cope is looking pleased to have avoided the camera happy organisers.

Andrew Cope

Oh no, here they are, back with Andrew.

Kaye Tew, Andrew Cope and James Draper

Steve Cole got the whole line-up of mcbf helpers instead.

Steve Cole and mcbf volunteers

Cathy Cassidy and ‘her boys’ who, as I’ve said before, are among the nicest in children’s fiction.

Cathy Cassidy

Former MMU student Liz Kessler was back with her pals Kaye and James.

Kaye Tew, Liz Kessler and James Draper

And finally, Ali Sparkes with, surprise, surprise, Kaye and James.

Kaye Tew, Ali Sparkes and James Draper

But you know what I’m really trying to say, don’t you? These two lovely people work, and work, and they organise a rather nice and most friendly book festival. They deserve to be photographed with their guests. They deserve the limelight. Because they do this so well, with an ever present smile on their faces. Well, two smiles. One for each face.

There was no witch to ask to see James’s socks this year. No witch to send to the back of the room. And no cake for the witch. Or tea. Or quiz, which I would surely have won. Had I been there.

(The photos are by the mcbf photographer. I simply smuggled them onto my flickr account, because earlier this week I produced a nice post which suddenly lost half it’s pictures because someone went and pruned the mcbf gallery…)

The 2014 programme – Manchester Children’s Book Festival

James Draper

Would you trust this man to run your book festival? Well, you should. James Draper – with his dodgy taste in socks – and Kaye Tew are responsible (yes, really) for the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, and there is no other festival I love in quite the same way. It is professional, while also managing to be friendly, fun and very crazy.

(While they now have their own teams working for them, and they claim there’s less need and opportunity to see each other all the time, I believed James when he said ‘I see more of that woman than I do the inside of my own eyelids!’)

James Draper and Kaye Tew

The extremely hot off the presses 2014 programme is proof that Kaye and James know what they are doing and are growing with the task (no, not in that way), but I hope they never grow away from the childish pleasure they seem to take in working together. Carol Ann Duffy was wise to give them the job in 2010. She might still have to be mother and stop anything too OTT, but other than that you can definitely hand your festival over to these two.

I’d been told the new programme would be ready by the end of Monday. And I suppose it was. James worked through the night until 9 a.m. on the Tuesday, but that really counts as end of Monday in my book. Then he slept for an hour to make it Tuesday, when he and Kaye had invited me round for an early peek at what they have to offer this summer.

James Draper and Kaye Tew

While James – understandably – got some coffee, Kaye started talking me through the programme. It went well, although if I’d brought reading glasses I’d have been able to see more. There is a lot there, and they have old favourites coming back and new discoveries joining us for the first time.

This year they start their reading relay before the festival with an event in early June with Curtis Jobling, who is launching the whole thing, before spending a month going into schools passing the baton on. I reckon if anyone can do that, it’s Curtis. The month, not passing the baton. That’s easy.

Multi-cultural Manchester launches on the 26th of June with Sufiya Ahmed returning to talk about human rights issues with teenagers.

Olive tree MMU

On the Family Fun Day (28th June) Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve will judge a seawig parade (no, I don’t know what that is, either), they expect you to make sea monkeys (instructions on Sarah’s website), and there will be countless other fun things to do. It’s an all day thing, intended to tire you out.

Sunday 29th offers entertainment at various venues belonging to the festival sponsors; Royal Exchange Theatre, National Football Museum, Waterstones and Ordsall Hall.

On the Monday Guy Bass is back, and newbie Kate Pankhurst is bringing her detective Mariella Mystery. (I think I was told that Kate is getting married before her event and then going off on honeymoon immediately after. That’s dedication, that is.)

Justin Somper will buckle some swash on Tuesday 1st July, and the Poet Laureate is handing out poetry competition prizes, while on the Wednesday Andrew Cope (whom I missed last time) will talk about being brilliant, as well as doing an event featuring his Spy Dogs and Spy Pups. And as if that’s not enough cause for celebration, that Steve Cole is back again. It will be all about me, as he is going to talk about stinking aliens and a secret agent mummy.

Farmyard Footie and Toddler Tales on Thursday 3rd July, ending with a great evening offering both Liz Kessler and Ali Sparkes. (How to choose? Or how to get really fast between two venues?) David Almond will make his mcbf debut on Friday night, which is cause for considerable excitement.

And on the Saturday, oh the Saturday, there is lots. Various things early on, followed by vintage afternoon tea (whatever that means) at the Midland Hotel in the company of Cathy Cassidy! After which you will have to run like crazy back to MMU where they will have made the atrium into a theatre for a performance of Private Peaceful: The Concert, with Michael Morpurgo, who is mcbf patron, and acappella trio Cope, Boyes & Simpson.

If you thought that was it, then I have to break it to you that Darren Shan will be doing zombie stuff in the basement on the Saturday evening. Darkness and a high body-count has been guaranteed.

Willy Wonka – the real one – is on at Cornerhouse on Sunday, followed by a brussel sprout ice cream workshop, or some such thing. Meanwhile, Tom Palmer will be in two places at the same time (I was promised this until they decided he’d be in two places one after the other), talking about the famous football match in WWI. There will also be a Twitter football final.

What I’m most looking forward to, however, is the Carol Ann Duffy and John Sampson festival finale, with afternoon tea and a quiz at the MacDonald Townhouse Hotel. (And it had better be at least as chaotic as the one in 2010 where James’s mother was disqualified, and I probably should have been.)

You should be able to book tickets from today, and doing it today might be a good idea. Just in case it sells out. Which would be good (for them), but also a shame (for you).

For some obscure, but very kind, reason they have put my name on the last page. 14 rows beneath Carol Ann Duffy, but only two away from Michael Morpurgo. And I didn’t even give them any money.


All I want now is a complimentary hotel room for the duration. And a sofa from the atrium area to take home.


Sufiya Ahmed at Whalley Range High School For Girls

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.

Sufiya Ahmed at Whalley Range High School for 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.

Sufiya Ahmed at Whalley Range High School for Girls

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.

Henna pattern competition

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.

Dressing up as a bride with Sufiya Ahmed at Whalley Range High School for Girls

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.

Sufiya Ahmed at Whalley Range High School for Girls

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.

Sufiya Ahmed at Whalley Range High School for Girls

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.

Secrets of the Henna Girl

The title is misleadingly carefree for this teen novel about the very important subject of forced marriages. Sufiya Ahmed has tackled an issue that we hear about in the media, but which we perhaps don’t know enough about, isolated as many of us are in our western values.

Sufiya Ahmed, Secrets of the Henna Girl

Zeba is a 16-year-old Yorkshire muslim girl, who in the summer after her GCSEs goes on holiday to Pakistan where she discovers she has been promised in marriage to her cousin Asif.

The difference here for the reader is that we get to see all that takes place, rather than a one-sided European newspaper article. This book is valuable in that it educates us and shows us what life in the Pakistani countryside can be like. It still only shows us one reality, and if there is a weakness it is that Zeba’s intended husband comes from a reasonably well off family, and her maternal grandmother who lives in the same village is highly thought of and not without either education or influence.

The book could have done with more careful editing, and I felt that Zeba’s voice seemed a little mature for 16, and not perhaps a very typical 16-year-old, either. But as the story progresses you sort of forget about that and you want to see what will happen to Zeba.

There is none of the ‘get out of here fast’ that a western reader might expect. Zeba is truly stuck and she discovers things about Pakistan and about muslim life. And most of all, about the lives of women under the complete power of men, however stupid.

At times you feel that whereas Zeba is expected to escape because this is a British book, she might well not do so. There are many good aspects to Pakistani life, and there is a difference between forced marriages and arranged marriages.

I don’t want to tell you what happens, but there is plenty in here to give you food for thought. And as for instructing me about muslims, I learned a lot I didn’t know before.

If Sufiya’s novel saves just one girl from a forced marriage, it will have to be considered a worthwhile book.