Rumaysa: A Fairytale is a thing of beauty. Taking well-loved classic fairytales and giving them her own unique twist – while centring Muslimah main characters – Radiya Hafiza weaves together a magical adventure that will make your heart sing. The enchanting settings, the loveable heroines, the glamour and wit and wonder and MAGIC – starring not one but THREE BADASS MUSLIMAHS. A well-deserved winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month Prize (April, 2021), for sure.
What inspired you to sit down and write Rumaysa: A Fairytale?
The match for this particular story was struck one day when I was temping and rather bored at my desk. I started writing about a girl trapped at her desk – I mean tower and it started there. I’ve always loved fairytales and retellings but never saw anyone like me in them. I wondered what would Rapunzel do if she was Muslim and instead of having long hair, it was a long hijab that she threw down to escape? And so Rumaysa was born.
Of your three main characters (Rumaysa, Ayla and Sara), who would you say you are most like?
I feel like Rumaysa is the character I relate to a lot. She is really frustrated with the world (same) and sometimes doesn’t want to help out but do her own thing (same) but seems to get pulled into other people’s situations to help (same). I feel like she’s always quite honest about how she feels which is something I’m trying to do more of. Some of us don’t want to put on a big smile and pretend everything is all right; some of us are just struggling through and that’s OK.
What’s one thing you want readers to take away from Rumaysa?
I want readers of Rumaysa to feel like anyone can be a hero too, no matter who you are or where you from. The stories are a celebration of strength and friendship, and I think there’s something really special about the girls saving themselves and each other in the story.
Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time…
I’d pick Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik. I read this book years ago and it changed so much of what I thought could be written about Muslims. A funny rom-com with a Muslim woman protagonist? She doesn’t take off her hijab and denounce her faith? She’s not the perfect Muslim or person? This book was a revelation to me and practically the first of its kind in 2015 (and to this day to be honest). It meant so much to me to see a Muslim character living truly to herself and going about life normally as we all do. It was empowering reading that book, so I’d love to have that experience all over again.
What is one book that you cannot wait to read in 2021?
There are so many great books coming out this year but I’m really looking forward to Mayhem Mission by Burhana Islam which looks hilarious. It’s really exciting seeing more Bengali characters in children’s fiction.
What’s your favourite Disney movie?
I actually really love Frozen. Olaf is my absolute favourite – he really carried the second film too. The first time I watched Frozen, I think I was in university, and it made me feel like a kid again. I love the storyline, the characters and the magic of it all.
Can you share anything about your next project?
I can’t say much about it yet as I’m currently working on it, but there will be magic and there will be food.
And a fun bonus question: what is your favourite writing snack?
Salted pistachio nuts are my favourite to snack on but then I end up taking so much time to crack the shells, somehow my pile of shells becomes bigger than my word count. It’s a problem.
Radiya Hafiza studied English Language and Literature at King’s College London and worked in publishing for a few years. She is behind the fantastic blog The Good Assistant. Radiya grew up reading classic Western fairy tales that never had any brown girls in them –Rumaysa is her debut novel, bringing such stories to children who need to see themselves represented.
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