The Process of Co-Writing and Publishing ‘Hijabi Girl’

by Hazel Edwards OAM

‘Excellent story, lots of warmth and humour even though dealing with a difficult subject. I loved Miss as the very Hungry Caterpillar in her red high heeled shoes.’ Margaret Clark (author)

When your author peers commend a book, that’s a relief. Especially if it has been a culturally challenging process to get the book published.

How did the process start? When I spoke at a literary event four years ago, Ozge who is a qualified children’s librarian requested a ‘fun’ story of a young girl in a hijab, for Book Week Parades. Her students wanted a character with whom they could identify and dress up as.

Aware of the cultural challenges, I suggested Ozge wrote it. Ozge counter-suggested we co-wrote. So, across two years and 41 rejections, we did.

Pitched our proposal in various formats to 41 publishers, here and overseas. Sometimes more than once. Picture book. Short story. Middle grade chapter book. (Now, I think it would make an excellent TV series based in a mainstream school, not forgetting partly autobiographical Miss, the teacher.)

Although some literary critics have strong views on ‘Diversity’ and whether only people who originate in a culture are entitled to write fiction about that culture, I disagree. Collaboration is an effective way of combining cultures and writing skills and reaching wider audiences.

Research and respect is important.

I’ve collaborated before with ‘experts’ in various fields, but the political/ religious/cultural issues of Islam, frightened some.

Meanwhile, we wanted to tell a funny, accessible story of a feisty girl who was good at solving problems and who incidentally wore a hijab.

While respecting her culture, we wanted to de-mystify and remove the fear of the unknown. But we were NOT writing propaganda.

I’m a hybrid author in that I publish with traditional publishers like Penguin, but I’ve also ventured into self-publishing which is NOT vanity.

The unknown Islamic culture of our ‘Hijabi Girl’ proposal frightened traditional publishing meetings.

Original proposal was a picture book to appeal to all ages including literacy students, but changed to junior chapter book due to cost. Titles matter. We had many. But eventually decided to be specific and call it ‘Hijabi Girl’ rather than ‘That Unforgettable Book Parade’ or similar. We also played around with including Girls’ Aussie Rules in the title, as football was one of Melek’s passions, but decided to downplay or save for sequels. (Ozge is a keen Essendon fan with a red and black hijab).

The cover by highly experienced illustrator Serena Geddes, and the design of the teachers’ notes with cultural hints, curriculum links and activities are important assets.

We researched, with respect. Visited the mosque, the Islamic Museum and were invited to a Street Iftar during Ramadan.

Culturally apt as Ozge checked facts. Also issues like whether our character’ Melek’s skirt and sleeves were modest length. Culturally girls acquire the hijab at puberty, but we were aware of younger girls wearing it proudly by choice, as Ozge did. We still made our girl 8-ish and dealing with comments like ‘What’s that towel on your head for?’ or ‘Have you got cancer?’

Giving our Melek character an interest in Aussie Rules Girls’ football was again partly based on co-author Ozge being a footy fan in a red /black colour- coded hijab. We approached the football authorities to see if they’d be interested. No response.

I decided to self-publish with Bookpod carrying the cost myself. Illustrations and cover were paid. We had a co-creators contract based on the ASA one.

Ideally we’d eventually like an international traditional publisher to take on ‘Hijabi Girl’ as a potential series.
Ironically Simon& Schuster has just started a Muslim Children’s imprint in the week we published out ‘Hijabi Girl’ junior chapter book with Bookpod.

Our fiction is becoming fact. Now there are girls in hijabs playing sport and colour coded hijabs for footy fans and even a Hijabi Barbi doll.

Maybe there will also be a little more tolerance via books shared.
That’s what I was investing in as an author-publisher. Not vanity.

Additional Information has ISBN and where book can be bought in e or print format.
Price $15 print. $5.00 e-book.
Free downloadable classroom playscript suitable for Book Week Parades.
Buy from Bookpod.

Hijabi Girl co-written by Hazel Edwards & Ozge Alkan & illustrated by Serena Geddes. Publisher Bookpod. Discussion notes and activities help explain cultural issues.