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Confessions of an Accidental Author
How I Became a Literary Sleuth
September 4, 2017
I began my career as a primary teacher, high school teacher, (History and English) and taught English as a foreign language for seven years in (West) Germany before returning to Australia where I became active in human rights at both a community and, finally, at a professional level in the public service.
As a feminist and a great believer in the capacity of women to reinvent themselves, I started to feel that an irreverent tongue was better suited to writing than a career in the public service. I was concerned that years of churning out ‘Yes, Minister’ memos and reports was turning me into a writer of turgid prose. I turned to full-time writing 22 years ago. (Amen)
I never planned to be a writer; I stumbled into it by accident and I’ve been writing ever since.
Once Upon a Time, I was a Board Member of the SBS. One day after a board meeting the wonderful Brian Johns, the SBS Director at the time, asked me in private, with a puzzled look on his face, ‘Hanifa, every time I come up with an idea for a documentary about Australian Muslims, you sabotage it. Why?’
‘C'mon, Brian,’ I said. ‘Not another documentary where good people on one side of the religious fence talk to good people on the other side, and it’s all about theology and mosques, and "covering" and all the fellas are frozen in prayer.
'Where's the human face’, I asked? 'Muslims, mowing lawns, falling in and out of love, worrying about their jobs and their mortgages, telling their kids bedtime stories.’
‘Well,’ he said, ‘write a book about it.’
‘OMG,’ I said, ‘I don’t know how to write a book!’
‘Well,’ said Brian, ‘I used to be the head of Penguin Australia. Why don’t you write up a book proposal and let me have a look at it. I’ll tell you if I think there’s a book in it or not.’
‘OMG! What do you put in a book proposal?’ I said.
I feel embarrassed now when I recall how naïve I was…he’d caught in me a trap. Brian proceeded to tell me what went into a book proposal. I went away and did my homework like a good girl. I returned and submitted my homework.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I think there’s a book in that. Why don’t you send it to Allen & Unwin?’