Six Questions With Salma Hussain
Salma Hussain grew up in the U.A.E., and immigrated to Canada when she was thirteen years old. She has a B.A. (Hon.) in English literature, with a concentration in creative writing from the University of Calgary, a law degree from the University of Calgary, and a Masters in Law from McGill University. Salma now lives in Toronto. Her short stories and poems have been published in various Canadian literary magazines. Her new middle-grade book is called The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan. Check out Salma's website to learn more about her.
1. What three things bring you joy?
Mangoes from Pakistan.
Hanging out with my cousins.
Looking up at a sky brimful of stars.
2. What are some of the best and hardest parts of writing for kids?
Best: Hope and humor are a huge part of writing for kids.
Hardest: Balancing the hope and humor with an authentic representation of life that mirrors the realities and hardships many kids face. In short, the hardest part of writing for kids is creating a book that doesn’t talk down to kids or pretend that hardship doesn’t exist, but instead empowers and inspires them to face and overcome their challenges.
3. When you’re not writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Reading cookbooks! I love learning about food and nutrition and coming up with my own recipes.
Dancing! I love having dance parties with my kids and friends.
Traveling! But this one I haven’t had a chance to do for the past little while because, well, we all know.
4. Where did you get the idea for The Secret Diary of Mona Hasan? What was your inspiration?
When my eldest daughter was five, one night she turned to me shortly before bedtime and asked, “You were born outside Canada, right, mama? Were you a regular kid just like us?” That one question set off my debut novel – a MG novel about a young girl’s immigration journey from big city Dubai in the Middle East to small-town Dartmouth on Canada’s east coast – a journey that mirrors the one I made with my family as a teenager.
5. What was the process or timeline for this book, from idea to publishing?
My story is unusual in that – from idea to publishing – everything moved very fast. For various personal reasons, I felt that if writing a book was ever going to happen for me, it needed to happen very quickly or not at all.
I started work in earnest on this novel in early 2018 with a writer’s group. In 2019, I had my first draft and I applied for a mentorship program with Diaspora Dialogues.
In early 2020, I applied to a program at Fold Festival called Pitch Perfect. Pitch Perfect pairs emerging writers with an editor or agent so that writers may receive feedback on the opening pages of their manuscript. I happened to be paired with an agent who loved my opening pages and requested a full. She also happened to be a lovely person and we had lots of points of connection and we bonded instantly. She had a real love and enthusiasm for my manuscript and I felt she just got me and got the story right away! Meeting her felt like a bolt of lightning. I polished up the manuscript under her guidance and we went out on sub later in 2020 and I signed a contract with Tundra Books at Penguin Random House in early 2021. The book came out last week – May 3, 2022! To be honest, my head is still spinning.
6. If you read this book to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with?
Humor and hope are the best gifts we can receive in life, and the best joys we can give others in life. They’re also free and as abundant as we want them to be! I’d love for readers to be reminded of that when they read my books – no one can take away your hope or humor. Keep laughing. Keep believing.