Randa Abdel-Fattah Author Interview
What inspired you to write Does My Head Look Big In This?
It became apparent to me that the only time Muslim females appeared as heroines in books were as escapees of the Taliban, victims of an honour killing, or subjects of the Saudi royalty! I wrote Does My Head Look Big In This? because I wanted to fill that gap. I wanted to write a book which debunked the common misconceptions about Muslims and which allowed readers to enter the world of the average Muslim teenage girl and see past the headlines and stereotypes — to realise that she was experiencing the same dramas and challenges of adolescence as her non-Muslim peers — and have a giggle in the process!
In Does My Head Look Big In This?, the central character Amal goes through some difficult experiences growing up. What did you find hardest about being a teenager?
Body image issues. Trying to fit into the magazine ideal of feminine beauty. I hated the fact that a pimple or extra couple of kilos could make or ruin a person. That kind of stress was hard enough. But on top of that I also had to cope with the challenge of growing up Muslim in a society which misunderstands Islam so much.
Amal learns to cope with the prejudice and racism she experiences for being a Muslim by being quick-witted and smart. Was this something you also had to cope with and if so, how did you deal with it?
Yes, most certainly. I dealt with it by learning to control my temper when I was faced with a racist taunt and to build my own inner strength and confidence so that I wouldn't feel undermined if other people misjudged me. I used the negative to empower me.
Amal has some great friends at school but also experiences problems that will be familiar to every teenage girl, including a massive crush on a gorgeous boy! What was school like for you? Did you draw from your own experience when writing about Amal?
School was great. Some of my best friends were boys and we remain friends until this day. I always felt like the boys were brothers to me. Attending an Islamic school, the bond between the guys and girls was strong and almost like a family.
As for Amal, when writing about her crush on Adam I stepped back into memory lane and drew on my own feelings when I had a massive crush on a guy at school.
You're a writer, a lawyer and a mother — you must be very busy! What's a typical day for you?
A typical day for me is jamming 48 hours into 24. But I love all my roles so it's a pleasure! When writing I have my baby in a rocker under the desk. I type away and rock her to sleep with my foot! It doesn't always work though and I have to leave a scene midway to feed her.
Were any authors or books particularly inspirational to you?
Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta was a great inspiration.
And finally...we've heard you're a chocoholic! What's your favorite kind?
Dark chocolate with almonds. YUM AND OH SO OFF LIMITS!