Why Join?

  • Add New Books

  • Write a Review

  • Backpack Reading Lists

  • Newsletter Updates

Join Now

The Process of Co-Writing Melbourne-based junior novel ‘Hijabi Girl’

24th December 2019

The Process of Co-Writing Melbourne-based junior novel ‘Hijabi Girl’ by Hazel Edwards OAM

Hijabi Girl is co-written by Hazel Edwards & Ozge Alkan & illustrated by Serena Geddes

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 ( Australian author)

The Process of Co-Writing Melbourne-based junior novel 'Hijabi Girl'

My Turkish (with an American accent) co-author Ozge actually has a hijab in red and black, the colours of her Aussie Rules Football Essendon Football team .

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

‘Hijabi Girl illustrator Serena Geddes who is of Sri-lankan heritage.

How did the process start?

Melbourne, Australia has a growing Islamic community.

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 Australian / Islamic school students wanted a character with whom they could identify.

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.

I pitched our proposal in various formats to publishers, here and overseas. Now, I think it would make an excellent TV series based in a mainstream school, not forgetting partly autobiographical Miss, the teacher. In 2020 it is to be a musical with Larrikin Puppets who are based in Queensland, Australia.

The Process of Co-Writing Melbourne-based junior novel 'Hijabi Girl'

Researching at the Iftar (community meal during Ramadan) outside a mosque in outer Melbourne.

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, as portrayed in news media, frightened some.

Meanwhile, we wanted to share a funny, accessible story of a feisty girl who was good at solving problems and who incidentally wore a hijab and could deal with ‘what’s that towel on your head?’ bullying comments.

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

Melbourne Islamic school Book Parade with student dressed up as football playing ‘Hijabi Girl’

Each time there was a news item about ‘terrorism’; chances of publishing our children’s book plummeted. But ironically there was MORE need for approachable facts about different cultures.

Titles matter. We had many. But we decided to be specific with ‘Hijabi Girl’ rather than ‘That Unforgettable Book Parade’ or similar. We also played around with including Girls’ Aussie Rules Football in the title, as football was one of Melek’s passions, but decided to save for sequel which is currently being written..

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  ‘Have you got cancer?’ or ‘Do you take it off in the shower?’

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 fan-colour- coded hijab. We approached the football authorities to see if they’d be interested. Melbourne is the home of Aussie Rules Football.

Our families became friends as we co-wrote.

Melbourne’s ‘Hijabi Girl’ creators, co-authors Hazel Edwards & Ozge Alkan plus illustrator Serena Geddes at launch in outer Melbourne library at Craigieburn with 62 languages in audience.

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

Maybe there will also be a little more tolerance via books shared.

Thank you so much to Hazel for sharing such a wonderful story of community and integration.

You can follow Hazel on Twitter  and connect via her website and you can of course buy her book through the TripFiction database from your preferred book seller.

Join team TripFiction on Social Media:

Twitter (@TripFiction), Facebook (@TripFiction.Literarywanderlust), YouTube (TripFiction #Literarywanderlust), Instagram (@TripFiction) and Pinterest (@TripFiction)

Subscribe to future blog posts

Latest Blogs

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *