It’s time to Kick Back with Kick-butt!
Today we’re chatting with Salma Hussain, the author of
THE SECRET DIARY OF MONA HASAN
Mona Hasan is a young Muslim girl growing up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, when the first Gulf War breaks out in 1991. The war isn’t what she expects — “We didn’t even get any days off school! Just my luck” — especially when the ground offensive is over so quickly and her family peels the masking tape off their windows. Her parents, however, fear there is no peace in the region, and it sparks a major change in their lives.
Over the course of one year, Mona falls in love, speaks up to protect her younger sister, loses her best friend to the new girl at school, has summer adventures with her cousins in Pakistan, immigrates to Canada, and pursues her ambition to be a feminist and a poet.
Let’s talk to this excellent author about her wonderful book!
This is Salma. Everyone say, “Hi, Salma!”
Welcome to Kick-Butt Kidlit, Salma! Tell us about yourself!
Hi Casey and the Kick-Butt Kidlit team! I’m a debut author of a Middle Grade coming-of-age & immigration novel for tweens, THE SECRET DIARY OF MONA HASAN, based on my own immigration story from the Middle East to Canada.
What was the inspiration behind THE SECRET DIARY OF MONA HASAN?
Whe my older daughter was 5, she turned to me sleepily at bedtime and asked me, “Mama, you were born outside of Canada, right? Were you a regular kid just like us?” That set off the spark! I felt strongly that only a child could answer my child’s question and I created a novel around what a “regular kid” born outside of Canada might be like.
We love hearing stories about ‘The Call’ here on Kick-butt Kidlit. What were you doing when you found out your book had sold?
My lovely agent sold the book quickly. It was on submission for only about three weeks or so. I was at home when I found out the news and celebrated by ordering in from my favorite restaurant! (It was still pandemic times so….)
It sold in three weeks! That’s awesome! Glad you were still able to have a little celebration even though it was at home.
What were three interesting things you discovered while working on THE SECRET DIARY OF MONA HASAN?
— Continuity is so important in all novels novel but particularly so in those written in diary format! I didn’t anticipate how challenging it would be to keep the pace engaging with so many weekends and holidays and festivities in the school calendar.
— The important and defiant role of humour in my book.
— 95% of the success in completing a novel lies in consistency and persistence. The rest of the secret sauce is in your self-confidence.
Never thought about how challenging a diary format would be! And you’re so right about consistency and persistence!
If you could transport your characters across book dimensions, which book would you most like them to end up in and why?
I cannot choose only one book! I’m going to say that I would love for MONA to meet with Margaret of ARE YOU THERE, GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET, because my book deals with many of the same themes. Secondly, MONA simply HAS to meet Adrian from THE SECRET DIARY OF ADRIAN MOLE 13 3/4 because my book employs a similar tone to that British classic.
Why were you drawn to writing middle grade?
I was drawn to writing a character who is 11 going on 12. I love this age for the humour and hope it represents. At various times, I toyed with somehow making this book for an adult audience but I did want to remain in a child’s voice throughout and that was then considered “middle grade.”
Any hints about your next book project?
I’m drawn to creating compelling characters! I’m working on three different projects (1 YA and 2 adult) and it remains to be seen which one calls for me to finish it first!
Oooh, exciting! Can’t wait until you can tell us more!
What has been the most surprising part of your publishing journey?
Still processing this one! I’ve been surprised by so much! I guess the most surprising part is just how much the publishing journey oscillates between feeling like it’s moving way too fast and then at other times, feeling like it’s moving like molasses.
What are you reading right now?
Less by Andrew Sean Greer (Putlizer prize winner in 2022). It is the comedy of a gay man fleeing the humiliations of love, middle-age, and failure by accepting invitations that lead to a trip around the world and back, at last, to face his final demon: himself.
What’s your favourite piece of kick-butt advice?
Be your own hero.
Yes! Love this.
Thank you so much for joining us, Salma!
Kick-butt Kidlit friends, make sure you check out
THE SECRET DIARY OF MONA HASAN!
It’s on shelves now!
Click here to enter to win a copy of THE SECRET DIARY OF MONA HASAN!
Contest closes Saturday, November 5th at 11:59 pm EST
Thanks for reading!