Interview with Author Sumayya Lee

I recently read a wonderful book called The Story of Maha by the lovely author Sumayya Lee. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the book but as I read on, I got engrossed in the story of Maha, a young girl growing up in South Africa after her parents death. In fact, as I got more and more into the story the faster my train commutes to work went. It was super easy to read and a story that probably any girl growing up with passion and desire with morals thrown in can relate to. I won’t say too much more but you can order the book here and you should all definitely read it. Recently I was privileged to be able to catch up with Sumayya so here is my chat with here…

1. What inspired you to write ‘The story of Maha’?
I grew up on a diet of foreign fiction and I loved reading about the different folk all over the world, living lives so removed from my reality (apartheid South Africa). I also grew up enthralled by the real stories all around me—horrific, sad, hilarious—and realised that we, as South Africans of Indian origin, also had great stories to share with the world. I’ve always been motivated by the urge to share our stories and allow the world a glimpse of something different.

2. Tell us a little about yourself
I was born in South Africa and now live in London with my husband, children and cats. My debut, The Story of Maha, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Best First Book—Africa) and I have since published the sequel: Maha, Ever After. I served as a Mentor for Writivism 2014/2015 and edited the anthology of longlisted writers: Fire in the Night and Other Stories and co-edited Roses for Betty and Other Stories with Emmanuel Sigauke.
I love reading and eating (preferably on a Durban beach) and hate injustice, Islamophobia, misogyny, and February in England.

3. Are there any elements in the story which are inspired from your own life?
I grew up in a small Indo-African community during Apartheid – which was a challenging kind of growing up in itself, so yes.

Sumayya Lee
Sumayya Lee

4. One day you must have thought ‘i’m going to write a book’ – did it happen like that or was there some other catalyst that triggered you to write this story?
I dreamt about being a writer from the age of 14, though I was totally clueless as to what this entailed and how books got published. In my naivety, I believed that writers wrote and publishers published and that was that. Over a decade ago, with all the changes in my life (marriage/moving country) I suddenly found myself with time to write and it was a now-or-never moment for The Story of Maha, which I couldn’t have done without my family’s support and the encouragement of friends.

5. What advice would you give someone wanting to write?
Read, read and read some more.

6. What’s next for Sumayya and Maha?
I did not think I would write a third Maha novel, however she decided to give voice about a year ago – and even then, I dismissed it as a one off. But she persisted and so I’ve been forced to give her some attention – even though I’m not sure where she’s going.

I’d like to thank Sumayya for her time and wish her (and Maha) all the best, can’t wait to read more!


Priya Mulji

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