By Sophie Bridges.
We are thrilled to welcome Sara Jafari to The Reading Corner to discuss her upcoming release People Change, out February 2nd!
When Shirin bumps into Kian at a house party in Brixton, she is taken aback by the feelings that resurface.
They last saw one another ten years ago as sixteen-year-olds at school in Hull. And the weight of everything left unsaid since then still hangs between them.
But now they’re back in each other’s lives, it’s harder to run from the past.
There’s nothing worse than losing the person you trust with your deepest secrets.
Can it be different the second time around?
I would like to begin by thanking you for allowing me to read your upcoming book, People Change, I loved seeing Shirin’s journey and how she navigates the complexities of adulthood. The experience Shirin had in adulthood was completely different to the one she imagined as a teenager. This is something a lot of people have experienced, including myself. What advice would you give to teenagers on their journey to adulthood?
My main piece of advice would be not to be too hard on yourself! For me, and a lot of us, I think we have too many expectations about what our life should be like, especially in our early-mid twenties, even though we are still finding ourselves. It’s okay to not have it all figured out! In fact, I think most people don’t and life will be a lot less stressful if we make peace with it.
I loved the connection Shirin has with Mariam, as we had not seen Shirin have such a supportive friend until she was introduced. Mariam is a kind and compassionate individual compared to some of Shirin’s other friends who gas-light her about the racism she experienced both in the past and at her job at Hoffman Books. Did anyone inspire you to write the character of Mariam?
Interestingly, I would say for nearly all the characters they are entirely fictional, so I didn’t really draw inspiration from specific people for most of them. However, for Mariam, I actually was inspired by two of my colleagues while I worked in publishing. I think especially in an industry like publishing that isn’t very diverse, people of colour often do stick together in the workplace. And as you’re at work for so much of your week, I do think a special bond can be created with work colleagues – especially in tense environments like we see in People Change!
One of the main themes of the book is racism and how racist people hardly experience repercussions for their actions. Hoffman books decides to publish Rob Grayson’s book showing how they do not care for their BIPOC employees. What has your experience been like in the publishing world as a British-Iranian writer?
My experience was somewhat similar to Shirin’s in the book. I think the publishing industry is making progress in being more diverse and inclusive, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. If you’re a person of colour in the industry it’s very likely you’ll have experienced micro-aggressions – or outright racism – and it can be very draining.
We also see time and time again authors getting book deals despite being problematic, which often goes against diversity and inclusion initiatives the big publishers have. So, there’s a lot of talk about doing better, but the actions don’t always marry up with their words!
There are so many good people in the industry though fighting for real change, so I have to say it’s not all like Hoffman Books in the novel, though I think if you work in the industry a lot of the scenarios will sound familiar…
Shirin and Kian meet again after ten years, they are instantly reminded of the connection they had while at school. I was rooting for them the whole book and my heart dropped when he announced his application to study abroad was granted. What do you think the future holds for Shirin and Kian?
I’ll leave that for the reader to imagine!
In the book It is mentioned that Shirin takes medication to handle her depression and anxiety, it is often seen as shameful for people to take medication to treat mental illness and it is really refreshing to see it mentioned so naturally in your book. Is it important to you to try and tackle some of the stigmas surrounding mental illness and medication?
It was really when I entered university that I realized how many people are dealing with mental health issues – and that many I knew were taking anti-depressants, though it wasn’t really talked about. It’s really nothing to be ashamed of, though it can often feel like it. In People Change we see Shirin taking sertraline and Kian also says that he was on it at one point in his life too. I wanted to normalize it in my book. In the story I also wanted to show that Shirin doesn’t necessarily want to be on anti-depressants, and despite it helping her she stops taking it suddenly.
I think that’s quite realistic – I know from personal experience I was so keen to go off it, perhaps because of the stigma, and because of other side effects they can have on a person. While I think anti-depressants can really help so many people and save lives, I do find it frustrating that it’s often the first thing doctors will prescribe you, before therapy (which we know have ridiculous wait times anyway) so I wanted to allude to that in the book, too. Sometimes you need someone to speak to – and Shirin doesn’t have that – and I think in many ways that’s why she struggles despite being on anti-depressants – because she’s suppressing her feelings.
The book explores the complexity of relationships including family, friends, and romantic partners. Shirin’s relationship with her family is one that I am sure many people can relate to. Shirin looks to her Maman Bozorg for comfort and advice as she was a motherly figure to Shirin. The loss of Maman Bozorg really changes Shirin’s perspective on life. Do you think that Maman Bozorg’s death influenced Shirin to learn more about Islam after she moves in with Mariam and Fatma?
I think her grandmother’s death certainly will have encouraged her to seek out her faith a bit more – but I also think the people that surround you have such an impact on your life. For most of the book Shirin is living in a house share with strangers, so really doesn’t have much human connection in her home life and is deeply lonely. Throughout she wants to get in touch with her religion but doesn’t know where to even start – because she isn’t close with either of her parents who typically would be the ones a person would go to for guidance about faith. By the end, she lives with Mariam and Fatma, so I think being in an environment in which she can ask questions and get support from others who are practicing is really what influenced her to learn more about Islam. She’s also generally just in a better place in her life and more receptive to learn and grow.
What do you hope your readers will take away from this book?
I hope readers will take comfort in that they’re not alone if they feel similar to Shirin and Kian in feeling like an outsider or like you’re not heard. It’s a book about many things, but I think most of all it’s about learning to stand up for yourself and the power of your own voice. I hope it would encourage others to speak their truth – and know that in the dark times there is – and will be – light!
Where can people find your brilliant book ‘People Change’?
You can get it at most online bookshop retailers (Amazon, Bookshop.org, Hive, etc.) as well as independent bookstores, Waterstones, WHSmith and Foyles!
Thank you so much for your time and for the pleasure of reading your book, it was a fantastic read and I wish you well for the future!
Sara Jafari is a British-Iranian writer whose work has been longlisted for Spread the Word’s Life Writing Prize and published in gal-dem and The Good Journal. She is a contributer to I Will Not Be Erased and the upcoming romance anthology Who’s Loving You. Sara also runs TOKENMagazine, which showcases writing and artwork by underrepresented writers and artists.
Sara’s Instagram: @sarajafari
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