Interviews

Sairish Hussain: ‘My lifelong dream was to write a novel.’

Sairish Hussain has been selected as one of the 10 Women’s Prize x Good Housekeeping Futures authors. A panel of industry experts have chosen 10 female authors aged 35 and under who are exciting, boundary-changing, and inspirational. In other words, the classics of tomorrow for today. Her first novel The Family Tree has been Shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2020 and Longlisted for the Authors Club Best First Novel Award 2021. Keep reading to find out what motivates her as an author.

Tell us about the inspiration behind your most recent novel.

The inspiration behind my debut was mostly just frustration with the lack of diverse representations of Muslims in film, TV and literature. Growing up, I never felt like there was a book that had been written for me, or with people like me in mind. The Family Tree is my response to all the dehumanising portrayals of Muslims I’ve encountered in popular culture. I decided to write a story that reflected my life and the people that I grew up around. A story that didn’t have a radicalisation plot or an honour killing at its core but instead focused on universal themes such as family, grief and mental health.

Tell us about your journey to publication. 

I studied English at university and after achieving a First Class at undergraduate level, I was awarded a scholarship to pursue an MA in Creative Writing. I was eager to get started with my lifelong dream of writing a novel and began working on what would later become The Family Tree. I progressed onto PhD study, where I finished writing the book and in 2017, attended a publishing panel at the Bradford Literature Festival. Lisa Milton from HarperCollins was in attendance and I had the opportunity to chat with her at the end of the event. She was very interested in reading the book, so I sent it to her the next day. Luckily, I had just finished editing the novel with my supervisor at university, so the timing was perfect. I received an email a few weeks later saying that she loved my novel and wanted to be my publisher. It was like a fairy tale!

What motivates you as an author?

The response from readers keeps me motivated, especially when people have described the book as ‘relatable’, regardless of their background. I set out to write a book about brown, Muslim, working-class, northerners, and how we can encompass the breadth of the human experience too. The desire to see this reflected in our books definitely keeps me motivated.

What do you think you’d be if you weren’t a writer?

It would have to involve books in some way! I’d either be working in a cute bookshop or café somewhere or maybe a job in the publishing industry. I currently teach Creative Writing at Huddersfield University, which is a dream come true as I was once a student and aspiring writer in the very same classroom. 

WP X GH Futures is about celebrating the female voices of the future – what do you hope to have achieved as a writer in ten years’ time?

I’d love to be in a position where I can still tell stories! Where my voice still matters. I’m so passionate about representation and believe in opening doors for writers from marginalised backgrounds. If I could mentor others and inspire them to write the stories that they choose to tell, then that would be an absolute privilege. 

And don’t forget to discover the full Futures 10 and vote for your favourite author here.

The Women's Prize Podcast


Tune into host Vick Hope and a line-up of incredible guests on our weekly podcast full of unmissable book recommendations.