All Stories, a free mentorship programme for underrepresented children's book writers was launched on 30th March 2021. Here, the fourth in a series of interviews with All Stories mentees, Deputy Editor, A. M. Dassu speaks to Reba Khatun to find out more about her writing and experience as a mentee.


What made you want to write for children?


Children’s book are the best types of books and so I never stopped reading them. I think they’re suitable for all and the books stay with you a long time after you’ve reached the end. Ever since I was little they’ve inspired me to make up stories in my head and then write them down on paper.


How long have you been writing for?


Too many years! I stopped writing during secondary school and college, did it in secret throughout my twenties and then won the Muslim Writers Award (MWA) in 2009 when I was approaching thirty. The award was sponsored by Penguin and I won a mentoring session with the brilliant Louisa Young and a course at Arvon. Writing is now so ingrained in my life I miss it and return to it after I give up after a hard rejection.


What has your writing journey been like up to this point?


When I won the MWA I knew nothing about the writing industry and so was unsuccessful in securing an agent. Having two children made it difficult to write but when I had a health scare I gave writing another go and carved out time in my day. I was Highly Commended for the 2017 FAB Prize and won a manuscript appraisal. I won the 2018 FAB Prize and in 2020 I had the talented Mandy Rabin as my mentor through #WriteMentor and also made the Top 20 in Chicken House’s #OpenCoop. I’ve had a few poems, a piece of artwork and a short story published. Writing is incredibly hard and can be lonely but this time round I’ve found lovely support through fellow writers from Twitter, the Fab Prize, my critique partners, Megaphone and All Stories.


You are so close, I can tell! Can you tell us a bit about the book(s) you’re writing? (Age range, genre and anything else you’d like to tell us.)


I’ve written humour, mystery, contemporary stories but now I’m writing a children’s horror set in Bangladesh for ages 8-12. It deals with grief, extended families, missing children, witches and djinn. When Hafsa’s dad dies unexpectedly the family travel to Bangladesh to bury him. Unbeknown to them they are in danger of the family curse and the anger of a wronged woman, known as the witch. Another child goes missing and this time it’s Hafsa’s younger sister.


Ooh, sounds terrifying! What are your goals for the mentorship?


I would like to complete a first draft of the manuscript and possibly begin revisions. I’d like to learn about focusing my plot as I worry that sometimes it fizzles out in places and goes off in the wrong direction. I’d like to learn more on developing characters and arcs.


What’s it like to have a mentor for your writing? Is it what you expected?


It’s absolutely brilliant. My mentor is Kathy Webb who keeps me on track and checks in with me regularly. I’ve never had a mentorship where I’ve written the story as I go along. Hopefully this way there will be no veering off course and I can focus my time on specifics. I had high expectations of the mentoring and Kathy is meeting them!


Sounds great! What are your thoughts on representation in children’s literature?


It’s better than it was a few years ago but there’s such a long way to go. Where are all the different ethnicities and abilities in books? It's a shame that not many children still don’t see themselves represented in literature. Only recently my daughter found a character that looked like her in a book and was ecstatic (Anisha, Accidental Detective by Serena Patel). She was happy when she read about a character whose family came from Bangladesh (Cookie by Konnie Huq).


What is your favourite book and why?


In the past I would’ve said Matilda but recently I read Bigfoot, Tobin and Me by Melissa Savage and it moved me so much. Lemonade has to uproot when her mum dies and move in with her estranged grandfather who lives Willow Creek, famous for Bigfoot sightings. She meets Tobin, the only member of Bigfoot Detectives Inc. Both children have empty lives and help each other to find what they’re looking for. You have to read this book – I loved it. It will make you cry and laugh and want to hug your family tight.


*Feature image courtesy of All Stories and profile image courtesy of Reba Khatun 

Reba Khatun is a forty-something, British Muslim of Bangladeshi origin. She is the mother of two girls, librarian by day and aspiring children’s author by night. She has published a short story, poems and artwork in various anthologies and won the 2009 Muslim Writers Awards and 2018 FAB Prize. She is currently writing a horror story set in Bangladesh.


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