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Leytonstone author wins award for debut novel, Secrets of the Henna Girl
AN AUTHOR has expressed her delight after winning a national award for her debut novel.
Sufiya Ahmed, of High Road, Leytonstone, did not even know she had been nominated by publisher Puffin for the Published Writer of 2012 category at the Brit Writers Awards for her first book, Secrets of the Henna Girl.
But she beat six other authors to claim the award on December 1 after devoting a year’s mornings and evenings to writing the story about a UK girl tricked into entering a forced marriage in Pakistan.
She said: “I’m very surprised I won – it was even a shock to be shortlisted. It feels amazing. It was a story that needed to be told, and it’s a nice surprise to have it recognised like this.”
Miss Ahmed, who was born in India before moving to Leytonstone as a baby, first got the idea for the novel in her previous job as a parliamentary researcher for East Ham MP Stephen Timms at the House of Commons.
She said: “These survivors of forced marriage were coming in to lobby for better protection of other victims and it was horrible what they had been through.
“So many girls are tricked by their parents into going abroad, where they end up being forced to marry a cousin or someone. That’s where I got the idea.”
She interviewed the women and also worked with the Foreign Office to research the issue.
As a result of the lobbying forced marriage is due to become a criminal offence in England and Wales in 2013.
Miss Ahmed's book, published in March, has since been translated into Arabic, Polish and Spanish and is on sale in many countries, but Miss Ahmed said her favourite achievement is still being published by Puffin.
“That’s the real dream come true,” she said. “I sent them a manuscript when I was 14 and I never heard back – that was one of the first things I asked about.”
Though her character, 16-year-old Zeba Khan, is from Yorkshire, the full-time writer hopes to feature Leytonstone in a future book.
“I’d love to include it,” she said. “We have great heritage here and I’m proud to be from the place that produced Alfred Hitchcock.”
Miss Ahmed is signing copies of her book at Waterstones in Walthamstow Shopping Centre, Selborne Walk, from 11am on Saturday.
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