Meet Hafiza Hakim with her upcoming title 'Earmuffs to the Moon'

We are 'over the moon' to welcome Hafiza Hakim to the Partnership Publishing community, as she prepares to release her debut title 'Earmuffs to the Moon' under our imprint, Magic Mouse Books, illustrated by Sarah-Leigh Wills of Happydesigner. With this beautiful children's poem, Hafiza uses her passion to raise awareness for Autism, by educating young children and their parents about how people they know may be affected. By creating amazing imagery, Hafiza highlights the ways in which neurodivergent children may experience sound, sight, and touch differently, all whilst creating a fun space story!


We caught up with her to find out how she found the inital writing process, her inspirations, and how she deals with literary criticism! Read below to find out more.


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What inspired you to start writing?

I have always enjoyed writing. It has been a form of escape for me; I feel inspired to write when I'm moved by something. It could be something political or personal, funny or contentious, spiritual or religious. Something I saw, felt or witnessed, something I heard on the radio. The written word can be so powerful. I also dream quite vividly, and have found myself taking inspiration from my dreams sometimes when I’m writing poetry.


How long have you been writing?

My first ever significant ‘write’ was back In Secondary School some 27 years ago when a friend approached me to write a letter for a ‘special friend!’ After that, I quickly developed a reputation for being the ‘go to’ girl for important, well formed writing! Come to think of it, I should have made some money out of it!


When did you start writing?

As I studied advanced level English in academia, I had the opportunity to explore and write in lots of different forms. I used to revel in writing long, complicated plots and even some screenplays; my imagination really did run wild. I still remember what my English teacher wrote on my report card; “Hafiza’s homework is always late but always worth the wait!” After I finished my studies I immersed myself into my career; I only really picked up the pen properly again in 2018 when I started writing poems dedicated to family and friends. I found my poetry offered words of comfort and hope, inspiration, joy and solidarity. This quickly evolved into an array of poems taking on different tones; which I published on my Instagram page ‘Life Is a Rhyme’. Recently, I have been able to perform some of my poems in front of audiences in a variety of venues including a castle, parks and a forest. This is when my poetry truly comes alive; it’s always so much fun. My biggest audience was a 1000 people in a work related seminar ; it was quite the buzz!!


Have you always wanted to be a writer?

No! I’ve always wanted to be an Air Hostess on Emirates Airlines!


 

"When you feel inspired or randomly have a thought of brilliance - write it down! My phone is full of half-developed ‘brilliant’ writes! Oh, and don’t waffle!"


 

How do you handle writer’s block?

I put it all away and watch Graham Norton’s chat show!


What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?

For me, good writing has to be well articulated and thought provoking! If it moves someone, it is something special.


How do you come up with the titles to your books?

I go with my gut! The first title is usually the one that makes it!


Describe your writing space.

This takes on a lot of forms. Could be in my car where there are no kids demanding attention! Could be in a coffee shop. My preferred space however, is in my living room when the sun floods the room and my hot drink is waiting for me.


What time of the day do you usually write?

I’m a night owl so I usually find myself writing when the house is nice and quiet at night time!


What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

Finding a few undisturbed hours to write!




Where do you get your inspiration?

The inspiration behind the book was my son. Our journey so far has highlighted how little people talk about Autism, especially in our South Asian culture. By having open conversations and sharing strategies, it provides a safe space for parents and carers to talk about Autism. The more we talk about something, the more it becomes ‘normal’; for this reason I became quite passionate about raising awareness. Further, after witnessing my son's struggles and triumphs, I thought wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to produce something that ‘froze’ this time in our lives, kind of like a screenshot, and look back on it in years to come and see how we have grown because of it. At the same time I had come across a competition which invited participants to write a children’s story. So I set out to write a fun children's story book that was captivating and informative at the same time. The dream is to walk into my son’s classroom with the published book and be able to read it to his class friends.


What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Keeping it real! And rhymes. I like rhymes!


Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?

It's usually friends and family! They say ‘here she goes again’! Ha!!


What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?

Success is inner happiness! If you have true inner happiness , everything else falls into place.


 

"It is important to be fully immersed in your writing when writing emotionally as you want the product to be raw and emotive. So trying to internalise characters helps."


 

Are you on social media and can your readers interact with you?

Yes, my poems and videos are published on my Instagram account - ‘Life is a Rhyme’.


How do you handle literary criticism?

I don’t take myself too seriously! I also know everyone is entitled to their own opinion!! 😆


What do you hope your readers take away from this book?

The book is an attempt to raise awareness of Autism by providing a little bit of insight into an Autistic child's mind and to highlight some fears and challenges they may face. The book invites the reader into the characters’ vision and interpretation of the surrounding world. The aim is for the reader to identify with and understand the fears and challenges the character faces.


How much ‘world building’ takes place before you start writing?

Depends on the type of writing.


Is there lots to do before you drive in and start writing the story?

Because I have young kids at the moment, I rarely get an undisturbed few hours to myself. My mind is always buzzing with ideas and topics I could write about so I type random ideas into my phone as and when, which could be developed at a later stage.


What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)?

How easily I went off topic!



Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special?

My favourite character has to be the little Autistic astronaut that flies into space. She is very special and truly inspirational as everything about flying into space goes against her natural instincts however, the insatiable drive she has to satisfy this curiosity sees her shattering ceilings and pushing boundaries. That in itself, is inspiring for Autistic and non-Autistic children alike.


Does one of the main characters hold a special place in your heart? If so, why?

Yes the protagonist was based upon my son and his passion for space and the planets. I changed the character to a female as Autistic girls are spoken about even less than Autistic boys.


 

"There's something rather humbling about seeing mountains in the distance that appear as a tiny spot in the horizon, makes you appreciate the vastness of this majestic world we live in and in reality, how insignificant we really are."


 

What was the inspiration for the story?

My son’s journey as an Autistic boy and some of the challenges we faced and continue to face. I wanted to highlight in a light-hearted way why Autistic kids sometimes behave the way they do. They are simply ‘neurodivergent’ as opposed to neurotypical, so they must be provided with an environment that facilitates their growth and does not stifle it. Indeed, Autists are required in order for society to advance, as it is their ‘difference’ in thought and possession of unique skills, which if nurtured can translate into innovations and entrepreneurship.


What is the key theme and/or message in the book?

The key theme is about challenging one's natural inhibitions, to go on and conquer one's fears and realise one's dreams. One of the reasons I wrote this story was to try and highlight and educate other children (and their carers) about why Autistic kids sometimes behave the way they do. Information is power and I believe by raising awareness about Autism and its related traits, neurotypical children and adults will be more understanding of their Autistic peers.



What is the significance of the title?

I chose this title because I thought it was fun and catchy and at the same time created interest for readers who are unfamiliar with Autism. For those that are familiar, they may know that loud sounds can be very disturbing for Autistic people so they often wear ear defenders to block out the noise.

If you had to describe character Sara in three words, what would those three words be?

SUPERSTAR, AMBITIOUS and INSPIRING.



Your story is set in space. Why did you choose that as the setting for your book?

The story is set in space as my son is very passionate about space and the planets. His interest set the scene for the book.


What were the key challenges you faced when writing this book?

The biggest challenge was to determine which Autistic traits to include in the book. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is such a broad spectrum, it would be impossible to cover them all. I also wished to keep the book ‘less preachy, more space adventure’, to keep it fun but also needed it to convey the message effectively. I hope I achieved the right balance.


Who is your favourite author and why?

I must admit I don’t have one particular author who I admire . I grew up reading the book ‘The Folk of the Faraway Tree’ by Enid Blyton so that holds a special place in my heart. As a young reader I really enjoyed Roald Dahl’s classics. Also Jane Austen and I enjoyed William Blake’s poetry.



What are you reading now?

I am currently reading a friend's debut book called “Peaceful Enemies”.


What book is currently on your bedside table?

‘The Essential Rumi’ poetry collection.

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini. “This Boy’s Life: A Memoir by Tobias Wolff.


What was the highlight of writing this book?

It was a lot of fun. Also, the interest it has generated is rather exciting.

What is the best part of your day?

8.30am on a weekday when the house is tranquil and clean.


Have you ever been on any sports teams? If so, what sport?

I have played Rounders and Netball for the school team when I was younger. I continued with Netball after school and was invited to play for the local league. However, I acquired an ankle injury that rendered me immobile for 6 weeks! I decided to take a break from contact sports and do something ‘safer’ like running! During the first lockdown, I pledged to raise funds for the National Autistic Society by doing a 10K run; I managed to raise £1000.


Favourite artist and favourite song?

I wouldn’t say I have one favourite artist; a couple of my favourites are Owl City and Maroon 5. Two of my favourite songs are ‘'I Love You Baby’ by Frankie Valli and ‘Fireflies’ by Owl City.



 

"By having open conversations and sharing strategies, it provides a safe space for parents and carers to talk about Autism."

 


Your hero?

My late father. His words of wisdom ring true to this day.

His character was exemplary.

His manner with people was admirable.

His guidance was gentle yet firm.

He is very dearly missed


If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why?

I would invite the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) - To be in his company would be an absolute honour. I have read so much about him, it would be captivating to hear his stories and advice.

I would invite Princess Diana; The Peoples Princess. I would love to hear about her experience in the Royal Family.

I would invite Sir David Attenborough. I’m sure I would be mesmerised by his stories and wealth of knowledge.


If you could invite one person to dinner, who would it be and what would you cook?

That would have to be my late father. He passed away before I got married so he never met my kids. He had many ‘favourite’ dishes but the most preferred was fresh fish and chips, pea wet and scraps with plenty of salt and vinegar. What a lovely thought!

Share something your readers wouldn’t know about you.

I love funfairs! My favourite rides are ‘The Pirate Ship’ and the ‘Waltzer.’


 

"Autists are required in order for society to advance, as it is their ‘difference’ in thought and possession of unique skills, which if nurtured can translate into innovations and entrepreneurship."


 

If you could only have one season, what would it be?

Summer - Everyones happy in Summer!


If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

I'd like to think the 3 words are; HAPPY, POSITIVE, FUN.


If you could cure a disease, what would it be?

SELFISHNESS! If people were concerned less about themselves and more about others, the world would be a healthier place to live in.


What’s your favourite spot to visit in your own country? And what makes it so special to you?

There is a viewing spot near Winter Hill in Rivington, Bolton; it offers stunning views over Lancashire and Greater Manchester and on a clear day, you can even see Snowdonia in Wales! I used to visit this spot a lot growing up, we used to have family picnics there, go rambling,etc. When visiting alone, it gave me time to reflect, and reminisce especially about loved ones whom had passed away. There's something rather humbling about seeing mountains in the distance that appear as a tiny spot in the horizon, makes you appreciate the vastness of this majestic world we live in and in reality, how insignificant we really are.


 

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