I think communication between the generations is really important. says Salha
I think communication between the generations is really important. says Salha Image Credit: Supplied

Set in Oman, The End of Summer is an uncompromising take on one girl’s story of her cross-cultural upbringing. Exploring personal traumas, social taboos, and intricate family dynamics, Summer’s story reveals the battles women contend with in the face of a modern world and longstanding traditions, which make it near-impossible to find a sense of belonging anywhere.

The author, Salha Al-Busaidy, was born in London to Omani-Zanzibari parents, and originally made her name in Dubai as a singer and songwriter.

Excerpts from an interview:

From a career in music, how did you turn to fiction writing? Would you consider both music and writing to be your careers?

I had never done any creative writing before writing The End of Summer, unless you count songwriting. I had started making notes in 2019 on ‘a book that I might write one day’. Then COVID stopped all singing performances early 2020, which turned into an enforced retirement when we moved to Zanzibar last year.

It is quite a sensitive subject for me as I put away my sequins and high heels and only perform a handful of times a year. After a career of 22 years, hopefully performing regularly is not the only requisite of saying “I am a singer”, and one book entitles me to say “I am an author”!

There are some sensitive topics addressed in the book; why did you choose to tackle them? Was there any self-censorship involved while writing the book?

I think the topics chose me and I had to tackle them; that is the purpose of art. They are what I feel strongly about, the injustices that I see, things that can be changed with a little bit of hard work, hypocrisies, things that go on behind closed doors. We are a secretive, traditional society, so I’m sure this novel will make some people uncomfortable. I did not censor myself; that was done for me when I was trying to publish! I modified a few things, but the story is true to what I want to say.

Can you talk a bit about the journey of publishing this book, given the sensitive content?

The End of Summer is an uncompromising take on one girl’s story of her cross-cultural upbringing
The End of Summer is an uncompromising take on one girl’s story of her cross-cultural upbringing Image Credit: Supplied

My publisher, The Dreamwork Collective is amazing. My cousin found them online, and since they are interested in voices from the region, especially female voices, the fit was perfect. When the manuscript went for approval to publish, we came up against several roadblocks and though I haven’t changed the story or the content, I had to tone down certain aspects.

Who is the book for? Summer is a young woman — are her story’s audience similar?

When you pitch a book, you have to imagine your target audience. My first two proofreaders were 50-year-old men, who loved the book, so I didn’t want to pigeonhole it to any demographic! I want young people to read it, so that they feel seen. And I want older generations to read it to understand what might be going on in the heads of their kids. Only when we open dialogue between the two, can we get some healing of generational, cultural trauma. I also want people from all ethnicities to read it. To understand that more connects us than divides us.

The story encompasses several geographies — given your ethnic and cultural background, how much of it is based on your own life and experiences?

The thing that is based on my life is the ethnicity, although Summer is also part British. I wanted to convey the confusion that comes from being a cross culture kid, which is what I am. Being forced to take on your parents’ upbringing in a country in which they are immigrants or refugees. Being first or second generation British / American / Australian, being part of the diaspora, having two completely opposing cultures pulling you in two opposing directions. The story is fiction, but many small episodes within the story are based on things I have heard or experienced.

Tell us a little about your writing process

It started very organically. I had wanted to write a book about two little girls separated by the revolution in Zanzibar. While making notes on that, I also made notes on The End of Summer, which I started to string together into paragraphs and then into chapters. It grew really fast during lockdown, because I dedicated some time to it every day, and next thing I knew, I had 80,000 words!

The most challenging part after that is editing! You think that you have put together and completed a work and then someone comes and tells you to change things around. You have to trust this part of the process. I keep pinching myself, because I never considered myself a writer. I am a daydreamer, and have always had an active imagination. What I learned is that if you think you have a book in you, start writing it. Things won’t flow until you turn on the tap!

Any advice for people pursuing other careers who want to write a book?

I tell this to my keyboard player all the time. He is funny and brilliant and has so many ideas. Just sit at your desk / laptop / notebook every day. Sometimes you’ll write a hundred inspired words, sometimes nothing, but you will have discipline and you may have written something perfect, and it’s a muscle that you are training every day.

Also, read a lot! There are brilliant writers out there; don’t copy them, but you can tell what style and tone you like, what is important for you to say. And then I cannot recommend Masterclasses enough. Every time I took a lesson, I couldn’t wait to get back to my laptop to write more!

What message would you like The End of Summer to convey?

Without giving anything away, I think communication between the generations is really important. We are taught to do as we are told, to the point of having superficial relationships with our elders, filled with hypocrisy, lies and unhappiness. I would really love to be able to help even one person struggling with the same things that Summer is dealing with. So that that one person feels seen and understood, and that she or he is not alone.

If I am being ambitious, I would like the older generation to question some of their rules, to modify them for a new generation, so that there are fewer mental health issues among our youth. Antiquated regulations aren’t going to cut it for much longer, and we don’t want the rebellion to be ugly.

And the message of female empowerment! Especially in the Islamic world. We are respected and given rights. Let’s get what’s ours!

What’s next for you?

Ah! Anything! Everything! A movie adaptation. An Oscar, insha’Allah! I’ve started writing another coming of age book about two Muslim girls from different backgrounds in London.

Salha-Al-Busaidy lives in Zanzibar where she spends her time teaching yoga and managing her sea-front Airbnb
Salha-Al-Busaidy lives in Zanzibar where she spends her time teaching yoga and managing her sea-front Airbnb Image Credit: Supplied

I live in Zanzibar where I spend my time teaching yoga and managing our gorgeous sea-front Airbnb. Maybe I’ll finally write that book about the two girls in Zanzibar!

Book Synopsis

Twenty-two-year-old Summer is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny, she’s stubborn, she’s clever, and she’s very opinionated on life as a Millennial Muslim woman. The only problem is that she is dead.

When her younger sister, Sara, finds Summer’s lifeless body on their bathroom floor, Summer can only watch as a devastated Sara calls the rest of her family to announce her death. With no way back to her body and no idea how she died, Summer remains a helpless observer as members of her devoted, dysfunctional family come back home to bury her – and her secrets.

As Summer pieces together the events of the night before, she starts unravelling her whole life: the fabric of her British-Omani-Zanzibari family, the culture clashes, the depression that dogged her for years, and the childhood trauma that changed her forever...

Published by the UAE-based The Dreamwork Collective, The End of Summer is available on Amazon.ae