Who Are You Writing For, Anyway?

Published by Sam Ruddock on

Guest Blog by Shazia J Altaf

Writing for the muse…?
Writing for people? I think no one really gives a flying fuck to be honest what most people think.
Writing for my own entertainment? From compulsion? For pleasure? For ego?
Writing to expunge convoluted thoughts? From fear? What are the pins we to use to prick things? Is it to escape?

Why do I write?

Story telling has captivated humans for millennia. The words we use in the order we put them in are unique to each writer. Socially, we write through symbols to communicate something, something that we feel is important, something elusive, something we see or hear around us, and those things creeping within us.

It’s a strange experience wanting to share something with a reader. But first, I believe that when writing, I am really sharing something with myself.

The raw nerve to put myself out there took some time, years actually, to build. At times the ideas burst out of me. At other times waiting for them to arrive is like watching paint dry. Thoughts are slippery. Writing can sometimes feel like a kind of Bardo or purgatory, but it also can feel like a fresh stab of light leading somewhere.

The thoughts streaming in my head always fail to translate perfectly onto the paper. Like Emil Cioran ‘I dream of a language whose words, like fists, would fracture jaws.’

I write to preserve stories. Stories unknown, stories glossed over, wiped out, that are hidden in societies veins. The stories that have always been there between the lines, slightly outside historical notes. I am trying to unearth a stone, dust off soil and show its shape.

Isn’t it boring telling the same stories over and over, don’t we need something different? I know there are some working-class writers published, but they are statistically fewer than their middle-class and upper-class counterparts. And people of colour even less. There are many pins we use to prick things, certain things that need to be discussed that are not given much air time, class, especially working-class stories, and those of people of colour. Northern stories have traditionally been largely ignored too, as if half of the population outside of South seemingly dont count or even exist on this Island. I’ve read a lot of middle-class, upper-class stories, middle- and upper-class miseries. And enjoyed a lot of them. But it’s time for some working-class and brown stories and miseries too! I don’t write to speak for anyone or on behalf of any people. People have a right to their own stories and their own voices.

Raven Leilani, author of Luster: ‘I wanted to write a character where room is made for the unruly. I wanted to write against respectability. Every Black woman I’ve spoken to about this book, the thing we end up talking about is, I fucked up a lot. I was thrown a lot of detours. I think it’s important to allow Black women leeway to stumble.’

The everyday is a mausoleum for me. Writing to make the ordinary extraordinary. It is important to read stories about families you know of, and people you see, unknown shape shifters. Sir Ken Robinson says that the arts address ‘aesthetic experience’, engaging all our five senses to feel ‘fully alive.’ I believe its coming from a sincere place. There’s a sense or element that transcends the everyday and approaches the spiritual. Sometimes when I’m writing it can feel like touching the skies. It’s an escape from this thing called life. There can be a few games in the writing, but in the end there can only be the words, real words, those things that talk, there can be no hiding in them.

JAMMED ASCENT my debut opens with Ishrat, a woman with a needling secret that threatens… when her husband Allam plans a surprise trip to Kashmir things start unravelling… the secrets we keep, the lies we tell ourselves, and to the people we say we loveJAMMED ASCENT puts the spotlight on a brown British working-class family, and tells the story teasingly and provocatively of how the gnarly hand of the past cannot seem to rest in the soil and in the dust even half way across the world. A multi-generational twisty tale, travelling down rabbit holes and trying to make sense of the senseless. 

JAMMED ASCENT is an original story about a group of people who, haven’t been seen or heard in fiction. In my writing I want to try and make the reader laugh a little, maybe cry if possible, and break their heart into a tiny million pieces.That’s all I want. I’m an outsider. I am mainly writing for me, for that little chubby brown girl in the library, who loved words but couldn’t find herself in the words. It’s a sort of conversation across place and time between the writer and reader. A fictional world can feel so real. And yet it’s truth built up with fictional lies. In stories you can go anywhere, traverse continents, time travel, in your creation, in the worlds you build from the alphabet, in the collection of characters that come to the page, the possibilities are endless for the brave. I hope to be brave in my writing.

Ultimately I write to connect to something outside of me. It’s an attempt, a flight in imagination, an attempt at truth. If you split the skull of a writer and the spine of a book they are one and the same things at any given time. I am writing for me, for people like me to see stories, people they may recognise, and for anyone generally who enjoys a good story. I’ll end with this, I think Katherine Anne Porter sums it up best: ‘I shall try to tell the truth, but the result will be fiction.’


About Shazia J Altaf

Shazia J. Altaf is a writer from Middlesbrough, in the North East of England, from a working-class background. She studied History, has worked in libraries, government, call centres, trained as a teacher, as a shop merchandiser (stock replenisher which she loved), as well as other things. Shazia won the 2021 Creative Future Writers’ Award Platinum Prize for her short story ‘Essential Thread’, which was published in CFWA’s 2021 anthology, Essential, and which she performed at the Southbank Centre, London. Her debut novel, Jammed Ascent, was shortlisted for the inaugural Primadonna Prize in 2021, and her work was also listed for the 2021 Exeter Short Story Prize for ‘Lepidoptera’. Short story ‘Selling Oil’ published in the Bricklane Anthology 2022. She has been awarded an Arts Council England Grant. Shazia is signed up to the magical Marianne Gunn O’Connor Literary, Film & TV Agency.

Currently, Shazia is editing her first novel Jammed Ascent, and researching her second work, a historical fiction novel.

Other blogs by Shazia J Altaf

Striving to Be a Writer


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