Autobiography as Novel

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The CCA, Glasgow


Tuesday 25th November

Shazia Hobbs tells us her brother will only write their story when their mother is dead. She smiles nervously at the audience, and adds that her mother barely features at all within her own book. Good thing too – Shazia’s book is garnering quite a lot of attention, and her mother is still very much alive. Shazia’s novel, The Gori’s Daughter, the autobiographical story of a mixed-race Scottish-Palestinian woman, has been a source of enormous tension within her extended family. Shazia tell us she is not on speaking terms with most of her folk, and many Pakistanis within her old community accuse her of whistleblowing. “White”, according to many of her relatives, is synonymous with “trash.”

Shazia Hobbs name hints at her incongruent beginnings. The daughter of a white mother “gori” and a Pakastani father, Shazia was raised in a polygamous household, in which she resided with her father, his Muslim wife, and Shazia’s half-siblings; as well as Shazia’s mother – his white mistress. As a small child she was sent to live for four years in Pakistan with her grandparents (her father’s wife could not cope with his mistresses children.) When Shazia returned to Glasgow she was subjected to racism, violence, hate crimes. “It was the 1980s, she tells us. Child Line was for white children. When my sister and I called, they told us to find an aunt to talk to. When we said we were suicidal, they said to call Samaritans instead.” Shazia was labelled a “smelly Paki” by her schoolmates; her Pakistani community, who believed that white communities were inferior, called Shazia “the white woman’s daughter”; when Shazia filled in official forms, there wasn’t even a box for her to tick. “Mixed race wasn’t an identity,” she says. “I had to tick Other.”

The evening’s event – “Autobiography as Novel” – is focused around a dialogue between Magi Gibson, interviewer for the evening, and Shazia. To begin, Magi asks Shazia to talk about the process of writing. Shazia explains (unsurprisingly) that the starting point was simply her life. “People told me I had story to tell. Why not write it?” The point of the evening is to explore the relationship between autobiography and novel – and introduce Shazia’s work. After drawing out Shazia’s life story, Magi Gibson, Shazia’s interviewer, points out that novels – unlike autobiography – permit the author to fictionalize, to build on memories, and create a world which better represents the emotions underlying lived experience. This – she prompts Shazia to explain – is why fiction works better than autobiography or memoir. Shazia adds that fiction also provides a buffer for those writers who portray events so close to their lives. Particularly when their characters are still alive and kicking. As the evening ends, I am convinced not only that Shazia’s story is extraordinary, but also that I should read Shazia’s book – every Glaswegian should. I am also impressed by Magi Gibson’s delivery. She is a terrifically accomplished writer, and she has some killer anecdotes.

Magi Gibson
Magi Gibson

When it comes to the night’s discussion around fiction, however, I am left a little divided. Firstly, Shazia’s tale did not begin as fiction. She submitted her story as autobiography – and it was at the behest of her publisher that she made the transition into a novel. Secondly, I am not convinced that fiction – as many of the writers suggest – is so better a choice than memoir, or biography. The most interesting parts of the evening – and the book – for me, are the bits I knew to be true. Writerly factitiousness aside, the insights that Magi, and Shazia brought to the Scottish Writer’s Centre were incredibly interesting, and I would recommend attending one of Magi’s events, as well as reading Shazia’s book. Most of all, I am grateful for Shazia’s bravery in telling her story. That’s what it is, really, her story. The rest is just semantics (and I’m guessing Shazia’s received enough labels to last a lifetime.)

Reviewer : Charlotte Morgan

The Gori’s Daughter is available on Amazon.

The Scottish Writer’s Centre hosts literary events on Tuesdays, once a fortnight at the CCA. [25/11/2014]

2 thoughts on “Autobiography as Novel

    Shazia & Magi | Scottish Writers' Centre said:
    November 27, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    […] You can also read SWC intern Charlotte Morgan’s review of the event here: […]

    foziah said:
    December 13, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    I think Shazia seeks attention and controversy by playing the role of victim and poor me…
    I honestly don’t think the book has had a great impact on either the Pakistani or white Scottish community ..
    It wasn’t a well written book .
    She successfully twisted truth with fiction to try to make her sob story attractive to sympathisers
    I am Shazia ‘ s sister. .. I grew up in the same house with the same family ..
    Yes we were impoverished in many ways and we were also privileged in many too.
    I sense a lack of compassion and tolerance and understanding from shazia towards her cultures. . Her family and possibly even herself
    I am totally disgusted the way she has diminished her mother to merely a white trash mistress .
    My mother is and always has been much much more .
    My mother has tried many many times in the past to contact shazia and maintain a relationship with her and her grand daughter
    Shazia was happy when she was using my mum for financial gain.. shazia that I know is very confused still… get over it .m it’s 2104. .. be what you want to be and the shazia I know does cruel and mocking well

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