Radiya Hafiza's new book, Rumaysa: Ever After, revisits the fairytale world of Rumaysa: A Fairytale, and this Rumaysa is searching for her own 'happy ever after'.
Radiya studied English Language and Literature at King’s College London and worked in publishing for a few years. She is behind the fantastic blog The Good Assistant. Radiya grew up reading classic Western fairy tales that never had any brown girls in them. Her debut novel Rumaysa: A Fairytalewas published by Macmillan Children's Books in 2021, bringing such stories to children who need to see themselves represented.
Rumaysa: Ever After (Macmillan Children's Books)
Radiya Hafiza's retellings of fairytales in Rumaysa: A Fairytale began Rumaysa's adventures, a stolen child locked in a tower, spinning gold for an evil witch. In Rumaysa: Ever After, Rumaysa is free and on a quest to find her lost parents. Will she find her own 'happy ever after'?
Radiya Hafiza tells us what inspired her to rewrite fairytales, and the importance of representation in children's stories:
Q&A with Radiya Hafiza
1. Can you tell us a bit about your career as a writer - and any other careers you might have?
I always wanted to be an author from a young age as I enjoyed storytelling and reading. I considered the books I read like my friends, full of fun and adventure, and guidance too. I wrote a few 'books' as I was growing up and began to more seriously write as I became a teenager.
I went to university at King's College London to study English Language and Literature. I joined the working world after I graduated and am currently working for a leading charity organisation in the voluntary sector, so I'm a Comms professional by day and an author by night.
2. What made you want to write for children, and how would you describe the kinds of books you write?
I suppose I wanted to write for my younger self in a way and create books I wish I had as a child. Though there are much more diverse books being published now, I wanted to write for children like me who never had any representation in the books they read growing up.
The books I have written so far are fairytale retellings, set in magical lands where girls save themselves and make their own happily ever afters. My next book is also a fantasy novel and though its not a fairytale retelling, it will have similar themes.
3. What are the Rumaysa books about? What is your favourite moment in Rumaysa, Ever After?
Rumaysa: A Fairytale is a retelling of three classic fairytales, Rapunzel, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, only in my version they're called Rumaysa, Cinderayla and Sleeping Sara. A big part of Rumaysa is about representation, seeing brown kids taking centre stage and being their own heroes. On the other hand, the Rumaysa books are also about using your capabilities to help those around you and being the agent of your own happiness.
My favourite moment in Rumaysa: Ever After is when Rumaysa *spoiler* defeats Saira White with her parents. She's been on her own all her life so to have her defeat the villain with her parents' aid felt very touching and a good way to wrap up her story.
4. Your novels take fairytales we know from a European perspective and give them a twist in terms of representation. Why is it important that all young people see themselves in these stories, in particular?
There have been a lot of updated modernised retellings of fairytales but I was yet to see one with someone who wore a hijab or had a name like mine in it. Everyone deserves to see themselves represented authentically, and to know that they can be in any story they want, be the main character in a book and go on adventures, too. I hope Rumaysa will encourage children to write their own stories one day where people who look and live like them take centre stage.
5. What were your favourite fairytales as a child, and how did you respond to these kinds of stories as a child?
My absolute favourite was Cinderella. I loved the magic of it all; that Cinderella could speak to animals, her fairy Godmother, the dress, the ball, the prince and the happy ending. It was only as I got older that I realised though that not all the messages in fairytales were positive, particularly princesses always needing a prince/marriage to save them.
The beauty ideals presented in fairytales were also problematic - girls having to be thin and fair and beautiful by European standards - and often had me feeling like I didn't even count as a girl because I didn't fit the standard of beauty. I'm grateful to now be able to tell stories where all kinds of girls, regardless of skin tone or body size, are beautiful and can have a happy ending without romance.
6. So you wanted your heroines to have more involvement in the outcome of their stories?
I wanted my heroines to lead their own journeys and not revolve their stories around needing a prince to save them. They are complete entirely by themselves and their development is about bettering themselves, as well as helping others. In Rumaysa: A Fairytale, the girls all need to break free from their own situations, be that a controlling parent or being held captive, and use their own resources to create solutions. I particularly love this in Sleeping Sara, where the princess realises her parents' flaws as rulers and uses that to make better decisions for herself.
It was a lot of fun to turn stereotypes on their heads, and feature strong, powerful and fun girls who decide their own fate.
7. How did your lead character, Rumaysa, develop?
Rumaysa began as a lonely girl spinning straw into gold, someone who had little self-belief and felt trapped. Once she escapes, she learns how to adapt to being on the outside and how to interact with people. She's quite reserved at times and a bit of an introvert, but she grows into a confident, independent girl who helps save the day. Rumaysa can be a bit of a reluctant hero at times, but ultimately, she learns in both books that helping others find their happy endings doesn't take away from hers.
8. Who are your favourite supporting characters in these books?
Zabina, the owl, is definitely one of my favourites. She's so sassy and snarky, I loved her character and how she brings out a softer and more fun side to Rumaysa.
Suleiman was also another favourite of mine; I love how he just doesn't want to do what's expected of him and would rather do his own thing.
I also really loved Aydin and Dalia who both are grappling with their own issues. Aydin has to learn to be true to himself and Dalia has a lot of quiet wisdom that was great to write.
9. Do you have other adventures planned for Rumaysa?
I don't have any more stories planned for Rumaysa, I'm afraid. She's found her own happily ever after so I'm happy to leave her be . . . for now!
10. Other than a great adventure, what would you like your readers to take from these stories?
I want readers to know that anyone can be a hero, magical or not, and that is strength inside all of us no matter how others might make us feel.
11. Where and when do you prefer to write, and what are you writing currently?
It depends on my mood, really. Sometimes I enjoy writing in cafes or on a bench by the woods or the River Thames, but mainly I write at home in my room. The magic usually happens at night time given my daytime work schedule and other commitments, but I also love writing in the quiet mornings just after dawn (if I manage to wake up).
I'm currently working on my third book which is in its early phases of planning. It's quite different from Rumaysa so I'm really excited to do something new. There is magic but much more darkness in this story and I can't wait to talk more about it.
12. What kinds of books do you enjoy reading? Do you have any great recommendations?
I really love any book with a great heart and some humour, a story that makes me forget where I am and whisks me away inside its pages. Fantasy is definitely a favourite genre of mine but I love contemporary too. I recently read and laughed through Loki by Louie Stowell, a joy to read, and I'm looking forward to A Flash of Fireflies by Aisha Bushby which comes out in June. My current read is The Thief Who Sang Storms by Sophie Anderson.
13. What are your favourite things to do when you're not at your desk?
I love to go for walks, either down by the lake or the woods near my house. It's always great to catch up with family and friends, too, as writing can be quite an isolating time as you're wrapped up in your own head for a long time. Also, I love to go out to eat, it's great things are open again to enjoy meals I haven't cooked!