#Merky Books winner Sufiyaan Salam wanted to ‘write for lads like me’

Sufiyaan Salam pictured with Stormzy after he won the New Writers' Prize. Sufiyaan is a 26-year-old British Asian man with his dark hair long on top but shaved close on the sides. He has brown eyes and a short beard and moustache. He wears a red leather jacket over a red jumper and white shirt. Stormzy stands about a foot taller to his left. The rapper is a black man in his 30s with cropped hair and a short beard. He has his arm around Sufiyaan's shoulders and wears a grey hoodie. They're photographed in front of #Merky Books event hoarding
#Merky Books

When Sufiyaan Salam was growing up, there wasn’t a novel about boys like him hanging out with friends on Manchester’s Curry Mile.

But the 26-year-old author hopes his new novel Wimmy Road Boyz will be that story for future generations.

The book, which follows three young British Pakistani men on a night out, has just won the New Writers’ Prize on Stormzy’s #Merky Books label.

Launched by the rapper five years ago, the contest aims to increase access to the publishing industry for a wider range of voices.

There were more than 800 submissions this year and Stormzy was at the awards event in London to announce Sufiyaan as the winner.

“I told him I was listening to some of his music in the shower that morning to hype myself up,” says Sufiyaan, remembering the moment he collected the award.

“It’s a little bit embarrassing actually.”

‘You can feel dangerous’

In Wimmy Road Boyz, set on Manchester’s Wilmslow Road, Sufiyaan explores masculinity and British Asian identity.

“A lot of the novel is about how complex our identities are,” he says. “The idea of a British Pakistani man, you know, there’s a certain stereotype associated with us.”

Growing up after the 9/11 terror attacks, Sufiyaan says he sometimes struggled with how he was perceived.

“The idea of what an Asian man was in Britain didn’t always feel great,” he says.

“You can feel dangerous.

“My backpack had flowers on it because I felt I’d be less threatening if I’ve got a backpack with flowers on.”

Through Wimmy Road Boyz, he wants to “dig deeper into typical British Pakistani experiences”.

“It’s so much fun breaking apart stereotypes and subverting things and making it so different to this expectation, and the weight of the expectation I had over my life for so long,” he says.

Although he now lives in Manchester, Sufiyaan grew up in Blackburn between majority Asian and majority white neighbourhoods.

The mix of cultures has shaped his interests and inspirations, all of which bleed into his work.

“I grew up on a steady diet of Bollywood films as well as reading the Sherlock Holmes books,” he says.

“Rap’s been a big part of my life for a long time.

“The novel is as influenced by grime as it is influenced by authors like Hanif Kureishi or Zadie Smith.

“All of this influence, it means the ideas in my head are so colourful and, I think, full of texture.”

Sufiyaan Salam. Sufiyaan is a 26-year-old British Asian man. He has coiffed dark hair and wears clear-rimmed glasses. He's pictured sitting on stairs outside smiling to the right of the camera. He wears a navy knitted vest with koalas on it over a cream cable-knit high necked jumper.

Phil Tragen

His three main characters in Wimmy Road Boyz, as well as the road itself – known locally as Manchester’s Curry Mile – are full of texture too.

“As a family, we were going to Wimmy Road all our lives,” Sufiyaan says.

“It’s always alive, always full of energy. But there’s darkness as well. Sometimes there’s some violence.

“I guess, in a weird way, the Curry Mile parallels the experience of the boys in the novel.

“In our individual lives, we’re all performing a certain sense of identity but actually beneath the surface, there’s all sorts of things going on.”

Sufiyaan was keen to explore male friendships and what’s often left unsaid between mates.

“There’s something interesting to me about this idea of performing this sense of ‘everything’s cool, let’s just have a fun night out’.

“But actually, how much of that is a distraction? How much these traumas or issues are just being suppressed and, if you can’t talk about these things, what happens when it all explodes?”

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#Merky Books described Sufiyaan’s work as “blistering” and he’ll now work on finishing it before it’s published by Penguin Random House.

Stormzy said he “loved it” and “can’t wait to read more”.

Sufiyaan hopes his work is part of a movement towards more representation for British Asians in literature, as well as for his hometown.

“There’s so much power and being able to see yourself,” he says.

“If there’s only one narrative about people like you, naturally you’re going to start fitting into that.

“So the broader we can make British Asian identity seem, what they can see themselves being will become limitless.”

Additional reporting by Riyah Collins


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