Introduced by Rebecca Seaton
It’s my great pleasure this month to introduce Shahema Tafader, a writer and illustrator from east London. Her work covers a range of genres and styles and has been included in magazines, a short story anthology and a children’s book.
Growing up in Lambeth, Shahema’s family didn’t have much, but she had what she always wanted: books! The library was a lifeline to the young Shahema, who was reading by the age of three and writing fiction from the age of eight. Her work was so good her secondary teacher accused her of having had her older brother write it! Shahema’s family have been a strong influence on her life and work. Her parents have equally inspired her, though in very different ways. Her mother fascinated her with tales from Bangladesh while her father provided a calming strength. She draws on this father-daughter bond when writing Snail Trail.
Raiyana winced at the crunching sound. When Daddy lifted his foot and walked to the other end of the garden, it took all of her courage to look at the ground. At the broken shell and the jelly-like green skin underneath.
“Oh, poor snail,” she said.
Furrowing her brow, she stormed up to Daddy, flip-flops smacking her heels with each step.
“Daddy – no!” she said, her small hands squeezed into fists.
Daddy stopped rummaging in the shed, stepped onto the sunlit grass and squatted.
“Oh, my goodness … what’s happened, baba?”
Raiyana poked her finger at his nose and said: “Daddy you, you can’t kill the snails again and that’s that!”
Her arms crossed over her chest and she stomped her foot.
Daddy smiled and rested his hands on Raiyana’s shoulders.
“Baba, we talked about this. Daddy has to kill the snails, otherwise they eat our strawberries.”
Pushing Daddy’s hands away, she yelled: “No! Daddy, I love them. They have to stay!”
“Oh,” Daddy said, smiling with his dimples. “But if they stay, then the strawberries will go. Don’t you want the yummy strawberries?”
Raiyana’s mouth watered as she imagined the taste of the sweet strawberries filling her mouth. She swallowed once, twice, three times, then wiped her chin.
“No” she cried, and stomped her foot again.
Daddy sighed and sat on the grass. He motioned for Raiyana to join him, but she crossed her arms again and stayed rooted to her spot.
“Baba, I’m sorry, but I have to get rid of the snails. I really love growing food for us to eat, you know, but the snails will eat them if they stay.”
Daddy gazed at Raiyana. She knew he wanted her to say, ” It’s OK,” but it wasn’t, so she wouldn’t. Instead, she screwed her eyes as Daddy kissed her on the forehead before returning to the shed.
Sighing, Raiyana shook away the tears welling in her eyes. She was a big girl now and big girls were smart, they knew how to fix things.
Nodding her head with determination, she ran indoors, wore her Supergirl cloak, grabbed her red bucket, and got to work in the summer heat.
That evening, the cat came home to find refugees boarded in his cave bed; and for the next month, Daddy groaned and complained over the onslaught of snails found clambering over the ginger cat, and in the oddest parts of their home.
(c) Shahema Tafader, 2022
Shahema says: I often write flash fiction as a way of practising writing techniques. When I do, I really enjoy writing from a child’s point of view. For me, children are the funniest people on earth, so there’s always something interesting to write about. I came up with this story when I was trying to hide the snails from my dad… except I wasn’t a child when I did this; unlike the protagonist in the story. By the way, Raiyana is the name of my youngest niece.
Shahema has just as much fun writing villains:
Book Excerpt: The Great Farm Uprising
It would be nice to say he had some good qualities, but sadly, the more anyone knew Farmer Bill, the worse he seemed. One of his ugliest traits was his particular hatred for animals. He hated his cows, though they gave him milk. He hated his chickens, though they gave him eggs. He greatly hated his dog, Bessie, though she helped to herd the sheep. But most of all, he utterly despised, with a most intense passion, the mice that invaded his raggedy . . . old . . . home.
Our story begins on a cold Christmas Day. Snow was falling thick and fast; just as a snow globe looks after a good shake. Farmer Bill, in his desperation to escape the cold, worked doubly fast.
To speed things along, he only swept half the stable floors. This was quite ridiculous, as it meant the horses were still walking on floors covered in poop.
Then, he carelessly threw the animal’s feeds into their troughs. In fact, some of the feed missed the troughs completely and hit the poor animals. The sheep didn’t notice, because their thick fleece coats protected them. The cows, however, turned to the farmer with a most vicious look.
“What? What? You ugly beasts!” Bill said, with a nasty scowl.
The cows, though angry, turned away and ignored the ungracious farmer.
After finishing his morning animal-care routine (though he didn’t really put much ‘care’ into his tasks at all), Farmer Bill rushed inside.
“Finally, some warmth!” he said.
Unlike outside, where it was freezing, inside, it was cosy from the brilliant flames dancing in the fireplace.
Farmer Bill’s house had two floors. The top floor had his bedroom, the bathroom and a spare room that no one ever used. After all, no one ever visited him for long. The bottom floor was one large room. In this room was the kitchen, the sitting area (with its grey sofa, television and fireplace), the bookshelf, and Bessie the sheep dog’s bed.
Inside his warm home, Farmer Bill cackled to himself as he rushed to his cupboard in the kitchen. Here, he grabbed the jar with the label: c O f f E E b E E n Z. He then poured water into his rusty kettle and placed it on the stove. When his kettle whistled loudly to let him know the water was hot, he gleefully said: “Lovely jubbly, my precious bubbly,” rubbing his creaky hands together, as he did so.
In a jiffy, he had made his coffee and was sitting on his warm sofa. The fire crackled proudly before him. Farmer Bill smiled smugly as he brought the mug of coffee to his prune-like lips, and took a long disgusting gulp.
“EEEUUUURRRGGH!” He bellowed, as he stuck his pointy tongue out and squinted his eyes. “What is this rotten taste?”
Dumbstruck by the unexpectedly rancid flavour of the coffee, he jumped up and ran to wash his mouth out in the sink. He then grabbed the coffee jar and poured the beans out onto the table. Running his skeletal hands through the beans, he was horrified to find that: “The beans have mice poop in them!”
Now Farmer Bill was mad; more mad than he had ever been. He’d just about had it.
”f it isn’t the cow’s poop in the field, then it’s the sheep’s poop,” he yelled. “If it isn’t the sheep’s poop, then it’s that dog’s poop. And now the MICE ARE LEAVING ME POOP!”
Farmer Bill decided it was time to declare war on the filthy, furry beasts of the world.
(c) Shahema Tafader, 2019
Shahema says: This is an excerpt from a story I wrote for early readers (ages five-seven), about a farmer who decides to kill all the mice on his farm. The mice and the other animals (who are all treated poorly) rise against the farmer. It’s about half complete and was really a way to practise writing. I may return to complete it but, right now, I’m working on my middle-grade book.
These examples of Shahema’s writing show her range of genres, from the comic, as in the excerpts above, or the meaningful or mysterious, as in the following:
A Castle Of Ghouls
Chapter 1: Another Missing Child
Anisa ran through the large passage of the old castle, her heart thumping louder than a drum. She was so busy running for her life, she barely noticed how cold her feet were becoming on the polished concrete floor.
Every time her foot slapped down on the ground, a sound like a horrid stepmother smacking a child echoed around the vast hall. It bounced from wall to wall, surrounding her, until it sounded like an army was chasing her. More than once she turned back, afraid she would see great giants – in spiky silver armour – running after her, reaching their arms out to grab and take her away. On those occasions, she would wave her flashlight around the passage, her eyelids rapidly blinking away the dripping sweat.
Then, she’d keep running.
All the way around the castle was a thick forest. Here, creatures great and small lived together, largely in harmony. Except for the hyenas. They were gruesome and mean and would eat a child alive if they could get their filthy paws on one. And they laughed, oh, how they laughed, in the most wicked way. Indeed, one could say they rather cackled like witches brewing potions to turn children into mice. And that’s precisely what they were doing this very night – the cackling, that is. From inside the forest they howled and shrieked, their voices seeping in through the castle walls; not unlike water melting through clothes.
They were mocking her, for being afraid. She was sure of it.
But at least – if we were to find one positive in this horrible moment – the hyenas were outside the castle. The monster kidnapping the children, and who could very well be catching up with her this very minute, was inside the walls.
Anisa’s breath was shooting through her teeth quicker and quicker with each step. Her body was baking, but the castle was still bitterly cold, so that the breath surrounding her mouth looked like the vapours of boiling water.
Slap. Slap. Slap.
Her head felt light; as though she could fall limp at any moment.
But she kept running.
At the end of the passage, she came to a spiral staircase made of black metal. It wound its way around, mangled and menacing, like a snake wrapping its body over a screaming piglet. She ran up, her long legs skipping two steps at a time. Her right hand pointed the flashlight, although it wasn’t much use, considering her hands were shaking so terribly the light was juddering.
If anything, the shivering light made her stomach turn.
Hold it in. Hold it in. Don’t throw up now.
(c) Shahema Tafader, 2022
Shahema says: This excerpt comes from my first novel (which is still a work in progress). The target age is middle-grade (i.e. ages eight-12). However, as there are some scary elements to it, it’s probably better suited to ages 10 -12.
This story is a mystery, and the one-line pitch is: “The cure to turn ghouls back into humans has gone missing and Anisa must find it again, or remain a ghoul herself forever.”
Shahema’s poetry showcases her concern and compassion for the environment, taking an unusual viewpoint to make her readers consider matters afresh.
One Green Planet
The sick lay still till they are reborn
But my body is not my own
Plants use my soil to grow seeds
The living use my land
To build their shelters
I am needed
I must move
(c) Shahema Tafader, 2022
Shahema says: I enjoy writing poetry about our natural world. As an analytical person, I think I prefer the constraints of using form in poetry, as opposed to writing freely. This poem is a ‘Nonet’. It consists of nine lines, and each line has one less syllable on it than the one before. As I’m sure you can tell, it’s talking about our dying planet.
I push on the concrete above my feet
The grit combined with rain water and sweat
Binding me in under the powerful
Pressure, hoping my strength will find the way
To build itself to grow and fight and win
My roots will plough between the weight and thrust
The man’s object aside, I will prevail
(c) Shahema Tafader, 2022
Shahema says: This is a poem I wrote for the beginner’s poetry class run by Anna Robinson (organised by Pen to Print). It’s written in the iambic pentameter form. The idea came from when I observed the way tree roots break through the cement above them. Man-made materials can’t stop nature!
Shahema continues to push boundaries in her illustrative output. Ranging from her first love, fine art in pencil, to comics and photography, she refuses to be pigeonholed. She has also used her artistic talents to promote diversity with her illustrations for the Naughty Nisha book.
Shahema’s artistic journey is an interesting one. As early as primary school, she was recognised for her artwork and by secondary school, was winning prizes for fine art and graphic design. This almost led to a degree and career in graphic design, but other plans came along and Shahema studied for the bar instead, completing her degree ten years ago. But her love of writing and illustrating never left her and she has enjoyed returning to this more recently. It may have changed shape: the early attempts at rewriting The Sleepover Club stories giving way to her own, mature voice and her illustrations moving away from pencil work to more graphic design and macro photography, but the artistic spark that began in a council flat in Lambeth is clearly still alive. I can’t wait to see what Shahema brings us next as that creative fire grows.
Discover Shahema at:
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I really enjoy writing from a child’s point of view. For me, children are the funniest people on earth, so there’s always something interesting to write about.