Millions of radio listeners will have the chance to listen to a De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) graduate’s novel when it airs on Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime.
English Literature graduate Mahsuda Snaith’s second novel, How to Find Home, is about a homeless girl who goes on a Wizard of Oz-style adventure from Nottingham to Skegness.
Mahsuda spent months researching the novel, undergoing six weeks of training with New Futures, a local charity that supports sex workers. She then went on to volunteer at a soup kitchen before doing a writing residency at a homeless hostel.
“It was really important for me to do the research and get it right because this is a group that gets misrepresented already,” said the 37-year-old.
Spending time with the homeless community and listening to their stories helped Mahsuda to challenge her own misconceptions and made her realise that homelessness can happen to anyone.
She said: “A few things can go wrong in your life and that’s all it takes for you to end up on the streets.”
The Leicester-based author said she fulfilled a childhood dream when she landed a two-book deal with Transworld in 2016.
“It feels surreal to think of myself as a published writer because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was about eight,” she said.
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However, the journey to publication hasn’t been easy. Growing up on a council estate in Leicester, Mahsuda was one of a handful of people from the area who aspired to higher education.
She said: “It was a massive challenge to get into university but what I liked about DMU is that it had variety. It wasn’t just all about exams which I really struggled with as a dyslexic person.”
Mahsuda, who studied English Literature and Education Studies in the early noughties, said her time at the university was transformative. Studying working class writing with Kathy Bell was a particular highlight.
“It was the first time I had a name for what type of writer I was. I would say that my writing is very working class and definitely focuses on people who are not normally represented in literature,” she said.
After graduating, Mahsuda went on to do a PGCE and qualified as a primary school teacher. She decided to pursue a traditional career, almost giving up on her childhood dream of becoming a writer.
She said: “What I found was that I didn’t write for a bit and I was miserable. It really affected by mental health. It made me snappy and it was because I was missing the one thing that I love doing, that I’m passionate about and that I just escape into.
“Having that period of not writing was really effective because I thought that even if I don’t get published, I want to write because I need to.”
From that point she juggled teaching with writing to develop her craft. “I still wanted to get published and it was very much a goal of mine, but it wasn’t everything and I think that was really important,” she said.
In 2016 Mahsuda returned to DMU to work as a part-time lecturer in Creative Writing.
“That really did feel like I’d come full circle. Having struggled to get into university and then coming back to teach students. It was a really satisfying part of being a writer.
“I still feel part of the university. I think it will always be part of my life in some way,” she said.
Her advice to current students thinking of writing is to persist in their creative ambitions.
She said: “The challenging thing about starting a novel is feeling like it’s unsurmountable and that you’ll never get to the end.
“I think I knew even at the age of eight that if I worked hard I would get there. Not to say that we live in a meritocracy, I don’t think we do, but I think perseverance and a real passion does pay off.”
How to Find Home will air in daily instalments on Radio4 between 10 and 17 June at 10.45pm.
Students and staff at DMU can attend the launch of How to Find Home at Leicester Central Library on 23 May at 6.30pm.
Posted on Friday 10th May 2019