ANIKA HUSSAIN was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden but currently lives in Bath, Somerset. Growing up, she didn’t see herself in books, so she now writes novels with South Asian characters at the heart of her books. This Is How You Fall In Love is her debut novel and a hilarious fake dating romcom. Good Reading for Young Adults caught up with the author to discuss her new book.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Zara and Adnan are just friends. Always have been, always will be. Even if they have to pretend to be girlfriend and boyfriend…
Zara loves love in all forms: 90s romcoms and romance novels and grand sweeping gestures. And she’s desperate to have her own great love story. Crucially, a real one. So when her best friend Adnan begs her to pretend to date him to cover up his new top-secret relationship, Zara is hesitant. This isn’t the kind of thing she had in mind. But there’s something in it for Zara too: making her parents, who love Adnan, happy might just stop them arguing for a while. She may not be getting her own love story, but she could save theirs.
So Zara agrees and the act begins: after all, how different can pretending to be in a relationship with your best friend be to just hanging around with them like usual? Turns out, a lot. With fake dating comes fake hand-holding and fake kissing and real feelings … And when a new boy turns up in Zara’s life, things get more confusing than ever.
The course of true love never did run smooth, but Zara’s love story is messier than most…
MEET ANIKA HUSSAIN
This is How You Fall in Love is your debut novel. What inspired your foray into writing?
When I was a child, my grandmother lived with my family. Because I had trouble sleeping, we spent most of our nights telling stories and staying up later than we should have. It was the ability to create a whole world and shape characters in ways that may not always be plausible that drew me to storytelling. Growing up, I found myself struggling with my emotions and the typical teenage angst but couldn’t express them verbally and this led me to fall in love with writing. As a result, I wrote it all down, hoping that if I wrote myself and my feelings into my stories, I would be able to handle it better. In addition to processing my own experiences, the written word has allowed me to understand the world around me as well.
Where did you get the idea for your novel?
I’ve always loved rom coms, but I’ve always been a bit disappointed by the narrative that two best friends have to date so I wanted to play around with two platonic best friends and see what happened if they pretended to date, especially after being shipped for so long. Would they fall in love with each other? Would they realise that they were actually better off as friends? I think what I wanted to convey over all was the message that you would never know unless you try, which is where Adnan and Zara come into the picture.
Over the course of the novel, Zara and Adnan develop feelings for one another. How did you go about crafting this and did you encounter any challenges?
Adnan and Zara’s voices came through to me early on, but it was difficult to change their relationship from one of friendship to one of romance. Especially since they had been fighting a relationship for so long! As a result, it was difficult to explain why they may develop feelings for one another in the first place, and then to explain the way those feelings are handled along the way.
What was the most rewarding or challenging thing about writing your first novel?
The most challenging thing about writing my first novel was trying not overload my stories, by which I mean that I can sometimes be so keen to get in all the drama that it can take over the characters! I’ve always loved stories where there are high stakes, but I am learning to balance stakes versus characters.
The most rewarding thing was sharing my passion for stories and Desi culture with my readers and loved ones. It’s not the most traditional Desi book, as the parents for instance are more Westernized than most, so it’s been nice to share what it’s like to be a Desi teenager who grew up in a household which was more Western than most.
Zara loves 90s romcoms. Do you have a favourite one?
10 Things I Hate About You. I am an absolute SUCKER for an enemies-to-lovers and absolutely love the tension between Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger as the movie goes on. It’s both broody and cheerful at the same time, which I don’t think a lot of movies are able to pull off!
What do you hope readers will take away from your novel overall?
That love comes in all shapes. I think we spend a lot of time chasing romantic love but we should also focus on the other forms of love we can experience. Familial and friendship love is just as important as a romantic connection and this can sometimes fall behind when you get into a romantic relationship.
I also want readers to realize that South Asians are more than arranged marriages and stories about race. We can have happy stories just like our white counterparts and don’t need a trauma to fall back on in order for our stories to matter.
Which authors or books do you greatly admire?
I greatly admire John Green and his debut novel, Looking for Alaska, is my absolute favourite. I remember being 14 and absolutely bawling my eyes out, not because of the content but because of how beautifully written it was. Even today, my heart lodges in my throat when I encounter the blank page before it goes into the ‘After’ section.
I’m also a massive Kathleen Glasgow fan. I have a soft spot for stories that are dark and not afraid to explore the most uncomfortable parts of ourselves.