Melati Lum is an Australian, Malaysian, and Chinese criminal lawyer who has worked with the United Nations on prosecution of war crimes. Writing being something Melati Lum always dreamed of doing, she recently finished her first book The Istanbul Intrigue features Ayesha Dean: a teenage girl who sets off for an adventure in Istanbul after finding a mysterious note.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Assalamu alaykum! I was born and raised in Adelaide, Australia, by my parents who came over from Malaysia originally to study, but who ended up loving Australia and staying. My mum is Malaysian and my dad is Chinese Malaysian. Dad grew up in a Christian family and converted to Islam while he was in university so I have plenty of Christian relatives on my father’s side. My husband also comes from a non-Muslim family so as a family we end up sharing several different religious celebrations each year even though the two Eids are the ones closest to our hearts.
I’ve spent most of my adult life having something to do with the law, in particular criminal law. I’ve worked as a trial lawyer for the prosecution of serious crimes, and have previously spent some time working on the prosecution of war crimes at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
Tell us about the book and who your main audience is.
The Istanbul Intrigue is about an Australian teenage Muslim called Ayesha who loves solving mysteries. She travels to Istanbul with her uncle and friends and finds a mysterious note which takes her and her friends on an adventure around Istanbul to find out the mystery behind it.
When I wrote the book I had pre-teen girls in mind for my intended audience, although I know of a few boys who have read it and they’ve enjoyed it too!
What is the overall message that you want to convey through The Istanbul Intrigue?
The Istanbul Intrigue is a fun, exciting adventure story that I hope my pre-teen readers will enjoy. For young Muslims today, particularly those growing up in western countries, there isn’t a lot in the way of entertaining literature that reflects the experiences of young Muslims growing up in western cultures. There are relatively few Muslim protagonists in children’s literature.
While the story itself is not ‘hard-hitting’, the overall message I’d hope it conveys is that young Muslim women can be proud of who they are, and can have a strong spiritual relationship with Allah, yet be able to develop great relationships with people of different backgrounds including non-Muslim friends and family, and have lots of fun at the same time.
I have tried writing a book myself but in the process of doing so I have lost motivation. What kept you motivated and consistent in writing and finishing this book?
I’ve started writing a number of books in the past that never made it past a few paragraphs! Writing is something that I’ve always dreamed of doing, but never really made time for. When I started Ayesha Dean’s story, I had a realisation that if I don’t commit to writing and finishing a book, it will never happen. So I just started with a strong intention of actually finishing it. Once I started, I really enjoyed it. I got inside Ayesha Dean’s head and wanted to know what would happen next… I also enjoyed having that creative outlet to balance out the difficult stuff I was dealing with in my criminal law day job.
What impact are you expecting from The Istanbul Intrigue?
I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying that I “expect” any impact. I hope that the book will contribute towards promoting a positive image or role model for young Muslim women. I also hope it offers another voice in Muslim and diverse literature for children. I think it’s important that Muslim children are able to see their experiences reflected in the stories that they read, and it’s also important for non-Muslim children to be exposed to Muslim characters who are friendly and relatable, rather than people to be feared, which is often the way Muslims have been portrayed in recent times. Having said all that, I’d just be really delighted if my readers enjoy reading the book and are happily entertained along the way!
It is easy to give up on writing. What advice would you give to budding writers?
I’m still pretty new to writing, so I’m taking my advice from others at this stage. However, I can safely say that there are always days when you feel like giving up. On those days I try not to listen to the negative voice in your head that tries to tell you that “you can’t do it”. I take a break, and come back to it when I feel refreshed. I like making doa for inspiration because that always helps. Different things work for different people. I’d say do whatever helps you gain inspiration, and believe that what you seek is inside of you, it’s just a matter of finding its release…
Aside from writing, what are your other interests?
I really enjoy travel and the experience of being in new places, learning about different cultures and languages, music, and spending time with my family and friends. Of course I also adore reading! I’m currently finding nourishment in the teachings of Rumi and Ibn Arabi…
This article is written by Saiem Amer