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Next Chapter Awardee 2021: Sumayya Usmani

Narrative non-fiction

Sumayya has written two cookbooks on Pakistani cuisine, both published by Frances Lincoln. Summers Under the Tamarind Tree (2016) won the Gourmand Award for best first cookbook and Mountain Berries and Desert Spice (2017) was shortlisted for the Food & Travel Awards.

Sumayya has appeared at the Edinburgh Book Festival, Ballymaloe Literary Festival, Aye, Write, Borders Book Festival, Lahore Literary Festival, Cheltenham Literary Festival, River Cottage Festival and British Library Food Season. Sumayya has written for and appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Saveur, BBC Good Food, delicious, Olive, Glasgow Live, The Sunday Herald, the Scotsman, The Times Scotland, The Independent and The Telegraph. She was a weekly columnist for The Sunday Herald from May 2018 to May 2019.

Sumayya has always had a keen interest in reading and narrative writing. She recently attended Curtis Brown Creative’s memoir writing course as well as University of Glasgow’s prose fiction course—both offered her the confidence to shift her writing focus to memoir and narrative non-fiction as well as opened her mind to writing fiction.

Sumayya is currently working on a food memoir about her life growing up by the sea and in Pakistan, around food and women.

Find her on Twitter(this will open in a new window), Instagram(this will open in a new window) or her website(this will open in a new window).

Writing sample

Furious waves crashed against the hull as the ship rolled and pitched. The wind outside our cabin shook the steel doors and whistled through porthole crevasses. A light flickered above Mummy's head.

She was making sticky, impossible fudge, stirring butter, sugar, saffron and condensed milk together while the ship swayed to and fro. Taking a pinch of saffron she ground it between her fingertips. The flecks of crushed saffron looked like stars dancing in a caramel sea. The electric frying pan was on high, and smoke swirled around the low metal ceiling of her make shift galley. Meanwhile, I was holding on to a mattress, tied to either side of the floor, my white and pink polka dotted nightie soaked with tears.

'Gogi,' I wept. 'Please come back, Gogi.' My howling mingled with the howling outside.

'It's ok, Somi. He wanted to swim back to his family. The fudge is nearly done, I promise you’ll feel better,' Mummy said. She lowered the dial on the frying pan. The darkened sugar smelt potent, like freshly ground spice. She scraped the ball of singed fudge together, trying to save what she could.

I continued to choke on my tears.

'We will get you Gogi’s brother when we get to Singapore,' Mummy said, touching my cheek, as she switched off the frying pan.

Until a few weeks ago, I'd run on the decks with Gogi, sharing my hiding places behind foghorns and reading books cuddled up with him in my hammock. I would play with him in my sandpit and tell him my secrets, sharing my cakes with him. As the captain’s only child, I was allowed anywhere and all the cadets on board humoured me. I was their little touch of reality in an unreal setting.

Sumayya says:

'I'm honoured to win this award and thank the Scottish Book Trust for this incredible opportunity. Winning has not only given me confidence in my writing but also reinforced my belief that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. This award will act as a stepping stone to a lifelong career as a narrative writer.'