Interview with Zanib Mian - Author of the Planet Omar Series
Zanib Mian is a celebrated children’s author best known for the Planet Omar series.
Having studied Molecular Cell Biology at University College London, Zanib taught Science in secondary schools before launching Sweet Apple Publishers. The independent publishing house is committed to publishing books that feature characters from backgrounds that are less often represented in childrens’ books.
Zanib also founded Muslim Children's Books where she publishes books that speak to Muslim children of today. Zanib has been featured on BBC’s Cbeebies Bedtime Stories and in The Guardian for her contributions to diversity in children’s literature.
What inspired you to dive into the literary world?
When I had my first child, and began to build a library for him, I was astonished to see that things had changed since when I was at primary school. There still weren’t fun, non-issue books that featured children of all diverse backgrounds. I knew they would be appreciated by anyone who can see that books don’t represent the real world around us, which consists of a gorgeous spectrum of diverse people, so I began to write and publish.
What’s been the most rewarding moment of your literary life?
I think it must be winning the Little Rebels Prize, which set things into motion and got me a three book Planet Omar deal with Hachette!
Where did the idea for Planet Omar (originally ‘The Muslims’) come from?
There was a lot of prejudice against Muslims; Donald Trump’s presidency campaign kicked off; there was Brexit that just fuelled racism in every direction; and some atrocities by people who don’t represent us! I just wanted everyone to meet a real Muslim family like mine and all those I know. I wanted to counteract the misinformation about Muslims perpetuated by right wing media. The more we can understand each other, the shorter the distance between us becomes. Education leads to love and respect and eliminates that pesky fear of the unknown.
There are some real laugh-out-loud moments throughout the Planet Omar series. Were those inspired by family life?
Thank you! Yes indeed. I have a real goofy family and they inspire a lot of what I write for the series. I like to laugh and be around people that make me laugh, so when I am writing, I can ‘see’ the potential for a comical moment coming up quite naturally, whether I’ve made it up or drawn from real-life.
What advice would you give parents or kids who might like to use their own family as inspiration for their first book?
Think about what makes them endearing, funny or surprising. Include the very honest imperfections as well as all the lovely stuff. And don’t try to make them fit the mould of what you think people want to read about, just be authentic.
In the last few years you’ve written the Planet Omar series, plus a host of other books featuring all sorts of characters! How do you come up with new ideas?
I observe the world around me with great interest. Not the objects, I couldn’t tell you what colour my front door is (gosh, is it green or white?) but I could say lots about the people - my neighbours; the people who work in the same building as me; the regulars at the cafe. I find everything interesting. I could tell you if they were in a different car that day, how often they smile, what they dress like, what sort of an accent they have, whether they have any noticeable quirks even. If I'm in a supermarket queue, and a baby drops something, I’m watching to see what the dad does. I’m watching people when I’m stuck in traffic. I’m watching everywhere - super nosey! But I think that’s what feeds my ideas for new characters and stories.
Which part of the creative process is your most favourite?
I would say, hands down, it’s dreaming up new characters. I have so much fun with them and get to know even the side characters so well, they feel like real people to me.
Lastly, what have you got planned for this year?
I’ll be writing another Planet Omar book, which will be the fifth in the series. The fourth is out this summer. Also I’ve had a really fun character swirling around in my head since Christmas, so I will work on his story too. Can’t say too much at this point!