Books, Pop Culture

Queenie Shaikh talks about her new book “The Poor Londoner,” growing up abroad, and dry humor

Author Queenie Shaikh talks about her new book 'The Poor Londoner," the expat experience, Brexit, and why she loves living in London.

Queenie Shaikh has a book coming out: “The Poor Londoner” is a collection of satirical poetry and “untraditional” travel writing about living as an expat in London. She spoke with The Tempest on her experiences dealing with London’s high cost of living, xenophobia, Brexit, writing, and loving a place that can be hard to live in sometimes.

The Tempest: To start off, tell our readers a little about yourself and your new book!

I am a Pakistani expat residing in London, who is a journalist by day and a perpetual nomad all other times. As a kid, I grew up amidst the beautiful surroundings of Cape Town, South Africa – before moving to America as a kid in primary school. After a while, my travel-fanatic family and I moved back to Pakistan and as I transformed into a grown adult, I settled on starting a life in my favorite city in the world – London. As an indie author, I am often found scribbling furiously in my notebook on the steps of the National Art Gallery at Trafalgar Square. Bit of a hot-headed mess, I write about absolutely everything, adore photographing my quirky city, love traveling all the time and frequently daydream about mindless things.

 When I first moved to the UK – wide-eyed, curious, younger and naive, I had little knowledge of what was in store for me. Moving away is a difficult process and I resolutely took one step at a time. Ever since, London has and still contributes towards my growth as an individual in so many astonishing ways. And this book talks about it all in the form of satirical poetry – everything that I have experienced (and other expats more or less go through the same thing) and discovered in this weirdly wonderful city. It also talks about how being independent and self-reliant is very important in today’s day and age, as it is a constant journey towards self-discovery and self-actualization.

TT: Why did you move to London in the first place? What expectations did you have about what it would be like?

Growing up, I lived in a number of places all over the world and spent countless summers in London before moving here. I’ve always loved the city so much and it was not a new place for me in terms of traveling, but definitely a brand new experience when it came to moving a thousand miles away from family and friends and living on my own.

Initially, I moved to the UK for another degree and studied journalism at the University of Buckingham in Buckinghamshire – but once I graduated, I moved to London full-time and starting working here.

TT: How did you get the idea to write a book of satirical poetry about your experiences? Why not just a regular memoir?

I wanted to write about my experiences in a relatable manner and having a very dry, sarcastic sense of humor, I decided to pen it down in the form of satire. People respond to humor well, and it’s quite close to my personal style of interaction hence making it more real. I enjoy poetry immensely especially if it’s spoken word or free form, and wanted my book to talk to people in the same way.

Even though it is poetry, it’s divided into two parts and broken down into small chapters to make it easier and more enjoyable for everyone. The first part talks about all the highs of moving to London, and part two explains everything that is downright, batshit crazy!

TT: What’s an example of the type of London experience you like to write about?

I enjoy writing about a lot of things because living in London means experiencing something new every day. However, if I have to narrow it down to one, it will probably revolve around urging tourists to also explore the city outside of Zone 1 and 2 (Central London).

London is massive and there is so much more to see and do apart from just taking pictures at Madame Tussaud’s and shopping at Oxford Circus. I’ll probably ask them to avoid both!

TT: Did the process of writing the book help you through any of the drawbacks or difficulties you didn’t see coming?

It definitely made me research more, explore more and double check facts while I was writing the poetic chapters on all the fantastically diverse places in London that are often overlooked, especially by tourists. When I first wrote a rough draft, I thought it would be a really difficult commitment – but this project is so close to my heart, and I managed to fully devote myself to it with all the other day-to-day activities.

TT: You mentioned that some of your book is about your perspective as a South Asian expat. How did your view on living in London change (if at all) post-Brexit? 

My book is completely based on personal experiences, but the second half talks about many political challenges that were faced by the UK as a result of Brexit. London is such a multicultural city – beautifully catering to diverse groups of individuals, and since majority of its residents voted Bremain, my views about living here did not shift towards the negative side.

I am very disappointed in the overall result because I am pro-EU through and through, and yes, there was a surge in hate crime – people were generally very cautious including myself. However, that does not stop the vast majority from being kind to one another – in fact, I noticed that people became friendlier, more caring and more helpful. The good always outweighs the bad and my love for the city and its people only grew stronger.

TT: What do you think your book has to say to people who don’t live in London or have never been there?

I chose London as the focal point of my book because that’s where I moved to, although as a whole, it caters to many different markets. Yes, it speaks to the people who live here and experiences they go through while being transformed into Londoners. However, it also talks to expats from all over the world since many collective struggles faced by them are common. Examples include being broke as a student because the currency exchange rate is shit, or missing your family during festivities and holidays, or bagging a decent job as an expat after a million interviews.

To the people who’ve never been to London – my book talks about defining your own path and being strong enough to make decisions for yourself. It doesn’t have to be something as life-changing as starting over a million miles away, because I understand – moving away is not for everyone. But it could be anything that makes you happy, courageous and independent. Being a South Asian woman in her mid-twenties, I’ve tried to encourage other women my age by giving a silent message of empowerment, independence and what it means to be truly self-reliant. “The Poor Londoner” humorously stresses on how important self-discovery is without succumbing to pressure from society.

While London plays a huge role in evolving me as an individual, for others it could be anything – another person, a pet, education, a memory, life-lessons – you name it. They don’t necessarily need to visit London (or any other place) to achieve such important character traits – that comes from within by experiencing different things in life, and my book covers it all.

TT: Finally, tell us about what you’re up to now and where we can find you?

Presently, I am working full-time, arranging promotional events for “The Poor Londoner” around London, and penning down a rough draft for another book which is slightly different from the first one. I also regularly write for many different publications such as Brown Girl Magazine, The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed. You can find me on Facebook and Instagram.