Zarina Macha, who lives in London, was announced as the Book Award winner for fiction in the Page Turner Awards. This was announced at a glittering online ceremony, where Paul Michael Glaser, from Starsky and Hutch fame, was a special guest to announce the winners.
The Page Turner Awards, sponsored by ProWritingAid and Campfire, offers authors, writers, and screenwriters the chance to enter the first 10 pages of their writing project, where a judging panel of literary experts and film producers will read the work.
Macha’s winning story, Anne, is about a black lesbian girl growing up in a household of domestic abuse, who faces challenges when attending boarding school for the first time.
Macha's novel Anne is not based on her own life, but it incorporated some personal experiences. Like Anne, Macha was bullied as a child during her primary school years, and she brought this into the novel to show the cruel and flippant way in which young people can behave towards one another.
Macha also encompassed the diverse landscape of which she grew up with as a teenager in London. She is mixed raced, with a proudly Tanzanian father and a mother of Indian descent. Macha was used to having friends and peer groups of various ethnicities and saw this in very few books as a child.
Most of the authors that Macha read and enjoyed as a girl were writing books that seldom featured characters or protagonists who were not white. There were a few exceptions, like Narinder Dhami's "Bindi Babes" series, but most popular books for young girls featured white protagonists and seemed very unaware of or dismissive of racial diversity. Macha was very conscious of this when writing Anne including having a black girl's face on the cover.
Macha used Anne's story as a window into bullying, class conflict, sexuality, religious dogma, racism, and mental health difficulties. She wanted to shine a light on these issues that affect young people across the UK (and internationally). In a world where young people are struggling more and more with depression, anxiety, and various other mental illnesses, Macha explored these issues through Anne's development of panic attacks resulting from her childhood trauma.
She wanted to create a book that despite its heavy themes was being delivered through the eyes of a young person and edged towards being optimistic about the future rather than downtrodden and negative. That, despite the struggles a person endures, one can still come out of them in a positive way. And that, where there is pain, there’s also love, hope, and inner strength.
Single-parent families have become more commonplace in the last several decades in the UK, with an ever-rising divorce rate. Macha wanted to comment on the difficulties of family life and how things are not always as straightforward as they seem.
Macha also wanted to write a story with characters who were racially diverse and of different sexualities without putting this at the forefront of the story. Despite not being on the LGBT spectrum, Macha wanted to write a lesbian protagonist and carefully wove this into the story to show how modern teenagers have grown more accepting over same-sex relationships.
Macha’s personal life reflects her story themes. In her mid-to-late teens, she struggled with clinical depression, anxiety, alcoholism and panic disorder, the latter which she still struggles with on a regular basis.
These have all been difficult to cope with, but Macha's panic attacks have caused her the most hardship. Despite Macha's efforts to find a 'conventional' job in 2019, her panic disorder and anxiety lead to her not being able to do this, so she has focused on building her author business.
Macha showed the difficulties of panic attacks through Anne, although while Anne's panic disorder is circumstantial, Macha's is often unpredictable. She explores her personal past struggles of depression, self-harming, and problematic drinking through the character of Simone, who Anne befriends when she attends boarding school.
By the age of twenty-four, Macha has independently published five novels, while also having completed a degree in Songwriting and Creative Artistry. Before the pandemic, Macha would frequent local events in Stoke Newington to sell her books. She also enjoys making regular content on YouTube where she talks about her books and gives writing advice. She considers herself to be unstoppable.
Macha said: “I was deeply surprised and thrilled when I found out I was part of the Page Turner Awards Finalists. A huge honour which I can happily add to my author portfolio. A big congrats to all who entered.”
This year aspiring writers walked off the red carpet with life-changing prizes. One new unpublished writer won literary agency representation while a screenwriter won literary management. Another new writer won a publishing deal, seven independent authors won an audiobook production from Spectrum Audiobooks, plus one other won a publishing package (including an edit, book cover and book trailer), and another author won a book adaptation.
The Page Turner Awards winners can be found here: https://pageturnerawards.com/2021-winners
Submissions for the 2022 Awards will open in January 2022. Find out how you too can enter your writing into The Page Turner Awards: https://pageturnerawards.com.