Shirin and Kian last saw one another ten years ago as sixteen-year-olds at school in Hull. And the weight of everything left unsaid since then still hangs between them. However, instead of being just a romance story, People Change explores topics such as race, friendship and navigating life through your 20s. Today we chat with Sara Jafari about people in their 20s and ask her for advice.
It took Shirin and Kian a long time to take a second chance at love. Why did you decide to explore a slow burn romance story instead of a more instant one? Do you think people in their 20s are more likely to be more cautious when approaching love?
In People Change it felt right to me that my two central characters, Shirin and Kian, don’t instantly come together as a couple, mainly because they have so much baggage and history (as they knew each other when they were at school) so that means naturally they’ll be more hesitant to fall into a relationship with each other. Something that was really important to me, too, was to show their friendship – and how deep it is, even if they haven’t spoken for ten years – and how they support each other beyond being in a romantic relationship.
More generally speaking, I do think when you get to your mid/late twenties you do get more cautious when it comes to love and relationships, as you might have had some bad experiences and be even more susceptible to fearing rejection or heartbreak. But really I think it is my specific characters – and their backstory – that meant that I felt compelled to make this a more slower build romance.
There is also a lot of focus on navigating friendship groups in your 20s. Any advice for those who don’t necessarily love their entire friendship group but don’t want to feel left out?
In this book I really wanted to show the different kinds of friendships you can have in your twenties. So, we see Shirin’s home friends (from Hull where she grew up), her friends from university and then her friends at her work. She doesn’t really feel like she fits in many of her groups, which I think a lot of people can probably relate to.
My advice would be to try to find like-minded people in other groups. Perhaps join a club, depending on what your interests are, to find people are more like you. Or if you have work colleagues who are a similar age to you, and you get on, maybe ask if they want to get dinner or drinks after work. I think people in their twenties (and beyond) are really keen to make more friends, so you’re likely not alone and your advances will be welcomed! I do think, too, there’s a lot of emphasis on being a part of a friendship group, but sometimes it might be that you have multiple singular friends you get along with, and that’s fine. Don’t put pressure on yourself to have groups like you did when you were a teenager because when you get older it’s common to drift from people and change. As long as you have a few people who you enjoy spending time with and feel you can be yourself with that’s all that matters!
With many of these new friends, Shirin doesn’t like to talk about her past. Your thoughts on those who compartmentalise their lives?
A lot of us compartmentalise our lives. I think especially when you live in a big city, like London, often our different friends don’t meet, and are quite different. That means we can be different versions of ourselves depending on which friend we’re with. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing because you can get a lot out of each friendship and version of yourself. It might be with one friend you can talk about romantic relationships and sex freely, and with another have deep dives into books you enjoyed reading (for example). It can be nice to have different friends for different parts of yourself, but I do think you should regularly check in with yourself to see if you’re being true to yourself on the whole with your friends.
The other main theme in People Change is racism – Shirin faced many microaggressions at her publishing job. Are you more optimistic or pessimistic about the publishing industry right now?
Now that I’m out of the industry, I feel somewhat optimistic. There’s definitely change going on – if you compare publishing now to five years ago, it’s really heartening to see how much more diverse the workforce is, and the authors being published too. But on the flipside, when you’re working in publishing and dealing with microaggressions it can feel quite hopeless at times. The whole point of microaggressions is that they are small, so you don’t really realise how much it’s eating away at you, but the feeling of being ‘other’ can really can wear away at your sense of self. But yes, I think it is getting better, and there really is a conscious effort being made by publishers to be more inclusive and diverse which is great. As with most change, the road is long and not always pretty but I’m hopeful.
And finally, please recommend some books written by Iranian authors / books about Iranian culture.
Firstly, I would love to see more books by British Iranian writers with British Iranian characters! I think it’s something that’s so lacking right now, and I am itching to read more of. But some books I enjoyed by Iranian authors are Together Tea by Marjan Kamali. I read this book after I finished the first draft of my first novel The Mismatch and it kind of felt like the Iranian American version of my book. I adored it so much, and it really gives interesting history about Iran during the revolution, as well as being a brilliant story of family and love. Persepolis of course by Marjane Satrapi. I also loved Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi – a sweet and funny YA novel about being between two cultures and learning that you are enough as you are.