YOUSRA Imran started writing stories when she was a child, and received a letter of encouragement from best-selling children's author Jacqueline Wilson.

Now Yousra has had her debut Young Adult novel published, inspired by her experiences as a teenager when she moved from the UK to Doha, Qatar, where she lived from 2003 to 2018.

Yousra, 32, who works in marketing and PR at Bradford College, won the Hashtag Press 2020 Competition and the prize was to have her novel, Hijab and Red Lipstick, published. It's the story of a teenage girl, Sara, who is torn between two worlds. All Sara wants to do is experiment with make-up and read fashion magazines, but her "mega strict Egyptian dad" tells her that everything is "haram" - aka forbidden. Things get even harder when he lands a job in the Arabian Gulf and moves Sara and her family to a country "where the patriarchy rules supreme".

In a country where she must have her father's permission for everything, every door feels like it's being closed on Sara's future. Can she find her voice again?

The novel, published by Hashtag Press, the People's Book Prize Publisher of the Year, will be launched online tonight.

"I’ve always loved writing and was constantly entering poetry and other writing competitions as a child," said Yousra. "It had been an ambition of mine to be a published author as far back as the age of nine.

"I remember writing to Jacqueline Wilson about a novel I was writing, to which she personally replied!

"I have been a freelance journalist for the past decade, but got back into creative writing around three years ago.

"I decided to write a novel that was inspired by some of my life experiences as a British Arab teenager moving from the UK to the Gulf and the culture shock a young woman goes through.

"While looking for a literary agent, I came across Hashtag Press’s Hashtag 2020 competition and thought 'I’ve got nothing to lose by entering it'. You had to submit the first chapter of your manuscript and the prize was a publishing deal.

"I was ecstatic to make the longlist, then over the moon when I made the shortlist.

"When, on December 13, 2019, I found out I was the winner I couldn’t believe it - my dream of becoming a published author had finally come true! It felt especially sweet as I had felt that agents had been calling out for more diverse books from writers from ethnic minority backgrounds, but a couple of years ago there was little to show for it when you walked into a bookshop.

"Hashtag Press, an indie publisher based in London, has been one of the first publishing companies I have come across that makes an active effort to publish books by diverse authors and that’s why I am thrilled to have my debut novel published by them."

* Hijab and Red Lipstick will be launched tonight, via Zoom, from 7-8pm. Hosted by Hashtag Press, the event includes a reading, a Q&A with Yousra and a prize giveaway.

To take part go to

The book is available to buy at