Irfan Master



Irfan Master is a novelist. His first novel, A Beautiful Lie (Bloomsbury 2011), was shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize in that same year. The novel has subsequently been shortlisted and longlisted for a number of regional awards alongside other more nationally recognised awards, such as the Muslim Writer’s Award and the Branford Boase award 2012. A Beautiful Lie was written specifically for young adults, but the book has found a universal appeal for all ages and will be published in seven languages. His second novel will be published by Bloomsbury in  2013.            

Irfan was born in Leicester in 1977 to a Pakistani mother and Indian father. He has always felt like the child of three countries, a fact that has played a significant part in his life, from the first few scribblings in his grid-papered notebooks to investigating questions about India and the Partition of 1947.            

After graduating with an English Literature degree in London, he taught ESOL and family literacy, generally to asylum-seekers and refugees in London and Leicester. He qualified as a librarian, taking an MA in Library and Information Science at Loughborough University. His dissertation focused on the difficulties many parents had in finding books that represented their transcultural experiences and how this decreased the likelihood of them reading to their children. The dissertation aimed to promote a dialogue about the lack of transcultural books in the publishing world and addressed some of the difficulties publishers have with extending the cultural range and scope of their books.           

As a librarian, Irfan worked with the Leicestershire community to enthuse people about reading. He set up events to engage local schools and organisations in the work of local libraries. He worked in a school library in Leicester, after which he returned to London to work for the National Literacy Trust as project manager for a book-gifting project called Reading is Fundamental. In a perfect synthesis of Irfan's love of football and reading, he managed two further reading projects called, Kick into Reading and Sports Stories, which harnessed the motivational power of football and stories to encourage families and children to enjoy books. 

Irfan writes full-time, but when he is not at his desk he travels the country giving talks about writing and creativity as well as delivering creative workshops in schools and libraries for young people and teachers. He is First Story’s Writer in Residence at Quintin Kynaston School in London, where he runs weekly creative writing workshops. First Story publishes a professionally produced anthology for each school, and the schools host book-launch events at which the students read their stories aloud to friends, families and teachers.

Creative Work

A Beautiful Lie: Prologue

Everybody lies.

We all do it. Sometimes we lie because it makes us feel better and sometimes we lie because it makes others feel better.
Many years ago I told one lie that has taken on a life of its own. It defines me as a person. The only time I was sure of anything was all those years ago, when I was a boy. When I was lying. Since then I’ve never been comfortable with anything in my life.            

On 14th August 1947, I learnt that everybody lies but that not all lies are equal.

Chapter 1

Something was wrong. I could sense it but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. It reminded me of when my father would jerk his head this way and that, sniffing the air like an agitated cockerel. He would look at me and say,

‘Can you smell a change in the air, my boy? Monsoon is coming.’ This feeling was like that. I could sense that there was something on its way but it wasn’t rain or monsoon – it was even bigger.

I was walking through the market, cradling a large melon in my arms and lost in thought, but the scent of jasmine tugged me back into the present. I stopped to watch the line of flower vendors carefully stringing petals into piles of necklaces.

Out of all the flower vendors, Jayesh had the sharpest eyes and the nimblest fingers, his pile always bundled higher than everybody else’s. People from the surrounding villages would come just to see Jayesh sitting cross-legged at his workbench, threading flower after flower. I made my way across to his stall. A few months ago he would have had a crowd gathered round but today there was only me. I watched for a few minutes as he threaded each petal without pausing. I waited patiently for the moment when he slipped a rose petal into his mouth and began to chew. By the time he had swallowed the petal, the necklace would be finished. As he slipped a rose petal into his mouth, I smiled to myself. Some things never changed. But my smile faded; recently some things had changed. There was a tension in the market I’d never felt before; little signs that things were not the same.



A Beautiful Lie is set during the Partition of India in 1947. The novel focuses on a young boy, Bilal, who tries to protect his dying father, a stout patriot and believer in the unity of all people in India, by lying to him about the horrors of Partition happening outside their little mud house. It’s a story encompassing the lengths a courageous boy is willing to go to in order to make sure his father dies in peace regardless of the consequences for himself.           

As a curious child, I had always wondered how my grandfather, my Nana Abu, had ended up in Pakistan. It was a mystery to be solved and that intrigued me. When he finally told me, and after I’d done some of my own research, my realisation that it was such a cataclysmic shift in Indian history really bore down on me. I felt a strange responsibility and compulsion to represent the period by writing a story. So, that’s what I set about doing - quietly, slowly but with some determination. As the writing progressed, I quickly realised that it was to be a story of friendship, love, courage, and very importantly, of ordinary Indians living through the worst of times. The literary quirk at the heart of the story, the construction of this elaborate lie, came to represent, in my mind, a sense of what was happening at the time: a conceit based on the assumption that the dividing of the country for mainly religious reasons would be better for all concerned.            

Writing this novel was, for me, was an attempt to capture the manners and social conditions of a people at a pivotal time with a good level of detail and an accurate representation of the language, culture and life as it was then. I wanted the novel to inform the reader about Partition or to enlighten readers who already have some knowledge about it. Finally, and perhaps fundamentally, I wanted my story of what was happening to ordinary Indians at the time to give the reader this sense of a line being drawn across the map of India. A line that changed everything. Bilal captures this feeling best when he says: “Partition was like laying flat a piece of coarse material and cutting it as steadily as you could down the middle. The only difference was, once the first cut was made, no amount of sewing and stitching could make the material whole again.”



A Beautiful Lie, Bloomsbury, 2011
Out of Heart, Bloomsbury, 2013


Author page: Bloomsburyn


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