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Flying With Fear - Susan Milton

Updated: Sep 22

I’ve got some news. And it’s good. We’ve selected our next three memoirs! Flying With Fear by Susan Milton, Smashed Not Wasted by Sam Thomas, and Dear Mr Andrews by Lotte Latham. Over the next few weeks I’ll be introducing you to the writers and their work, and will announce release dates.

I’ve asked the writers to write a bit about themselves and their books, which I’ll post here on this blog. For today, I’m delighted to introduce you to Susan Milton and her memoir Flying With Fear. It begins in 1969 when Susan, a young British woman with dyslexia, takes a job as an air hostess with Saudi Arabian Airlines. On a flight to Beirut she discovers another hurdle: she is terrified of flying. Susan moves to Saudi Arabia, converts to Islam and marries a Saudi. What follows is the remarkable story of a young woman navigating an oppressive culture who, in spite of having dyslexia, educates herself about Islam and the Quran. Ultimately she returns to the UK to support other young Muslim women and promote education as a means of liberation.

xx Julianne, director at Guts Publishing

How did I come to write Flying With Fear? by Susan Milton

At the age of 72, a dyslexic woman like me from a working-class background is not the usual type to pursue a writing career. Shy by nature, it is challenging to publicly promote my debut memoir, especially on social media. It is not only a bit of a mystery to me, but also fills me with trepidation that I will be rejected or, worse still, trolled. But you are never too old to learn and change, and I feel sure I will gain personally from facing this fear as I did my fear of flying. Look where that took me!

In 1980, after leaving Saudi Arabia, I arrived at Lancaster University as a mature student at the age of 30. For three days I hid in my room surviving on a leftover packed lunch until my neighbour, also a mature student, befriended me. I was often questioned about why I chose the subject Arabic and Islamic Studies, and where it would lead. My mum didn’t talk about it. She was proud of me for getting a place at university but scared to raise the topic of Islam. Having experienced bigotry when I married Niam, she was aware of the prejudice amongst her friends.

I soon realised that what I had experienced while living in Saudi Arabia, and during my studies, was knowledge and understanding which I could pass on to others. After 9/11, I gained insight into Islamophobia and empathy for British Muslims facing prejudice. Being white, and not wearing a hijab, protected me from a torrent of abuse experienced by many of my Muslim friends. Ultimately, this is what drove me to find a way to contribute to the fight against prejudice and oppression.

Graduating from Lancaster University was a massive step in my transformation. I achieved a high 2:1, overcoming the effects of being bullied tirelessly throughout school and labelled ‘remedial’ by the authorities. I took a post-graduate Youth and Community Development diploma, then delivered youth work to young Muslims across Lancashire. I even participated in a project with the University of Cumbria (Connecting Communities, ‘Beyond Face Value’) to promote participation in higher education and employment for Muslim women.

After working with young Muslims for over twenty years, I was made redundant and forced into retirement. I loved my job and was devastated to lose something key to my sense of identity. That’s when I started writing and joined the Open University to study Creative Writing. To my amazement, I discovered that I not only loved writing but received excellent marks as well. I then started to weave together short pieces of life writing, and before I knew it I had the first draft of my memoir, Flying with Fear. Then, when I least expected it, Julianne at Guts Publishing invited me to join her band of ‘freaks and misfits of the literary world’. I am now on the journey toward publication to hopefully see my book on the shelves by November 2022.

Julianne has made me feel at home. During our first Zoom meeting, she was kind enough to warn me, to harness my excitement, as she had other authors to meet. I knew that I wasn’t exactly one of the chosen few. But I felt her humanity and kindness, my sort of woman. So I left the meeting feeling grateful that Julianne was at least interested enough to talk with me. I never expected to be offered a contract. I am still feeling gratitude. My family are proud and as excited as I am to see my story made into an actual book. Having read Jillian Halket’s Blade in the Shadow and currently listening to Aidan Martin’s memoir Euphoric Recall, I am honoured to be in such good company.

* * *

Flying With Fear is Susan Milton’s debut memoir. It’s the story of the transformation of a chronically shy, working-class girl diagnosed with dyslexia into a glamorous air hostess with Saudi Arabian Airlines. Born in London, she overcame barriers of class, gender, education, fear of flying and naivety about the danger and political turmoil in the Middle East. After 10 years in Saudi Arabia, Susan returned to the UK and settled in Galgate, Lancaster.

Flying With Fear will be released in 2023. For updates, please sign up for our newsletter:

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