Baby joy doubled is picture-perfect for Brisbane author


Inda Ahmad Zahri with her new picture book.

Following a few hours in her role as a general surgeon at the Mater Hospital, she returns home to spend time with her 14-month-old twins, changing nappies, feeding and playing. While they nap, she spends time working on her next book – she calls it ‘creating in the cracks’ – then it is time to collect her daughter from school.

This is a day in the life of 40 year-old, lauded picture book author and illustrator Inda Ahmad Zahri.

“I’ve always written, always loved writing, but only had a blog which only my mum read,” Inda says. “I never thought about writing children’s books until I had my daughter. We went back to Malaysia on holidays, and I wanted to bring back something that connected to her heritage.”

When she could not find any, Inda thought to write her own. “I attended a picture book writing workshop with Aleesah Darlinson and it blew my mind. I always thought picture book authors and illustrators were best friends and sat side by side. I didn’t know they often never met.”

Her first book, Night Lights, illustrated by Leslie McGee, long listed in the Greenleaf Agency Buds Picture Book competition, and was published in 2021. “I like the limitations of picture books. I find it satisfying to solve how to write a story in 500 words.”

Inda’s latest picture book, Twice the Love – celebrating the magic of twins, will be released by Affirm Press this month.  In a rhyming narrative, this book celebrates her own family’s life with identical twin boys, Leo and Wren, who join big sister, Seroja represented in the illustrations.

“I was having a horrible time with morning sickness, and I was showing early. I took [husband] Sasha along for the 13-week ultrasound and the technician announced, ‘I can see two heads and two heart beats. You’re having twins.’ The word twice kept coming as a refrain.  Twice the laundry … twice the feeds.”

A person holding a baby
Inda Ahmad Zahri and her family. Photo by Leesa Perry

Hello you and hello … you.

Tell me, is it really true?

Double checking just in case,

twice the babies in one place?

Inda lived in the United States as a child while her parents studied there, then returned to the country of her birth, Malaysia, to complete her schooling. A scholarship to train as a doctor in England followed. “After that I got itchy feet,” she says. “I went scuba diving in South America.”

There she heard about medical positions in Australia. “I thought I was only going to stay a year, but then I met [medical registrar] Sasha.”

They were married and returned to one of the big university hospitals in Malaysia for 18 months.  But working there was tough. “It was a badge of honour to be on your feet for 36 hours. The culture was harsh. It wasn’t sustainable. Here in Australia, it is a much more supportive environment,” she says.  Inda and Sasha settled in Australia in 2014.

The Muslim writing community in Brisbane has been Inda’s support and The Right Pen Collective held the first Virtual Muslim Writers Festival in 2021. Muslim writers have had their books and their voices celebrated in the 2022 Children’s Book Council of Australia’s notable list. Inda’s second book, Salih, a refugee story, is included in this list.  Her Muslim culture is the focus of her next picture book.

The Month that Makes the Year features a child learning about Ramadan. It will contain Inda’s own illustrations and is due out in March 2023 with Allen and Unwin. “We were looking for Muslim illustrators and I finally said, ‘do you think I could put my name forward as a candidate?’ They said yes. The illustrations have been consuming me, mainly because I am on a short deadline. To get it out for Ramadan in March next year, they have to be at the publisher by September. If I don’t think about the deadline, I am really enjoying doing the illustrations.”

Twice the Love was released on August 30, by Affirm Press. The launch will be held at Holland Park library on Saturday, September 24 at 10am.