I haven’t talked about my novel much on this blog. I am still writing it, though I have handed it into university, in July. I received an excellent response from the markers which
I was surprised and pleased about.
I wanted to simply write about the process of writing this particular novella which was completely different to anything I had ever written, or to advice we receive on writing. From July last year to this year, I devoted myself to writing this novella. I left a job that required a lot of hours and travel and I worked part time on the side. I simply breathed this novel in and out for a whole year and I did not care much about anything else, except my children of course.
Firstly, we are always told to write what we know. What happens if you stumble upon a phenomenal story that will not leave you alone…and one that no one had fictionalised yet. I did. So I had to throw this rule out the window like a grenade and allow it to explode outside…(haha using war metaphors because my novella is about war.)
“Write about what you know.” Well, I think it could also be said, write about what sets you on fire inside. I am not saying I wasn’t nervous about writing a novel about war, written from the point of view of Kurdish women, when I did not have their experience, did not know the culture, and did not know what it was like to grow up in this region.
But still, this story burned within me as if they wanted me to write it. As I researched more and more into the real-life stories of women fighting in Syria against ISIS, my two main characters arose before me and spoke to me, as well as many others.
I was writing a war novella (I had not written about war before), from the point of view of women that I had not experienced their lives. There is the debate about whether we are allowed to write about marginalised people. Shouldn’t they write their own stories? The answer is yes. But I still am compelled to tell their story until they can tell it themselves.
Writers always write things that challenge them and a lot of writers will write about events, characters or cultures they have not experienced. It is part of exploration isn’t it?
At first, I thought I would not be able to enter into their point of view. I told my supervisor, I must be crazy to do this. I don’t even write action–I write interior fiction about life…haha I was attempting something completely, in some ways, ridiculous. However, when you are compelled to write something, do not let others tell you that you can’t.
We should not underestimate the power of this inspiration, because maybe it is you who needs to tell this particular story. As Elizabeth Gilbert and many famous writers talk about, we need to go with inspiration when it gallops towards us, otherwise it may move on and we have lost it.
I felt an urgency to tell this story and I still do. Because these women were fighting until one year ago and their story needs to be told, now. Currently, I am itching to write a few more chapters and then send it out to agents and/or publishers. I am awaiting results from something I have entered.
With this novella, I had to research hours and hours and hours, on a daily basis. Watching documentaries, researching religion, history, geography of the middle east, Kurdish language, culture, food, music and immersing myself into the viewpoint of women who were raised there.
This is why I had to do little else, because it took these hours for me to be able to see things even remotely from their point of view. I am not sure if you have ever felt this, but I felt I was doing the thing I was born to do. There is nothing more precious than this in life. I have always wanted to be an author, since I was a very young child.
Part of this research involved me travelling to the middle east, well Israel specifically. I had long wanted to go to Israel for spiritual reasons separate to this novella. However, throughout my trip I was aware of absorbing the air, the food, the music, and feeling the atmosphere of being there in this tinder-like environment. Some parts of Israel feel like the wild, wild west. It is a phenomenal place, there is not a place like it. With its ancient history, culture and religious significance it is a profound place, and even this word does not convey it.
Travelling to the border with Syria I photographed into the devastation and talked to the UN soldiers about it. Syria looked flattened, devastated and forlorn. It was surreal to be in the location where I had been watching footage of war, for months and months. The week after I left ISIS crossed this very border and sought to attack Israel, they were shot dead – four men dressed in black with machine guns. ISIS had not attacked Israel the whole 3 years of this war and yet a week after I left they came across. (Maybe Daesh, ISIS feels they are losing, so they are desperate) I feel I was protected while I was there.
Being in the middle east did help me to immerse myself into aspects of their lives, though Israel is different to Syria. I also read the Kite Runner set in Afghanistan which helped me to understand somewhat the experience of growing up in these regions.
Anyway, this is probably enough to say now. I wanted to say, that I worried about entering the worlds of my characters and their point of views, but I feel like I did in the end. My markers were happy with my writing so I felt very excited about that because we write alone and have no idea of how it will be received.
My advice to writers or others pursuing any passion–do what inspires you even if others say you shouldn’t do that, because we need more adventurous people like this. If you attempt something challenging–you have already won, even if you do not succeed. You were bold and brave! Which is what my novella is about, the phenomenal courage of these women in war!
Thanks for reading!