Interview with Longlisted Author Sara al-Nams


When did you begin writing J and where did the inspiration for it come from?

I began writing J in 2013 and it took two months to write the first draft. Then I put it aside for several years. This is my usual writing practice. I write the first version quickly, but revising and re-writing take much longer. The first time I write is easy and pleasurable, a satisfying, indulgent experience. I pour out the work onto paper exactly as it is in my imagination, just as a sleeper dreams and surrenders to what happens in their dreams, without being able to change anything in them. After awakening from the dream of the first draft of writing, I catch my breath and distance myself from the text for enough time to forget how it was written. Later, I go back to discover it with the eye of a stranger and I become a good critic of myself. The second stage, difficult and exhausting, involves re-writing the first manuscript, destroying and re-building. 

Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?

It took about five years and I was living in Oran, in difficult circumstances. I was a new mother when I finished revising it. I would steal time when my newborn child was sleeping. I’d put him quietly into bed and walk away on tiptoes so as not to wake him, in the direction of the computer, to plunge deep into my inner worlds and finish writing J.  

How have readers and critics received it?

Writer friends and critics gave me a lot of encouragement and there were literary reviews which I am lucky to have received because they went deep into the text and gave it the attention, understanding and engagement with the characters which it deserves. As for ordinary readers, I knew that they would either love or hate J. I am talking about Arab readers in particular here. This is because it is a daring and shocking novel and there are those who will not accept that boldness, for particular reasons; and on the other hand, there are readers ready to discover new and different kinds of writing in novels written in the Arabic language and they are open to any subject, as long as it agrees with their taste and what they are looking for.

What is your next literary project after this novel?

I have the manuscript of a novel which I haven’t looked at for a year. I was inspired to write it by the popular movement in Algeria. This was a great and very different experience for us as Algerians and I am waiting for the right moment of inspiration to go back to my new novel and work on it seriously before putting it in the hands of readers.