Interview with longlisted author Dima al-Shukr


When did you begin writing Where Is My Name and where did the inspiration for it come from?

I began writing the novel in May 2020. It involved a mixture of inspiration and discipline. I had decided to write, and I knew the subject of the novel reasonably well, so I would sit down daily to write and not stop until the daylight faded.

I needed to link the elements of the novel together and this is where inspiration played an important role, and the narrative took shape each day. I thought day and night about the novel and its main character, Qamour. I did anything I could to imagine her and have a sense of what she might do. For example, I’d go for a walk in the old city of Damascus or look for pictures of women and Damascene garments of the nineteenth century. Or I would read a variety of beautiful historical books. When inspiration stalled or I wrote a sentence I didn’t like, I’d stop and go out to water the flowers and plants on the terrace, or pluck out the weeds and dry leaves, before returning to the computer.

How long did the novel take to write and where were you when you completed it?

The writing took around four months. Afterwards I stopped for about a fortnight. Then I went back and did some minor revisions. The novel was ready about the end of July 2020.

I was living in Damascus the whole time I was writing it and while I waited for it to be published. 

How have readers and critics received it?

Readers have liked it a lot. I loved how it made readers try to find out more about the 1860 massacre and the protagonist Richard Francis Burton, and that they liked Qamour. Critics also received it very well. I liked the fact that the reviews were varied, each one concentrating on a different aspect of the novel.

What is your next literary project after this novel?

I am definitely thinking about a new novel. Things haven’t crystallised yet, but I have opened a file on the computer.