In an interview that ran in yesterday’s Daily Star, Hanan al-Shaykh said, “I am working on short stories and a novel. All I can say now is that [the novel] is based in the south of France.”
The acclaimed Lebanese author, one of the Arabic-writing world’s most gifted living novelists, has lately been working on theater projects. But she told the Star that, although she has enjoyed them, they have not displaced her interest in writing novels and short stories.
Al-Shaykh has recently made headlines for her adaptation of One Thousand and One Nights, being staged now across the English-speaking world by Tim Supple. You can read an extract of the print adaptation on her publisher’s website.
And of how her work has changed over the years, al-Shaykh told the Star:
When I first started I was more interested with words and sentences and big ideas. But it’s the people and the places that have grown to be more important to me.
Other recent interviews with al-Shaykh:
In a 2003 interview with Literary London, she’s asked a few odd questions, like whether she practices any religion. (No.) But also this wonderful snippet about how she works with her translator:
I mean, she will translate it like literally and it will be fine. But the spirit is not there. And what I do is, I tell her a story. I don’t tell her about the sentence, how it should be or what I meant. I tell her the story behind the sentence and she will understand what I mean. I am now writing a book about my mother. And my agent asked me what I was doing. And I wrote her a letter, saying why I want to write about my mother. And she rang me and she said, ‘Hanan, you have a certain English, as if you were inventing an English of your own, because you’re not English. So why don’t you try writing about your mum in English?’ I said, that maybe in one letter I can, but a whole book, no way, no way. Because, you know, I am like in a sea, and this is the last wood which I’m attached to. My language. If I lose it, chalas, finish. No Hanan, no writing. So I will never write except in Arabic.
In a 2009 interview with Smith magazine, Al-Shaykh also spoke about Cobham: ” I am blessed with the translator Catherine Cobham, who has translated most of my books and plays. Why am I blessed? Because she is like a novelist herself and has a feel for the text. She preferred not to translate The Locust and the Bird because it wasn’t a novel.”
In the Smith Mag interview, al-Shaykh also wrote her six-word memoir, “When I nearly stroked a peacock.”
If you haven’t read al-Shaykh, where should you start?
Sinan Antoon listed her debut novel, The Story of Zahra, as one of his “five books to read before you die.”
Andy Barnes, on Belletrista, briefly looks at al-Shaykh’s work in English.
Or you can start with excerpts:
And, in the video below, al-Shaykh reads her work and speaks with Esther Freud in 2009.