Guest Post: Why (Does a Young Egyptian) Write in English? And Why YA?

This guest post is from the young (very young) author Mariam Maarouf, who talks about why she writes, why she writes in English, the appeal of Young Adult (YA) literature, and one of her favorite YA series (Al Moghameroon Al Khamsa).

Writing? A book? Have you finally lost it?

by Mariam Maarouf

That’s the type of reply I got while I was still writing my debut YA novel. Let me introduce myself first, I’m Mariam Maarouf, a sixteen-year-old bookworm wishing she’ll ever have the honor of being called an author – a real author, because an author isn’t just anyone who scribbles down words. I’m a Muslim Egyptian, and I’ve never been anywhere else but [Egypt and] Saudi Arabia.

In October ’09, on a boring summer day and without my computer, I decided to practice my hobby of writing. So I lay on my bed, got out an old copybook and a pencil, and just wrote. Back then, the plot was very vague, and I had no will to change that into an actual, full-length novel, but as the story progressed (and people who say characters make their own decisions and alter their ways as they go aren’t kidding) I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could make turn it into something worthy of being published. Now, after about three drafts, the book is undergoing yet another revision.

As I dove deeper into the publishing industry (it’s true that publishing is my family’s business, and I’d been a trainee in my father’s publishing house as an editor for a couple of years, but it was the first time I searched that deep into the subject), I learned that I wasn’t the only Egyptian who decided to write in English; authors like Marwa Ayad and Amr Shehata, for example, recently published their novels in English. I’ve been asked a lot about that – why did we decide to abandon writing in our own, beautiful native language?

The answer is clear: we don’t know how to, at least I don’t. At school, I’ve been taught how to speak and write in English since kindergarten – what the different styles of writing fiction and nonfiction are, types of stories, and why the great literary classics and contemporary novels are unforgettable. On the other hand, and even though I’ve always lived in Egypt, I was never introduced to the different styles of writing Arabic literature, never given the opportunity to taste an Arabic literary work from a critic’s point of view.

Sure, books are available everywhere and I could (and did) read a lot of Arabic books, but learning about how to write and how to judge a good book from an average one at school was something I was never taught, not in a way that makes it as interesting as I know it is anyway. It’s a shame, but it’s true; I find writing in English is far easier, and while I can’t really show the beauty of my language in my work, or include the everyday funny, but bitter sarcasm the way it’s expressed in Egypt, writing in English is very enjoyable, and maybe some day I’ll write something in Arabic, who knows?

Another question I’ve been frequently asked is why I chose to write a Young Adult novel. It’s not that I can’t write Adult fiction (as a matter of fact, my WIP is an adult novel), but the connection with my main character is beyond strong when we’re both teenagers; I’m allowed to give her my frequent moments of shallowness, of weakness, of slight obsessions or extreme prejudices even.

We, teenagers, are trapped between childhood and adulthood, and to this very moment, we’re indefinable, unpredictable and unfairly stereotyped – reading and writing from a teen’s POV, even if dark at times, is, in my opinion, a lot more fun than writing the same story from an adult’s POV, and with my plot being a part-mystery, the ‘victims’ and the narrators being teens makes it unique, or so I’ve been told after releasing my book’s trailer and blurb online (another fun part of the process). As a reader of YA mystery myself, I enjoyed the whole series of Al Moghameroon Al Khamsa (The Five Adventurers) – the mystery, the fun, everything. It never gets old or boring.

All in all, my first experience with professional writing is something I’ll never forget, and I hope my readers will feel the same about my book, insha’Allah.

Mariam Maarouf


  1. I can really relate to what you’re saying in this article. I’m a Muslim Egyptian as well, but I live in UAE. I’ve always loved writing and am constantly working on a story, though I doubt anything I write will ever be good enough to be published, so congratulations on your upcoming novel. I’m looking forward to reading it.
    I’m seventeen, and though I’ve been raised in an Arab country, I’ve always preferred English to Arabic. I’ve been taught mostly in English, and all the books that I’ve read so far (and I read a lot), with one exception, are English books… so trust me when I say that this is quite common here 🙂

    1. Trust me when I say “Go for it!”. A plot will click for you, so never hesitate to send it to a publisher (or find a literary agent, whichever the protocol is where you live), and don’t worry about the editing (this part needs description, that chapter needs proofreading or this character needs *re-writing*). Seriously. 🙂
      & I know, right? A lot of people can relate to that, and it’s truly a shame, but what can we do, right? Knowing English very well is better than not being good at either languages – sort of a dead end there.

      1. To be honest, I’m one of those people who’re always starting a new novel but never actually finishing one.. and I’m really insecure about my writing- y’know how it is, I’m my own worst critic -_-
        I remember when I was younger I had a couple of finished novels that I wanted to publish as YA series.. I searched high and low for a publisher but with no luck (maybe I was looking in all the wrong places?). Honestly, the few publishers here favor Emirati writers, and since I’m not local, then I wouldn’t really be considered 🙁 But I’d really love to try- that never hurts.

        I agree. That’s what I always tell my parents. Seriously, schools here focus on English and ignore Arabic most of the time, so I don’t think my lack of skill in the Arabic language is entirely my fault.

  2. I loved your reply to that question and yes alot of people who prefer to write in English are questioned , but I find it easy to write in English as well , but that’s not it only , I find the words that express it in English are the words I’m looking for and cant find their meaning in Arabic , I know it is a shame but that is the truth , and as I told you b4 u the people that say that should be honored to find u and a lot other Arab writers who write in English and get their books published , aren’t we proud of the writer of “kite runner” not only her got his book published but it was made in to a movie and not any movie a hit !!!!, I just want to tell u congrtaz w mabrook , and I’m telling u this not as a complement but as a fact , I look up to you and I want to be just like you and get my story ” which is in progress published ” and I hope u fulfill are your dreams , w rabena ,ma3ky 😀

  3. I understand that Arabic has one of the world’s richest literary traditions. So do English, French, and Spanish and others, I’m sure. Keep exploring and resist homogeinization.

    Please visit my blog and leave a comment. Thanks!

  4. Dear Mariam,

    As the writer of the first English-Language YA novel from Egypt (Beware The Stranger), which was published late last year, I wish you the best of luck, and I applaud you for choosing to write a YA novel, a type of novel which is sorely lacking in the Arab world.

    For more info about my novel, please visit its site:


    1. Ahmed,
      Thank you so much, that means a lot to me. I took a look on your novel’s web page, and I’m surprised I never heard of it before, maybe because it isn’t available in any bookstores in Alexandria, but it does sound interesting, so I’ll see if I can get it.

      & I agree; YA novels, English or Arabic, lack in the Arab world – and they wonder why we don’t grow up book-lovers like many of the rest of the world.


      1. Mariam,

        I know I’ve seen Ahmed’s book at Kotob Khan in New Ma’adi, but you should be able to get it through Diwan…and there’s a Diwan in Alexandria now, no?

        YA novels in Arabic are a big gap—I believe Bloomsbury-Qatar in particular, as a publishing house, is interested in filling this gap.

  5. There is. But I just don’t go there much…hmm…I’ll ask for it 🙂 Thank you. It’s just that his book’s web page stated that it’s not available in Alex except via internet, and that’s not an option for me, unfortunately.

    & I hope it does; I would love to read more Arabic YA. 🙂

  6. Not only does YA novels suffer being lacked, but also ALL books here.. needn’t express the SHAME to know that an Arabic man do only read for 6 minutes every year ( according to an estimation)

    Writing articles in English is much preferable to me, whenever i want to express something (critics or stuff) only English fulfill my instinct in this.

    English is that incandescent language to express your writing- especially when you write for desire.

    Whenever I stuck in front of the keyboard to write a sentence in Arabic, I put the SHAME on me.

    Totally agree with the reason of many YA write in English.. yet still think of another secondary reason.


  7. Hey Mariam,
    I totally agree with everything you said…
    I have been writing english literature since preparatory school and now i am 23, in my last college year…
    I have written poems, short stories, and novels but never actually published anything…and since I got to college, i got very busy and never wrote anything since…I am so fond of your book Rosie, and I cant wait to read it when it comes out in Jan., I have written on ur Rosie facebook wall, and hope we could get more in touch, i didnt know either about other Egyptian auothers who wrote in English literature..the only auother i read for was Ahdaf Soueif, i dont know if you heard about her, she has two known novels (Map of Love) and (In the eyes of the sun)…and her novels are published worldwide…well thats enough for now, hope to hear from you soon inshallah…

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