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