Interview: Randa Abdel-Fattah by Catriona Feeney
Our YA ambassador Catriona Feeney, aka Little Book Owl, spoke to Randa Abdel-Fattah about the books that have shaped her, how she explores race and Islamophobia in her novels and the strangest thing she’s had to research for a book.
Which books have been the most influential to you, in relation to your writing or life in general?
Too many to list them all, but some which spring to mind: Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Jamaica Inn – they inspired a passion and fascination with England’s landscape and history. This was my exotic “other”, as far removed from my own life and heritage. It still weaves a certain magic over me because of the way these books fed and provoked my imagination. I also loved fairytales, especially Hansel and Gretel. I vividly remember devouring them and feeling a fire burn inside me – a love of what story can do and the escape button from boring reality that it offers!
I devoured the X-men series as a teenager – the deviance, I was coming of age during the first Gulf war and X-men empowered me. The Palace Walk trilogy and The Map of Love connected me with a history and context for my mother’s birthplace – Egypt. I loved the contradictions and layers of a society I only knew through my mum’s nostalgic stories about her childhood and adolescence. The Dispossessed was the first book I read by a Palestinian refugee in the diaspora, which pierced my heart and soul. Then, It, by Stephen King, I loved it for the horror but even more, the depiction of how childhood friendships press deep into the very core of your being, even when you don’t realise.
What are you currently reading and loving?
I’ve just finished Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X Kendi. It’s an incredible and deftly structured history of racist ideas in America.
Race and Islamophobia are prevalent themes explored and dismantled in your novels. Could you tell us a little about your background and how this influences your writing?
My experiences with race and Islamophobia continue to shape my life and are inescapable in my own gaze and the gaze of mainstream White Australia. I vividly remember how confusing it all felt as a teenager and this has always drawn me to telling stories from that context. I’m interested in how wider political framings, discourse and policy deep into the micro spaces of everyday life for teenagers.
I’m interested in how wider political framings, discourse and policy deep into the micro spaces of everyday life for teenagers.
What is the strangest thing you've had to research for a book?
The flowers that grow on a particular stretch of road in the West Bank for my novel Where the streets had a name.
If you could have any career aside from writing, what would it be?
Are you working on any other projects at the moment? Is there anything you can tell us about them?
I’m working on the film adaptation of my book Does My Head Look Big In This? We’re up to what we hope is the last draft and then onto filming! I’m on also co-writing a TV drama series with a strong Arab feminist storyline…
And now for a lightning round of this or that writing questions! Plot or pants? Plot!
Edit as you go or fly through the draft? Edit as I go
Day or night? Night
Public or private space? Public
Silence or writing music? Silence
Handwritten or typed? Typed