Leila Aboulela is a Sudanese writer who lives in Great Britain and writes in English. Her most recent books are the novel Bird Summons and the short-story collection Elsewhere, Home which was the winner of the 2018 Saltire Fiction Book of the Year Award. She moved from Sudan to Scotland in her midtwenties and then started to write.
Victoria: Tea or Coffee?
Leila Aboulela: Coffee
Victoria: Tell us about your first book (The Translator), what was the inspiration for the story? What was the highlight of writing this book?
Leila Aboulela: It’s a Muslim Jane Eyre but also being homesick for Sudan was the inspiration – the idea of losing a life and building a different one. The highlight was writing the chapter in which the protagonist makes soup. I wrote it all in one go without stopping.
Victoria: Describe your writing space.
Leila Aboulela: You can see it on the recent Zoom event video posted on my Facebook page.
Victoria: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Leila Aboulela: That others will see them as products.
Victoria: If there is one of your already published books you would love to edit or rewrite, which would that be?
Leila Aboulela: None. But I would love to change the covers.
Victoria: What is your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Leila Aboulela: The Wedding of Zein by Sudanese author Tayeb Salih. His novel Season of Migration to the North has always over-shadowed it.
Victoria: Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Leila Aboulela: No, never.
Victoria: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would that be?
Leila Aboulela: Don’t waste time feeling discouraged. Instead write more.
Victoria: What does literary success look like to you?
Leila Aboulela: Like my life now. Alhamdulilah.
Victoria: How do you select the names of your characters?
Leila Aboulela: They just pop in my head.
Victoria: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good/bad ones?
Leila Aboulela: Yes, I always read them. Anyone can guess how I deal with the good ones. As for the bad ones, I try hard to see them from the point of view of the person writing them. It becomes an exercise in inhabiting a mindset very different to my own, a useful skill for a writer to acquire.
Victoria: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Leila Aboulela: Facing the first blank page.
Victoria: Do you have suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
Leila Aboulela: Read the world as if it were a book.
Victoria: Paper back or Ebook?
Leila Aboulela: E-book when travelling, paperback at home.
Victoria: Thank you, Leila.