“I don’t do secrets. I do symbols.”

Bothayna Al-Essa is the author of All That I Want To Forget, translated by Michele Henjum (Hoopoe, 2019), described as  “lyrical and poetic” by Arab News in a recent review.  Al-Essa’s novel Aisha Descends to the Underworld was nominated for The Sheikh Zayed Book Award longlist 2012.

After returning from this year’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, where she gave a workshop and a talk on writing, the Kuwaiti writer shared with Hoopoe, in her Seven Answers, some secrets about her novels and her dreams.



What emotion brings out your best writing?

I think good writing provokes complex emotions. I usually feel empowered, entertained, hurt, dizzy, and breathless. Good writing can be both painful and joyful. It can feel like falling and flying all together.

Do you hide secrets in your novels for readers to discover?

I don’t do secrets. I do symbols. Symbols are fertile. They produce different meanings and different perspectives. You can see layers in the language, each suggesting a different interpretation. I think secrets are fun, but symbols . . . they engage readers as partners in the act of storytelling.

How much of yourself do you think are in your novels?

Sometimes it’s more than fifty percent; other times it is less than ten percent. I like to imagine and explore, instead of expressing myself. This doesn’t mean I don’t get to do that. I try to let my characters express themselves instead of expressing myself! In some areas we meet, we might even unite. This is where I come to the novel, but usually this happens without anyone but me knowing.

Do you ever have second thoughts about how to end a novel?

I usually have multiple endings until I’m very close to the end. But when I get there, only one possible outcome for the story remains in my head.

What is your life motto?

I’m not sure.

If one of your dreams could come true, what would it be and why?

Traveling the world. That would be extremely difficult with three children and a bookstore to look after. I want to see as much as I can from this planet, meet interesting people, capture their voices, and write good stories.

Is there a published novel you would like to have written and why?

The Heart and the Bottle, a picture book for children written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.


Posted on 07/05/2019 in FICTION General, tagged as All That I Want to Forget, Bothayna Al-Essa, Hoopoe, Hoopoe Fiction, Kuwait, Michele Henjum, novel, translation


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