Interview with longlisted author Mohammed Abdel Nabi

31/01/2017

When did you begin writing In the Spider's Chamber and where did the inspiration for it come from?

It must have been the end of 2012 when I first began to think about the subject of the novel, but I didn't work on it on a regular basis, and more than once, I withdrew from the project. The idea had grown from a short story of mine about a transient relationship between two men, but I did not feel the story was complete or ready for publication so I put it aside for a while. When I came back to it afresh, in 2013, I felt that it was a bigger story than its current form suggested, and every time I delved into the main character, Hany Mahfouz, he revealed more to me of himself and his world. Then I remembered the case of the Queen Boat and could see the general outlines of the topic.

Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?

The novel took more than three years of work, research and re-writing, and I was not able to dedicate all my time to it, of course, for many reasons. Most of the time I was living with my family in Cairo or, recently, in Shibin El Qanater (a village in Qalyubia province). I also worked on the novel for two and a half months in Iowa, America, after obtaining a writers' residency grant as part of the International Writing Programme (IWP).  

How have readers and critics received it?

I never expected such interest in and celebration of the novel. I expected some fuss because of the controversial subject matter, and maybe some opposition, but I never thought I would receive letters or phone calls from complete strangers, homosexual and non-homosexual, telling me how the novel had affected them. The novel was also fortunate as far as critical and media reviews went. Many critics and writers in Egypt and the Arab world wrote about it, such as Dr Shakir Abdel Hamid, Mahmoud al-Wardani, Abbas Baydoun and Rasha al-Ameer and others. 

What is your next literary project after this novel?

I have more than one project and most of them are at their earliest stage of development. The nearest to being complete and ready for publication is a short story collection set in the world of fantasy and fairy tale, which re-works some fairy tales like Cinderella or Red Riding Hood. I don't yet know which project for a novel I'll settle on and get down to work on. It usually takes some time for me to be able to make a definite decision about that.

(Read this interview in Arabic here)