Interview with longlisted author Dima Wannous
When did you begin writing The Frightened Ones and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I haven’t stopped writing since I left Syria at the end of Summer 2011, but the distance from my country, family, home and friends has interfered with my ability to imagine, and broken in my spirit the basic thing which motivated my writing: desire and pleasure. I began my novel numerous times. Many mornings, I tore up the first chapter and re-wrote it. In February 2016, I decided to deal with this perplexing sense of inability. It was extremely difficult, harsh and painful to do so. In The Frightened Ones, I confront this issue twice: I confront the inability to write and invent imagined lives far from the immediate reality in which we are immersed, because of the massacres in Syria that stain the soul and spirit; and also the personal incapacity we Syrians experience who are scattered abroad, displaced in tiring, difficult circumstances. Writing The Frightened Ones was like psychiatric therapy for me, and just like such therapy sessions, it triggered memories, difficult sensations and muddled and disconcerting emotions. However, I began the book in February and finished it in six months. I couldn’t stop writing even for a day. I carried it with me throughout those months, from Beirut to every city I visited during that period. I began it several times, but the ending was written in one go - and then I could breathe again.
Did it take long to write and where were you when you finished it?
I was living in Beirut at that time. Beirut is an attractive, enchanting, abundant city. Writing there is a special experience. In every corner of her alleyways, on every chair in her cafés, in people’s eyes and their looks, there is the memory of the war which continues to this day in different forms. You are writing in a city which was destroyed many times, yet through the energy of its inhabitants, their different temperaments and harsh experiences fighting the wars of others in their own very small city, it stubbornly rekindled its former vivacity. To write about The Frightened Ones in a city which knew fear is not an obvious choice. It was a rich experience to sit in a Lebanese café and write about the fear of fear, trying as much as possible to separate the two fears, the Syrian and the Lebanese, although the source of both was the same, and it still is.
How have readers and critics received it?
I can’t talk about all readers or all critics, but the views of one female friend and critical articles have made me happy, encouraged me, and made me more determined to confront that sense of incapacity.
What is your next literary project after this novel?
I am writing about memory. It’s too early, in my opinion, to speak about my new novel, and also I don’t know how to talk about what I write.