Interview with longlisted author Mohamed Tawfik
When did you start writing The Whisper of the Scorpion and where did the inspiration for it come from?
The novel is inspired by the story of a Saharan journey to the Kufra oasis in the Libyan desert made by Ahmed Hassanein (later Head of the Diwan of the Egyptian court) and the British explorer Rosita Forbes in 1920-21. I came across some allusions to this story in the 1990s, while I was doing research for my trilogy about the history of Egypt in the twentieth century. What struck me was that the two explorers, Egyptian and English, hardly knew each other before embarking on this dangerous trip. I was fascinated by the mystery of that relationship and how it may have developed during the journey. So, I chose to give rein to my imagination and write an imaginary work, freed from adherence to the historical characters. I started research into details of the journey in 1997, and the real writing took place between 2004 and 2006. However, I didn’t feel that the work was completely finished until I had re-written it in 2019-2020. It was finally published in May 2021.
Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you completed it?
As mentioned in the previous answer, the writing took a long time, between writing, re-writing and revision, as well as a period when the work was fermenting in my mind. When I first started writing it, I was living in Australia. During the second period of writing, I was in Egypt. While it was fermenting in my mind, I was between those two countries, and Switzerland, Lebanon and the USA.
How have readers and critics received it?
The novel has received a fair amount of interest in Egypt and discussions about it were organized in the Egyptian Public Library and the Greater Cairo Public Library, as well as a number of book clubs. Several reviews and articles of literary criticism about it have been published in newspapers, print and online, and cultural websites. The second edition went to print before the announcement of the Prize longlist. The Lebanese writer and critic Raja Nu’ama has published a critical review of it in the Lebanese Al-Nhar newspaper.
What is your next literary project after this novel?
I have a short story collection which is ready for publication. Writing the stories took several years. I have begun a new novel. I can’t predict how long it will take to write, or even if it will see the light at all, since I am more interested in the process of writing than in the number of books I produce.