Interview with Longlisted Author Basim Khandaqji
When did you start writing A Mask, the Colour of the Sky, and where did the inspiration for it come from?
Firstly, I want to express my thanks and appreciation to you all, after A Mask, the Colour of the Sky reached the longlist of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Through your prize, you encourage creativity in Arab novel writing, raising the status of the novel in the Arab world and internationally.
As you know, I am speaking on behalf of my brother Basim, since he is currently a prisoner inside the Israeli colonial occupier prisons, and there has been no means of communicating with him for the past four months. We hope and pray that he will be released as soon as possible.
A Mask, the Colour of the Sky is a huge fictional advance in Basim’s literary career as a novel writer. It differs stylistically from his other novels. By this I mean the narrative style of the novel.
Basim began to write A Mask, the Colour of the Sky between June and November 2021, in difficult circumstances, which I will come to later.
As far as inspiration goes, Basim is inspired by ancient and contemporary Palestinian history. He based his novel on his reading of research and studies about Palestinian history, including eyewitness accounts of some of the prisoners inside and outside prisons, especially the Palestinians living inside Israel. Among them is the Palestinian historian Dr. Johnny Mansour, who gave Basim information about the village of Lajjun and kibbutz Mish’ar Ha’imek and the Roman Sixth Legion.
Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you completed it?
The novel took six months to write, while the research side took several years in difficult and complicated circumstances, as Basim was inside various prisons, moving from one prison to another because of the arbitrary measures taken by the prison service administration. Occasionally he would lose some of the information he had collected because a prison guard destroyed it.
Do you have writing rituals?
Prison!! What is prison? A long cement wall and barbed wire and small cells isolated from the outside world.
Writing rituals? No rituals apart from writing from 5 to 7am, that is what Basim told me on one of the monthly visits which last only 45 minutes. He writes before the prison administration counts the prisoners, and before the prison guard starts making a racket, which he is adept at finding new ways of doing. In these two hours, Basim writes approximately two pages, and very often the papers are taken from him and destroyed by the guard. Here of course I don’t mean that this happens only to Basim. It happens to all the prisoners who are writing while in detention.
What is your next writing project after this novel?
Basim said: I am still in the world of A Mask, the Colour of the Sky, so I haven’t thought about a new project. There will definitely be one, and it may take a clearer form later on.