Interview with Longlisted Author Dorra al-Fazi’


When did you start writing I Hide Passion and where did the inspiration come from?

I began writing I Hide Passion in January 2021, immediately after the publication of my first novel Something of the Sea in Us. I wanted to put some space between myself and the characters of the first novel and was sure that wouldn’t happen unless I went straight into a new fictional world, which would take me to another level. I think that flashes of initial inspiration came when I was passing an old palace near my house, which used to belong to the Tunisian reformer Kheireddine Pacha. The street I was walking along had sometimes been called General Kheireddine Street. His deserted palace overlooked the sea and bore vestiges of its former glory, which piqued my interest, especially as the front door was open, allowing a view of the garden. However, I didn’t dare enter or ask the guard if I could visit, despite my intense desire to do so. I sometimes think that in reality I didn’t want to go in, so that I would be able to imagine the palace on a blank canvas. After this, there gradually formed in my mind the images of the “Al-Yaqra Villa” where key events in the novel take place, and the character of General Al-Shadhli al-Sherif. He is an imaginary character, not a historical one, but the name of the street and the spirit of the old palace sparked the writing.

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

The novel took about two years to write. I began it in January 2021 and finished it in September 2022. I was living in the Kheireddine district in the northern suburb of the Tunisian capital. I think I am unable to write a novel in less than two years. It’s the time I give myself and which I think is reasonable, for the words and meaning to be let loose, but without an overcomplicated

relationship developing between me and the text, where I get lost in a maze of doubt, hesitation and endless rewriting, which can sometimes do more harm than good.

Do you have writing rituals?

I write at dawn, in the very early morning. That doesn’t mean that I don’t write at night or during the rest of the day, but I think the most important stages of writing my novels were in the early morning. I can only write in my house, wearing comfortable clothes, with soft lighting. I often listen to the music of Vivaldi, since the violins give me a sense of the ordered arrangement which I want for the narration. After writing, I give the text to my husband to read it aloud to me. In this way, I can discover the music of the words and their harmony, their weak and strong points, so that I can revise them later. Walking and exercise also help me to think clearly.

What is your next literary project after this novel?

I want to continue with a third novel which will complete the earlier ones. I want them to be a trilogy without any events connecting them, nothing apart from the fact that they will all be dealing with the history of a very recent period in Tunisia. In other words, everything that has happened since the revolution. I Hide Passion finishes in March 2015, and the third novel picks up the story in November 2015. It is definitely not a series and there are no explicit links between the books. There is just a very fine thread joining them: key events in Tunisian history.