Interview with Longlisted Author Sara Alsarraf
When did you begin writing I Heard Everything and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I began writing it in 2008, that is, around 15 years ago! At that time, I felt a deep sense of alienation which made me recall my life in 1980s Baghdad and the characters who for me and my generation were a pillar of safety and a spacious expanse for memories which have kept us company ever since. Writing for me was an effective treatment, helping me to return and immerse myself in a life which no longer exists and characters we have lost, who were symbols of society and the Iraqi family at that time. This was how the initial idea came, but my pen led me to an entirely different place. By the time I’d finished writing it, the novel had become a social document which takes us on a journey to that epoch and opens for us the door of the past, so we can get close to Iraqi society during the years of the war with Iran.
In a writer’s debut work, I think that he always begins with his memory and the events and people who influenced him in his early years. I Heard Everything is the memory of Iraqi society in the 1980s. That period may be one of the times which most united us, through many things we had in common: customs, our
relationships and sufferings, memories of school, fear and the effects of war, social interactions, and even clothes and personal possessions. These were more or less shared and similar. But the novel in essence also speaks of the journey of consciousness upon which we embark during our childhood and youth and that makes us who we are. It deals with human beings and their first discoveries about life, with the inevitable clash between what people say they believe and what they actually do; the questioning which stays in our hearts; contradictions, learning and adaptation. For this reason, it’s a novel for every time, society and generation.
Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?
Yes, as I mentioned it took a long time because I was busy with work and family responsibilities and I didn’t have the luxury of extended time that goes with habits which engender a quality text, but the characters and events led me to write the final sections in two years. Details, feelings and description lead the writer to a place where the text is appealing and the characters are fully formed.
I began and finished it in the UAE, where I live and work.
Do you have writing rituals?
The ritual of writing is like a virus. It suddenly attacks you and you need to make the most of it at that moment to write a text of high quality, which is truthful and deep. I am not one of those writers who make a decision to write and do so at any time. An event, feeling or idea will move me and make me endure the labour pains of bringing them forth onto paper. I am as happy as a child when the result is pleasing, after a piece of writing of literary value has been born.
What is your next literary project after this novel?
I Heard Everything still holds my attention and I, the writer, am affected when I read passages from it. For this reason, I haven’t yet been able to shape the features of the next work of fiction, but my longing to write may lead me to start something new very soon.