Interview with longlisted author Amir Tag Elsir
When did you begin writing The Witches' Resort and where did the inspiration for it come from?
I began writing it in 2015. It is well known that I write a novel every year and it is rare that a year goes by without a book by me being published. In fact I have a reservoir of experiences from my medical work in Sudan and even in Qatar, and within this there are many worthy subjects for fiction. I think I've mentioned before somewhere that this story has a small basis of truth which I've expanded in my imagination. This is how I have worked ever since I began writing, to base the story on a real life event, or partly real life, and to fill the gaps with my imagination. I remember a tea seller, a refugee from Eritrea who was trying to find a new life, whom I saw for the first time in the emergency ward in the Port Sudan hospital when I was assistant to the great surgeon Rida Mahmoud. It was early morning when they brought in the very beautiful girl, unconscious. She was Ababa, the tea seller at the bus station who had arrived a short time ago and filled the place with her tea and hearts with her captivating beauty. Someone had stabbed her in the heart, one of her lovers as I recall. We tried to revive her but couldn't, and she died. Another thing which happened was that a thief spent a while in the ward with us and I made friends with him, to find out his story. From him I invented the character of Abdel Quyum Dalil who falls in love with the beautiful refugee in the area of town called the witches' resort. This story remained in my mind for many years and in 2015 I suddenly began the introduction and it emerged as a piece of writing.
Did the novel take long to write and where were you when you finished it?
No, usually I have writing habits: when I begin work, I write daily until I've finished. I try to write every day unless something urgent comes up. I wrote daily in the place I sit in a mid-range hotel in Doha and I call that place 'the corner'. It is associated with most of my novels over the past ten years. I wrote continuously and within a month I had finished the first draft, then I went back and made changes to it, and within 45 days the book was ready for publication.
How have readers and critics received it?
It is one of the novels which has been well received by everyone who has written an article about it. I think there have been six or seven positive reviews. I don't know much about the reactions of readers, but most of the comments I've read speak about the sense of completeness of the story and the language. My writing style has been well known since I started. Some love it and others don't. For that reason it's better not to talk too much about the good or bad reception of creative works. Every work has readers who like it or who don't.
What is your next literary project after this novel?
In 2016 I published two important works and it's the first time for ages that two have come out in one year. One was published by Dar al-Saqi, a novel entitled Flowers Eaten by Fire. It was my usual annual book and it speaks about prisoners in chaotic and unjust wars. It is enjoying a good reception at the moment. The other has been published by Dar Medad in the UAE. It is a novel which I wrote three years ago and I returned to it to make some minor edits and publish it. It is also being well received. It is called A Short Biography of Injustice and is the story of Jum'aa Radi, the blacksmith who became Minister of Culture, and deals with political, economic and social events in Sudan from the end of the 1950s until the late 1970s.
(Read this article in Arabic here)