Meet the 2017 Authors! Leila Aboulela


leila-aboulela-bannerWho are you most looking forward to seeing at the 2017 Festival?

The prospect of an outdoor poetry reading under the desert stars is truly exciting. Desert Stanzas is a new (newish) part of the Festival and it wasn’t there where I last took part in 2011. So I’m very much looking forward to the experience.

Which book has inspired you the most?

The Wedding of Zein by Tayeb Salih. When I first started writing I was homesick for Sudan and this was the only novel that felt quintessentially Sudanese to me. It tells the story of Zein, the village idiot who becomes a “trumpet”, proclaiming the charms of eligible girls along the banks of the Nile. He is ridiculed and abused until a wandering ascetic puts his hand on his shoulder and says, “Tomorrow you will be marrying the best girl in the village.” Even though I was missing urban Khartoum and The Wedding of Zein was rooted in village traditions, I recognized in it life in Sudan with its limitations and quirky possibilities. The novel is personally and stylistically inspiring in showing that it is possible to merge a realistic gritty setting with a mystical theme.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

I pray, pour myself a large glass of water and then go to my study and start to write. I find that writing steadily for an hour and a half before breakfast is very productive. The words flow easily and there are no distractions. Three times a week, though, I go to the gym in the mornings. On such days, I switch my schedule round and write in the afternoons. However, my output falls and it takes me several hours to produce the same number of words I would have written before breakfast. In an ideal world I would write every morning and go to the gym in the afternoon, but I don’t trust my motivation for the gym. All too easily, other things will distract me or I will become lazy. So best get it out of the way, first thing in the morning.

What is your life’s motto? 

Start with the highest intention.

Our theme for the 2017 Festival is Journeys. Can you tell us which journeys in your life have been most memorable? 

In my mid-twenties I moved from Sudan to Scotland. This journey was more than memorable, it was pivotal and life-changing. Adapting to a new culture and bringing up my children in a world I was unfamiliar with, came with many challenges. I was consistently comparing between the life I had left behind in Khartoum and the new one I was living. I was also adjusting my priorities and ways of thinking. This creative tension made me the writer I am today.