Paper Sparrows is your second novel set in Lebanan, how does it relate to your previous novel, A Girl Made of Dust?
A Girl Made of Dust was set in Lebanon during the 1980’s, and told the story of a young girl’s experience of the civil war that was then going on. Paper Sparrows takes place in 2006, and is told from the perspective of 19-year-old, Layla, who might easily be an older version of Ruba. And there is also a war – short-lived but also devastating.
Do you ever go back? What do you think it would be like growing up now in Lebanon?
Although I do go back to Lebanon, I wasn’t there that particular year. But the book is based on my knowledge of the way people talk, their attitudes, and most definitely the sense of place. Growing up in Lebanon now must, I imagine, be a very different experience. Right now the economy is in free-fall, life is extremely tough and the future uncertain. Although having said that, this was also the case in wartime.
What are the best and worst things you remember about growing up there?
Best: firstly, being surrounded by family, their unconditional love and warmth, and secondly, the freedom to roam and just be in nature.
Worst: being trapped (often in one room) by the bombing.
What’s it like being published so close to Hilary Mantel’s The Light and the Mirror? Do you think she’ll be jealous?
Well, she’s trying not to let on, but …
Dog is an important character in Paper Sparrows. Is he based on a real dog? There’s a certain hairy chap who features on your Instagram…
Dog is based on my first rescue dog, Gertie, although like any character, he soon took on a life of his own. And yes, dogs do and I suspect always will feature heavily in anything I write. Watch this space for further adventures of my current hairy rescue chap, Alfie.
How does Free Lunch help (or perhaps hinder?) your writing?
Free Lunch is an invaluable source of wisdom, support and friendship in this writer’s journey.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on a historical novel set in a circus, featuring a woman on the run, and, of course, a dog.
What has writing this book taught you? What has been the hardest thing about writing this book?
The hardest thing about writing this book was that it was based on real events that took place in the country I grew up in. I didn’t want to do a disservice to those people who lived through the 2006 war, but I really wanted to tell their story – to put the reader in that place and have them walk through what it must have been like.
Writing this book also taught me to persevere. I actually wrote it several years ago, and it has been a long path to getting it published. But I got there in the end!
Thank you, Nathalie
NATHALIE ABI-EZZI WAS TALKING TO ANNA OWEN