1 March 2020
Ruqaya Izzidien is a published novelist and journalist.
Q: The Watermelon Boys, a World War One period piece set in both Baghdad and South Wales, is your debut novel. How did you transition into novel writing and what was the inspiration for this wonderful first novel?
A: It’s difficult to say precisely what led me to write this book because there were so many factors– I’m Iraqi Welsh, I was struck by how little we as Brits know about our history in Iraq, I was tired of reading novels by non-Arabs that were set in the Arab but were void of any realistic Arab characters. But I think the spark was probably when my Iraqi grandfather passed away, and I thought of all the stories that would end with him if I didn’t write some of them down. So the Watermelon Boys is fiction, but there’s a great deal of inspiration from my grandfather’s life there.
Q: You are reading an excerpt from The Watermelon Boys at the Festival. What type of historical research do you do before sitting down to write a first draft?
A: Before sitting down to write a first draft, I consulted autobiographies, historical accounts, and photo and video footage from the time. But far more research was needed once I actually sat down to write and discovered that there was so much more that I didn’t know – I ended up going to archives, reading soldier diaries, academic texts, newspapers, aural histories.
Q: What do you think is the hardest thing about writing?
A: For me, it’s not the solitude or the time and dedication it takes, it’s the problem-solving. When you’re tying together different stories, or you want to get the narrative just right, you have rework text, adapt it, and find innovative ways for everything to join together in a believable and engaging way. You’re always entering new territory when you’re writing and often you’re working out solutions completely alone. It can be very difficult, but also extremely rewarding once it all clicks into place.
Q: What is the best part about writing fiction in contrast to writing pieces of journalism?
A: There’s so much more room for expression and creativity in fiction. There are advantages to the transience of journalism – the feedback, reception, interaction are all much faster, so there’s ongoing gratification, or at least a sense of progress. But you are also limited by that transience – you’re deprived of the word count to express yourself, confined by the fact-focused nature of journalism, and restricted by time.
Interview conducted by Beth Roberts.