Shereen Malherbe on her debut novel 'Jasmine Falling'
Shereen Malherbe is a British/Palestinian author and writer based between Sharjah and the UK. Her new novel, Jasmine Falling is now available to buy worldwide.
What inspired you to write this book?
I visited Palestine and stayed with my family in the West Bank. One day, my husband and I were strolling through the streets and we saw a blacked out tourist bus pull up. Tourists spilled out onto the streets, surrounded by security, snapped photographs of a tree that Jesus was said to have slept under on his journey through Jericho. Palestinian shopkeepers came out to sell drinks & souvenirs to the tourists but the security pushed them away and they piled back onto their bus and drove off. It made me realise that people do not get to see the real Palestine.
It was this and a combination of what I discovered that started my journey to write Jasmine Falling.
Who is the target audience for Jasmine Falling?
The audience is mainly women who like contemporary fiction, but I don't like to just limit my audience to this. For my article writing, I write about how the female Muslim narrative is largely missing in mainstream media and I think we need to see more of it. Jasmine Falling is written to start to bridge that gap and incorporates Western and Islamic values.
What research did you do to write the book?
Authenticity was incredibly important with the book. I wanted to be true to the Palestine I discovered and to capture it, as it was when we experienced it.
I visited regularly and stayed with my family in their homes in the West Bank and Jerusalem. I spoke to them about their experiences and their stories and they helped to shape the book, with a lot of the stories in my book being inspired by their true events.
I also took lots of photographs, we had tours with a member of my family who is a journalist and followed the routes of Palestinians through the Wall and security checkpoints to really try to understand the effect of the Occupation on their daily lives.
In addition, I read books on the Jewish journey from wartime Germany to Palestine. The most in-depth of these was the journey undertaken by I.F Stone.
Did you learn anything from writing the book?
Absolutely! The whole experience was a big life changer for me. It led me to my faith and gave me another perspective on life that I hadn't considered before.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I think that it is up to the readers to interpret my book as everyone sees the world differently. What I wanted to do, was to open up another narrative based on authenticity and different viewpoints to open the Palestinian/Israeli perspective up and introduce it to a new audience.
What was the most difficult part of writing the novel?
The editing process. It is hard to get enough distance from the story as its writer, to then analyse it and make it better. This is where having a good editor can help. I expected to write and edit the book, but understanding that it isn't possible (or at least not recommended) helped.
What advice would you give to other writers?
I think the most important is if you want to write, just write! As Wordsworth said, 'To begin, begin.' Also, I wouldn't suggest chasing trends or trying to second guess what publishers want next. Instead choose something you are passionate about because it is this passion that will ultimately make the difference between finishing or not.
Are there any particular benefits from being a writer in the UAE?
Yes, definitely. The Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) once a year hosts international writers and always gives me something to aspire to. We have the Emirates Lit Fest and the UAE's Reading Year initiative which has just been launched too.
It is exciting to be a writer here at the moment. I would love to feature at the SIBF, as a representative of Sharjah's position as a local and international position for writers as I currently represent both.
What are you working on now?
Jasmine Falling is just the first book exploring this character. I am already working on the second book, where my character goes back to the UK after her Palestinian journey. I am excited about seeing how she has grown up and what choices she will make.