Home 5 Interviews 5 Zoulfa Katouh: Q and A

Zoulfa Katouh: Q and A

by | Jul 25, 2022 | Interviews

What made you write As Long As The Lemon Trees Grow ? Can you talk us through the process, from how you were inspired, why and how you choose the title and how long did it take you to write it.

When I moved to Switzerland, I had a lot of people ask me about Syria. I realised then that people in Europe and the West don’t really know what’s going on. All they see are the consequences of the raging war and refugees coming into their countries. I wanted to send the message that no one wants to be a refugee. No one takes to the sea, risking drowning, if what they’re leaving behind is not much more frightening. While this is a fictional novel, the incidents and stories told are certainly based on real life experiences. The novel is meant to sow together bits and pieces of authentic tragic events into one literary work, with an additional speculative element.

I wanted the story to convey the realities happening in Syria but with a strong message of hope. And that’s where the title comes from. As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow is an homage to a Nizar Qabbani poem verse that translates to “every lemon shall bring forth a child, and the lemons will never die out.” It is also said that in Homs you won’t find a house that doesn’t have a lemon tree.

They’re a symbol of resilience and hope.

I started writing it in 2017, finished it in 2018 and then until late 2020.

 How did you research it? Was any part of it a personal experience?

The horrors happening in Syria aren’t a mystery to Syrians nor to people living in the Middle East as a whole. Stories are traded within the Syrian community. At the start of the revolution, Facebook was the medium where protestors shared their stories and experiences on pages and groups. A lot of them don’t make it to the mainstream media particularly the ones in English as English isn’t a language many Syrians master.

 This is your debut novel, how did you embark on this publishing journey and what obstacles did you face?

I didn’t have writing friends who wrote in the same genre as me when I started this book. I found that Twitter was the space to be to find other authors. And that’s what I did. Through Twitter, I got to meet wonderful authors who I am happy to call my friends. They helped me make my book better. I also participated in a mentorship program called Author Mentor Match where I was able to develop the story with my mentor, Joan F. Smith. It was also through Twitter I was able to find my agent. There were definitely obstacles in my journey. I did receive about fifty rejections from agents that made me lose heart a bit. Publishing is a long journey and it’s sometimes hard not to take rejections personally. Because when you write, you’re writing something that is personal. These words are coming from your soul.

 Hope is the theme of your book, what are your hopes for the book once it’s released?

I do hope it makes readers want to know more about Syria. Damascus is the oldest city in the world. We have the last place on earth, Maalula, that speaks Aramaic, the language of the Prophet Jesus. There is so much history and so much love we have for our country that the world doesn’t know. I want them to know what is happening because the least we can do for people who are risking their lives is know their names and stories.

 Do you have a favourite spot or space where you write?

I love writing in hidden café gems that are surrounded by nature.

 Who do you get inspired by from the literary field and non-literary?

I am inspired by people who make me feel things. Hayao Miyazaki is a big inspiration of mine. He is the foundation of my imagination. L. M Montgomery and the beauty that are her Anne of Green Gables books are also my inspiration.

 

What is next for you and will your next book also be about Syria?

I am currently writing my next book and it is the other side of the coin to Lemon Trees. It deals with what happens after you reach safety. It also has themes of identity, racism, and healing from trauma. And of course, as always, hope.

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