The future of fiction
Fadia Faqir has achieved a great number of ‘firsts’. This is the main thing I learn from our interview – that, and that Faqir was destined to be a writer.
There is something serendipitous about her life that makes me think how it could so easily have been different. And yet so predestined does her career seem that it is difficult to imagine her doing anything else but writing.
Born in Jordan, she completed a BA in English, before working as a journalist for the Jerusalem Star. Whilst there she wrote of the plight of Palestinian ex-prisoners, and her piece was published and broadcast on national radio – it was then that she knew that she wanted to write.
She received a scholarship to study an MA in Britain, and chose Creative Writing at the University of Lancaster.
She arrived “probably unequipped”, both the subject and the environment unfamiliar – “There were Scottish students in the class and I couldn’t understand them. I thought ‘What am I doing here?’, and that feeling has recurred again and again in my life” – but soon came that elusive thing all writers crave but very rarely receive: encouragement.
The praise came from one of her teachers, novelist Maggie Gee. “She rollicked everyone and was so critical. I was shaking in my seat. Then she put my piece on the table and said ‘Now this, this is powerful!’”.
She went on to complete a Creative Writing PhD at the University of East Anglia (UEA). And here is an instance of that serendipity: a friend, unbeknownst to Fadia, applied on her behalf.
It was pure speculation, as the UEA didn’t even offer a Creative Writing PhD. However, the fates aligned, and Malcolm Bradbury himself decided that if they could judge an MA they could easily evaluate a PhD .
The novel she wrote for her MA was snapped up by Penguin, before she even had an agent, but such early success seems to have done her no harm. The novel she wrote for her PhD, Pillars of Salt, was published in both the US and the UK, and translated into five languages.
Her next novel – which she wrote after taking a break from lectureships at Exeter, Oxford, and then Durham – did even better; My Name is Salma, written in just eight months, has been translated into fourteen languages and is about to be made into a feature film.
Faqir is somewhat of a trailblazer, with positions and roles created just for her (there’s the serendipity again): she was the first person in the UK to gain a PhD in Creative Writing, and the first to hold the Creative Writing fellowship at St Aidan’s College; she was also instrumental in creating Durham’s MA in Gender Studies.
In an environment where creative writing courses are becoming a lucrative industry, Fadia sees a real value in being taught to write. “We introduce the tools, the skills, the methods. You can’t make a writer in a classroom. Writing is a lifelong commitment, but you can help them along the way, make them feel okay about calling themselves writers”.
Having been taught by her, I can attest to her enthusiasm and skill as a creative writing teacher. In our interview, she says “the trick is to find that bit of criticism that is right for you”, and that is Fadia’s great ability. She pinpoints that exact word or sentence that doesn’t work and tells you why it doesn’t work, giving you a lesson in miniature, revealing a truth about writing – about your writing – that will stay with you.
Her classes are very popular, and their success led to the creation of a new literary e-journal called Inkapture, which is edited by a group of Faqir’s students, both past and present. Faqir acts as a consulting Editor for the magazine, and speaks very highly of the project.
“I’m terribly proud of my students and of Inkapture because they created something out of nothing. They had to set up the website, publicise it, and look at templates and the design… It’s a mammoth job”.
It is all thanks to St Aidan’s that the classes and the magazine were possible. Fadia praised the college for helping its students “to be engaged, to be inspired, and to feel appreciated. We are teaching self-confidence and democracy everyday”.
And democracy must be very dear to Faqir, who has been closely following recent events in the Middle East. The situation for writers and artists in the Arab world is precarious, as it is in many areas of conflict.
In response to this, Faqir and a group of female academics and writers have set up the Durham Sanctuary for Women Writers, which plans to “give shelter to women authors who are from an area where there is conflict, to lift them out of their difficult living conditions and give them a respite at St Aidan’s”.
Pat Barker, author of the immensely successful Regeneration trilogy, has agreed to be the project’s patron.
Although she has already achieved so much, there is undoubtedly more to come from Faqir, and her students. For more from Fadia, including her tips for writers, go to www.fadiafaqir.com.
If you’d like to submit to Inkapture, Fadia offers the following advice: “What they’ve published so far is original, with a tinge of humour. It’s fresh. We’re looking for something exciting, because we’re tired of what gets published in mainstream publications”.
She also stresses that the journal is unique in its interaction with contributors. “The editors actually look at your work carefully, they converse with you, and they give you feedback. And that’s something you will not find anywhere else. It’s a nurturing relationship”.
For aspiring writers, Fadia also has some more general tips. “These days it is exciting to be a writer, and part of being a writer is understanding the world you’re in. Learning e-publishing is a must”.
She is a frequent user of Facebook and Twitter to discuss current issues and is a blogger, something which she recommends, as she says it is noticeable when her students are bloggers, as they possess “a speed and fluidity”.
Despite the many voices claiming the death of the publishing industry, Fadia remains confident in Inkapture’s future, and the magazine has big plans. “Plan number one is to set up a short story competition, and that would strengthen Inkapture and will bring in exciting new voices. And then down the line we’ll start publishing anthologies”.
Go to www.inkapturemagazine.co.uk to read more about Inkapture, to read past issues and to find guidelines for submissions.