The weather calls for a curl-up with a cozy blanket on your favorite couch, a steaming cup of chai and a good book. Library lacking? We have a great one for you to pick up! Better yet, its author is one of our very own contributors – the whimsical wordsmith herself, Layla AlAmmar.
Layla’s debut novel, The Pact We Made is still in the process of publishing, and while we haven’t been able to read the novel yet, we’re anticipating it. We’ve always known that Layla was a capable writer, courtesy of her long history of short story contributions to bazaar. To add to that, she has published short stories in Quail Bell Magazine, The St Andrews Red Letters Prose Journal, and Aesthetica Magazine, where her short story The Lagoon was a finalist for the Creative Writing Award 2014.
For the University of Edinburgh alumna, The Pact We Made started out as a short story inspired by fellow classmates, who during her Masters program in Creative Writing, would ask why she hadn’t written short stories about Kuwait. “So, I made an effort to write a story set here about a girl named Dahlia. The response I got from them was very encouraging, and the following year, after I had graduated the program, Dahlia’s story began to come to me and I started to turn the short story into a novel.”
But writing a full-blown novel is a different feat from the short stories her pen was accustomed to. “Writing is easy, editing is hard. The first draft of this novel was finished in about 7 months, and then I spent three years (!) editing and redrafting it. The book that will be published in March 2019 is very different from what the first draft was.”
With that, we sit down with the honorary bazaarite (whom we couldn’t be more proud of) to learn all about the amazing venture of her freshman novel, while getting little snippets of the story in between. We hope it intrigues you as much as it does us!
Give us a briefing on the plot:
The book tells the story of Dahlia, who is staring down the barrel of her 30th birthday – the age when a Kuwaiti woman from a good family is past her prime marrying years. Dahlia straddles two worlds, one in which she’s a modern woman living in a modern city, and another where she faces pressure to adhere to social customs. The novel is about Dahlia’s attempts to reconcile these two worlds.
How do you feel about the characters you’ve built? What do they represent?
Every writer aims to write well-rounded, complex characters, so I certainly hope that mine meet the grade. The story is told from Dahlia’s point of view, but you do get a feeling for the other people in her life – her parents and sister, her childhood friends Mona and Zaina, and her work friend Yousef. These characters represent the various types of families and friends one encounters living in a modern, Arab society, and I hope people see some of themselves or people they know in them.
Is the story meant to be autobiographical in any sense? What inspired you towards this specific plot?
Readers always look for the writer in any novel, so I suspect people will wonder about this. There are certainly similarities between myself and Dahlia: we are roughly the same age (or we were when I started writing the book!), both unmarried, and both pursue some kind of artistic endeavor outside of our work lives. But that is really where the similarities end. Obviously, the struggle that Dahlia faces in reconciling her desire to be an independent woman with the pressures of society is something most women can relate to, but the life she has lived and her specific experiences are entirely fictional.
Who is your favorite character in the story?
This is tough. I’ve spent a lot of time with them, and I tend to jump around a bit. Dahlia’s friend, Mona, is free-spirited and a little bohemian, which I find very appealing. Her friend Yousef is highly entertaining, and I think he’d be fun to be around. Dahlia herself is pragmatic and hopeful and brave despite her circumstances, which I think is to be admired.
Any plans for a sequel?
Not to this book, no. It is a stand-alone story, and I like that the ending invites the reader to imagine what happens to the characters in the future.
The Pact We Made will be published in hardcover by Borough Press in March 2019.
Photo by Dana Zubaid.