When she was in her early twenties, Egyptian writer Ghada Abdel Aal began the complicated process of seeking a spouse. It involved meetings in parental living rooms over awkward glasses of tea. On one such occasion her potential groom spent his time screaming at a soccer game on tv. Another turned out to have a couple of wives already, and a would-be husband who was also a policeman started investigating her background for criminality or other unwanted elements. She turned to blogging about these meetings and discovered that other Egyptian women had similar experiences. Since then, her blog has become a huge success around the Arab world; her book I Want to Get Married has been published in several languages (it came out last year in English) and has been adapted for television. Ghada, a religious Muslim who covers her hair and who is quite hilariously funny in person and in her writing, has had the kind of cultural impact that makes her countrymen leap around with excitement when they meet her (as I can attest from having seen her at a book festival in an Arab country not long ago.) Here’s what she told me about how she came to write her book and its impact on her life:
How long did it take you to get your book published?
I got the book deal 18 month after I started the blog
Would you recommend any books on how to write?
I'm now reading a very interesting book "A Novel in a Year" which is a one year writing workshop for beginners or for people who are suffering during the journey of writing their novel, written by Louise Doughty.
What’s a typical writing day?
I usually save 4-5 hours a day for writing, I start at 3 am & end at 8 am. Most of this time of course gets wasted staring at the ciling or out of my window. But this is the time I force myself to sit at my desk for the purpose of writing
Do you think more young writers will be “discovered” because they write popular blogs, as you did?
A lot of them have been discovered because of my book, as it showed the publishers that you can be a blogger, you can be young and still be a best seller author
How would you describe what your book is about? And of course tell us why it’s so great?
My book is talking about a girl who is about to be thirty, she is going through this process that we call "living room marriages " and faces a bad suitor everyday. The general idea is showing the pressure that women get from the society to get married before reaching thirty, which is the expiration date of Egyptian girls. I guess it was successful because it spoke out about a problem that all girls face but no one usually talks about. It also does that in a satirical way, which is very popular in Egypt today.
Are you still looking for a husband? Or are you less interested, now that you’re a popular writer?!
I'm not allowed to "look," just to "wait." Well , it's not my first priority anymore, but I would like to have children one day and getting married is the only way to do that.
Do you think you have become a symbol for Egyptian women? For Arab women? Even for women all around the world?
I hope so. A lot of Egyptian and Arab women wrote to me saying that my story gave them hope, that they also can get power by speaking out about their problems and that my success story showed them that there are other important things in life than just being married.
How much research was involved in your book and how did you carry it out?
It was just from what I see and hear in my everyday life. I didn't make much research to write it
Is your book going to be translated into other languages?
It was already translated to Italian, German, Dutch and English. There is a Polish offer, but the negotiation is not over yet.
Do you live entirely off your writing? Or do you have another job?
I work as a pharmacist, but my main income is coming from writing now
When you started your blog, did you want to write a book, too? Or did the publisher come to you with the idea?
When I started my blog I had no idea that a person like me can be a writer and have a published book. Writers were over sixty with thick glasses, grey hair and most of them had to be dead for the last 10 years before people start to buy their books and call them writers. The offer came from the publisher who saw a new audience reading new stuff and he thought that this might be a good idea. Thank God it was.
What’s the strangest thing that happened to you at a book reading or on book tour?
People asking to take a picture with me but warning me that they are not looking for a bride so I’d better not get any ideas.
What’s your weirdest idea for a book you’ll never get to publish?
I always dreamed about writing teenage novels but there is no market for this kind of novel in Egypt.
Read more of Matt's Writing Life interviews on his blog.