By Rana Khaled
Listening to intensive doses of Omar Khairat’s music or Fayrouz’s voice, who have always been his biggest sources of inspiration , writer Ahmed Mahana spent years searching for the psychological motive to continue his novel “I’ll Tell Your Story”. Unlike most of the young writers, who search for easy success and adopt the guaranteed writing approaches and ideas, Mahana decided to dig deeper to come up with different literature genres that are relatively new to our Arabic book market.
In 2005, Mahana started the experience of online blogging, which can be considered the wider gate for experiencing a writer’s life. In 2009, Mahana published his first successive anecdotal short story collection, “Alienation” or “Eghtirab”, in which he wrote different stories of one character in different real life situations. In 2012, he published his first novel, “Cairo Mood” or “Mazag Al-Qahera”, in which he presented the unpopular genre of confessional literature, which attracted the attention of large numbers of readers to the birth of a hard-working writer. A few months ago, he released his remarkable novel, “I’ll Tell Your Story”, blending romance, realism and psychological drama through three main characters, who resemble everyone imprisoned in his past.
In his interview with Daily News Egypt, Mahana revealed some secrets about his childhood, the background scenes of his novels, and his future projects.
How did you start writing? When did you develop a passion for this career?
I was always attracted to different types of arts since I was a child. I was addicted to acting and I used to act in the school plays and I thought that I’d become an actor when I grow up. Then when I joined the preparatory school, I started developing a great passion for poetry.
This opened the door for reading, as I was addicted to buying poetry books from the book fair and I dreamed of becoming a famous poet.
However, my passion for acting and the theatre life were always my biggest motives, until I started studying economics in Helwan University.
In the faculty, I joined the literary club of the college and became the editor of the faculty’s newspapers and magazines. Then I started my first blog in 2005, which allowed me to experience the writer’s life.
How did you come up with the idea of your first successive anecdotal short story collection? What are the main messages you wanted to convey to your readers through it?
I try all the time to come up with different cultures and arts and know what’s happening around the world. Despite its uniqueness, I always feel that the Arabic literature needs revival and renovation, and that’s why I felt it’s my responsibility to search for a new innovative idea for my first collection.
I was attracted to the successive anecdotal collection that reflects the life of only one person during different periods. Every story was completely separated, but also complementary for the bigger outline of the character’s life, which resembles our real life in one way or another.
Unfortunately, I’m a very moody writer! I began my last novel in 2009 and wrote a whole chapter before pausing until 2012, because I didn’t have the psychological motive to continue. The novel includes very complicated characters, sad incidents and that’s why it required a certain mood for writing.
In your first novel “Cairo Mood”, you introduced confessional literature, which is unique to our Egyptian book market. How do you evaluate this experience in general, and why did you think of it in the first place?
In the introduction of my book, I mentioned that Arabs don’t write this genre of literature. When I wrote the novel, many bookstores called us to ask if this book will be classified as biography, satire, or stories. When I started writing this novel, I was thinking about the future and I was really happy to find out that other writers started issuing other novels under this genre after two years of releasing my book.
Confessional literature is more like blogging, writing articles, or biographies. However, the concentration will be mainly about honesty, disclosure and focusing on the person himself.
Through my book, I told people stories about myself, my relationships with relatives and friends and the lifestyle that changes in Cairo over time. I talked about our relationship with religion, revolution and love. From my personal experiences and real life stories, you’d be able to form a bigger image about people’s life in Cairo. I think this experience achieved notable success as the publishing house released 10 editions of it to date.
Some of the readers criticised the repetition of some ideas and metaphors in this book and others criticised the unjustified insertion of poetry. What do you think about that?
In fact, I tried to clarify how society affects and influences us through repeating some details of my life with a slight development every time to show how the surrounding society and environment affects our decisions.
This slight development changed me completely at the end. Some readers understood the essence of the story and others could only see the repetition and didn’t notice the development and the society’s influence.
However, I always respect my readers’ points of views and I believe they are aware enough to create an outstanding perspective towards everything.
Your second novel, “I’ll Tell Your Story”, portrayed the secrets of the people, streets, journalism, the psychological wars, and the conflicts between human beings, through narrating a story of three main characters who can’t get rid of their tragic past. How did you prepare for such difficult ideas, and what are the main messages you tried to convey?
The novel required prolonged research, especially for the character of the Egyptian officer “Shaheen” from the cavalry troops, who inherited the talent of hunting hawks from his reputable family, and went into some crises during the events of 1954.
This obliged me to go back to huge number of references, documentaries and archives during this period. I had to create bonds and connections between the old Shaheen’s character and the rest of the characters who live dozens of years later. Every character had a romantic, revolutionary and dramatic line in the story, which required a separation period to write each character with a different spirit, voice and image.
From your point of view, what are the main problems that face the Arabic book market nowadays?
In my opinion, availability problem is the biggest problem that faces the Egyptian book market nowadays.
We have a problem with the service of providing readers with books everywhere through reputable distribution institutions. Also, we have a problem with censorship on the copyrighted materials as forged copies of the books can be found anywhere and no one punishes those responsible for copying the original versions.
What are your future literary works? Have you ever received offers for turning your works into movies or plays?
I’m working nowadays on a project for a new novel with incidents that take place outside Egypt. I’ll try also to turn my last novel “I’ll Tell Your Story” into a cinematic treatment before I negotiate any offers for converting it into any movie.