Writing the path to a non-fiction novel
Getting round to researching and working on Daoud Kuttab’s book has been a long time coming while teaching my first year at University of Salzburg took first fiddle, and getting through my first MA semester filled in my spare (!) time.
Last September, Daoud asked me to help him record his experience of taking Sesame Street — or Sharaa Simsim — to Palestine.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve read some remarkably interesting books including: Palestine, a graphic novel by Joe Sacco, A Child in Palestine, which records decades of cartoonist Naji al-Ali’s commentaries on life in Palestine through the eyes of a fictional child, who represents the Palestinian people.
I’ve spent today watching videos about the Palestinian experience, filmed by as broad a range of sources as possible. Maps of Israel, Palestinian territories and the Middle East scatter my desk as I try to get a handle on day-to-day life and the history of the area. No mean feat, that’s for sure.
Keeping my focus on ‘experience’ is challenging because there is SO much to try to understand about life in the Palestinian territories — and, of course, so much that no-one will ever understand. An enduring fence-sitter, I want to see the ‘story’ from all angles, and I also wanted to avoid too much edited footage to get more of a feeling for life in Palestine. YouTube really is a cracking place 🙂
To get too caught up in the politics and the history would take us too far away from the purpose of the book, but there needs to be a real backdrop using the political timeline, simply because the politics are so important to day-to-day life.
We want to keep the focus on the story of taking one of the Western world’s most recognised children’s TV programmes to a world where the values and life are wholly different, but love of family and education are absolutely the same.
Daoud has written parts already, but we need to find a whole-book approach that will involve all manner of puzzle sorting over the coming months. At the moment, Daoud is gathering photos and stories from his colleagues to prompt his own memory. As with any non-fiction novel, in order to work on the larger picture, I’ve asked him to write lists of moments, thoughts and events that shaped the beginnings of Sharaa Simsim. There needs to be no order to the list because finding a pattern to them is my job.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll keep you posted on the progress and steps we make together as we prepare, write, edit and proofread the book, then as we move towards publication and beyond.