We chatted to the author about her latest novel Song of the Nile.
Could you tell me more about what Song of the Nile is about? Luxor, 1946. When young nurse Aida El Masri returns from war-torn London to her family’s estate in Egypt, she steels herself to face the challenges ahead. Eight years have passed since her father, Ayoub, was framed for a crime he did not commit and died as a tragic result. Yet Aida has not forgotten, and now she wants revenge against the man she believes betrayed her father – his best friend, Kamel Pharaony. Then Aida is reunited with Kamel’s son, the captivating surgeon Phares, who offers her marriage. In spite of herself, the secret passion Aida harboured for him as a young girl reignites. Still, how can she marry the son of the man who destroyed her father and brought shame on her family? Will coming home bring her love, or only danger and heartache?
How did the idea for the story come about? I have always been fascinated by the 1940s in Egypt. My parents and grandparents were friends with the aristocracy at the Palace, and my mother used to tell me about all the magnificent parties she attended there in her youth. This was a time of glamour and frivolity for the aristocracy, of polo tournaments and glittering balls and picnics by the Nile. But in the same decade, the country was dealing with war and the stirrings of revolution, and a lot of trafficking of antiquities, arms and drugs was going on. So I decided to write a love story built around those facts and drawing on the rich culture and history of my homeland.
What did you enjoy the most about writing Song of the Nile? I research my books extensively and I particularly enjoyed researching Song of the Nile, not only because that period, historically, was a very interesting time, but because I could share our Egyptian culture and traditions, and some of the Egyptian proverbs and legends that I find not only humorous but also wise.
How have you found the last year? One might think that a year of quiet, free from distractions and with plenty of time in which to write would be heaven for an author. That has not been the case at all for me. The worry of it all, but most of all the separation from my family – especially my children and grandchildren – has made it difficult to write. I have written, and my new novel is taking shape, but I have not been as immersed in my fiction as I would have liked. I realised early on that I would need to give myself permission to simply write what I could when I could. I also got stuck into research for my next novel, ‘travelling’ to its setting from my home through non-fiction books, website exploration, music and films.
Romance novels have certainly been proving popular in recent years – what would you say the main appeal of the genre is? Escapism is the obvious answer – a way to step beyond mundane reality into a comforting, safe and inspiring world. But I think the appeal is multi-faceted. The best romances offer an opportunity for readers to learn about something new, such as an interesting occupation or a place. In my own romances, I take readers to fascinating locations around the world, so that my books are like a passport to travel from the comfort of your own home. Romances can be therapy, too. We read not simply to observe, but to engage, to feel, and the novels can restore wavering faith in love and life. If the book has a happy ending, as plenty do, then you are left feeling positive, hopeful. Uplifted. Best of all, for romance readers there is a wealth of choice. Your ‘to read’ pile need never be anything less than teetering, and there is something to suit every preference, from sassy to soulful.
What have you missed the most about being able to visit Egypt? I have missed seeing my family. In Egypt we have extensive families, and I always go there for the Coptic Christmas, which takes place on the 7th of January, and often for the Coptic Easter, which often falls on a different date to our Easter here in Europe. It gives me the opportunity to meet with friends and family I haven’t seen for a year and catch up with their news. I miss the community too, the people you meet in the street who are curious and warm and kind, like the street vendors with their ready smile and keen sense of humour. I also miss the food. Some of it I am able to cook, but many dishes are too complicated and I don’t always find the right ingredients. When I close my eyes and revisit my memories, I can almost taste ful medammes, a hearty, creamy fava bean dish loaded with flavour from ground cumin, fresh herbs, tomatoes, a hard-boiled egg and lemon juice, and koshary, a popular street food made with rice, vermicelli, lentils, pasta, onions and tomato sauce. Delicious!
By Emma Clarendon
Song of the Nile is available to buy now.