This Egyptian author is revolutionizing her homeland’s book scene, and she has advice that we all need to hear
It's really exciting to hear when someone comes and talks to me about my book to tell me that the characters are making mistakes. That's incredible.
Dina Elabd is an Egyptian children’s and young adult author. She has published Melouq, The Lion that dressed as a Sheep and The Magic Palm. She has a new book coming out at the end of the Summer on Amazon, in the same style of Diary of a Wimpy Kid – but based in Egypt.
Elabd sat down with The Tempest to talk about her experience as an author, and tips she has for aspiring young writers.
The Tempest: What motivated you to write Melouq, The Lion that dressed as a Sheep and The Magic Palm? Did you draw from experiences you had as a child or stories your grandparents and parents told you?
Dina Elabd: These stories are a bit more modern than a lot of the stories I heard about my local culture in Egypt. I actually grew up for the first 12 years of my life in California, and just like now they were extremely high tech and very advanced.
I grew up listening to all sorts of stories that were so much more open-minded and culturally diverse, and I just fell in love with it.
But when I came to live in Egypt afterward, I couldn’t find anything like these stories. In fact, I even taught at a school for a year and a half and I noticed that you have students in Egypt reading novels written elsewhere, by other cultures, in English, but you can’t find any equivalents in Egypt.
So this just made me think, well, I can do this. I can write and I want to write! And I want to produce work that children will want to read and be excited to read. I believe that children’s literature is so important and books really help a child with empathy.
They help a child with being able to analyze their own culture and the cultures of others and see what’s good and what’s bad and what can be improved.
These are just such important skills.
Books can really teach someone what’s going on in the world, and what’s going on in their own lives from a different perspective and then maybe they can find someone local to talk to about it, even if it’s their own parents.
The Tempest: I saw you studied at the University of Cambridge where you did a Masters of Philosophy in Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature. How did studying help you write your children’s books and your young adult novel?
Dina: Primarily, it just gave me a lot of confidence. Being able to compare my work to others’ on the world space was very important to me.
I really wanted to produce work that was of international quality, not just something locally good, which, in my opinion, was not going to be that hard given the niche that I’m targeting.
I wanted it to be good on an international scale and that’s what Cambridge taught me. We had students from all around the world, and to see them all producing this quality, comparing their work and their research to others in their region and abroad was very important to my work.
What kind of reception did your books have in Egypt?
Dina: Right now Melouq, my debut novel, has been doing quite well in Egypt. I’ve had a book signing in a bookstore and different schools.
I’ve also read to students from my newer book The Lion that dressed as a Sheep, and Melouq is even in a school curriculum for grade 10. So I’m basically targeting these international English-language schools. I’ve also been invited to join the British Council in Egypt to do a 3-day school tour of 7 international schools between Cairo and Alexandria.
There, I will explain my Master’s experience in England and talk about my books.
What did it feel like to see children and young adults reading your books?
Dina: It’s very good to hear that a child has picked up my book and cannot put it down for a day and a half till it’s done because that really reminds me of myself.
It’s really exciting to hear when someone comes and talks to me about my book to tell me that there are all these mistakes! They’ll tell me, “Why did you decide to do this, why did you decide to do that?” and I think it’s a sign that this is good literature.
It makes people ask questions and figure out for themselves what’s right and what’s wrong. Sometimes the character says something and they think it’s my opinion and I’m like, “No! That’s just that character that said that it’s not me saying that!”
And they say, “No, but you wrote the book!”
I’m like “Yeah, okay, but different characters say different things, right?” so it’s kind of funny. I get all sorts of reactions but they’re heartwarming and help me as a writer to think of what’s better for the readers.
What advice would you give young people wanting to write stories from their own perspectives and cultures?
Dina: I think it’s really important to just write whatever you want to write and whatever you feel close to, and also to write the stories that people want to hear.
Even if it’s done in a very new way. I think that this is becoming very common now and people are reaching out to all kinds of media to hear different stories.
I think any writer should give it a shot, even if it’s completely new kind of story that they’re telling.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.