By Rana Khaled
Surrounded by cigarette packs and a coffee machine, with quiet music playing in the background, writer Mohammed Abdel Qawy Meselhy resorts to his isolated room after midnight, searching for inspiration away from life’s hassle and people’s nuisances. Because he feels more free and comfortable to write on computer than paper, he became more attached to his keyboard, as it allows him to pour the ideas roaming inside his head into words, tackling life and death, realism and fantasy, love and betrayal in an outstanding philosophical way.
In 2012, the 29-year-old writer published his first short story collection titled “Tareeq El-Nee’na’” (“The Mint Road”), which took readers into a long journey. It was a story in which Meselhy presented different, poignant human stories portraying the sufferings of various characters, aiming to evoke feelings of love, hatred, sympathy and affection in the readers’ hearts and souls. After a few months, Meselhy moved from realism to fantasy in his first novel “Portrait”, in which he blended magic, fears, curses with psychological horror in a remarkable mixture.
In 2013, Meselhy’s second novel “Lillian” was published, inviting waves of criticism. Less than a year later, he introduced a new interactive short story collection to the Egyptian book market with the help of Iman El-Dawakhly, under the title of “Al Nas Maqamat”, where it was possible for readers to instantly criticise the stories, write their reviews about, them and receive immediate feedback from the writers. On 28 January, Meselhy published his last novel, “Absence”, which required a lot of preparation to portray a realistic model of an illiterate young man whose society destroyed his talent and killed his ambition.
In an interview with Daily News Egypt, Meselhy revealed the preparations of his novels, the obstacles he faced to publish some of his stories, and the secrets of his future literary works.
When did you start writing? Does it have anything to do with your childhood?
I was drawn to writing since I was a little child, but the dream wasn’t complete yet. I tried writing for the first time when I was 10 years old. I used to bring the weekly issues of Mickey magazine and redraw the characters in my drawing handbook, leaving the spaces allocated for the dialogues empty so that I can rewrite other different stories! That was all what I knew about writing stories at the time!
How did you come up with the idea for your first short story collection “The Mint Road”? What are the messages you wanted to convey to your audience through such a collection?
What inspired me to write these stories was the idea that most people consider life in its absolute form as a big victory, regardless of how they live their lives or what they are aiming to achieve by living it. However, I see that life must be dedicated to achieving any specific goal, even if it’s small and trivial from other people’s point of view. Without this goal, life will be tasteless and days will be identical, and the person will be passively waiting for his death. I tried to share my ideas about life and death with my readers and found that many of them share my points of view about the essence of life.
In your first novel “Portrait”, you moved from contemplative philosophical writing style that distinguished your first collection to write about curses, fantasy, magic and psychological horror. How did you prepare for this novel? And why did you choose another path to present a different genre of literature in it?
“Portrait” was my first novel, and I wanted to present very important philosophical questions in an attractive fictional way. I had a lot of questions about the human spirit, life’s rules, and relationships between people, and I wanted to present them in a way that will meet the needs of pop art readers, to whom I have belonged for a long time. Although pop art is a respectable literature genre that used to attract large numbers of young readers, it gained a bad reputation lately because novice writers prefer to get their first trials into this kind of art, which caused most readers to believe that all fantasy, science fiction and horror novels must be superficial, with prosaic content. That’s why I try to create this balance between pop art and human literature through my writings, and I don’t mind changing the template from one time to another to help readers avoid boredom.
In spite of the great success “Portrait” achieved, your second novel “Lillian” raised waves of criticism because of the slang language you used in the dialogue. So how did you receive such criticism and how did you deal with it?
Many readers claimed that the aristocratic main characters that has European assets shouldn’t talk like “popular girls”, as they believed that she must choose aristocratic words to express her feelings in order to be more realistic. In fact, those people forgot a very important truth. Lillian’s aristocratic history was completely fabricated, and she didn’t live that life, as the whole story depended on the one who wrote a fake book about her life, depending on the narration of the poor nurse as the incidents of the novel reveal later. The novel was published a year after “Portrait”, but I admit that the two novels are connected as “Lillian” can be considered an introduction to the incidents and events that took place in the second part of “Portrait”. In fact, you don’t have to read the two novels to understand the incidents, because reading anyone of them will be enough. The third and last part of the saga will be published soon.
With the help of Iman El-Dawakhly, you introduced a new interactive experience to the Egyptian book market in your short story collection “Al Nas Maqamat”. How did you come up with the idea, and what are the obstacles you faced to publish it?
I’ve been thinking about the interactive writing idea for years, but I wasn’t quite sure if it’s better to write it in the form of a novel, scenario or theatrical text. Because I was more drawn to reading and writing short stories at that time, I wanted to produce this interactive project in the form of short stories. I discussed the idea with Iman, and she was very interested, and we started to write with the aim of amusing ourselves in the first place. After the collection was finished, we posted it online for free and allowed our readers to read it for free. We communicated with them and replied to their reviews. After a while, we accepted an offer to publish the collection in a book. Actually, the experience was very successful, to the extent that one of the major book store chains in Egypt announced that “Al Nas Maqamat” was among the best collections published in 2013, with the highest circulation rates.
In your last novel “Absence”, you portrayed a realistic model for a young man whose society buried his talent and destroyed his personality. Why did you choose to move from fantasy to realism, and how could you prepare for it?
Despite what most people think, roaming over the different genres of literature isn’t the choice of the writer. Every idea chooses for itself whether it’ll be written as a story or a novel, and also chooses whether it’ll be belong to realism or pop art, and the writer has to follow his ideas’ choices silently. I have to admit that the idea of “identity” occupied my mind for several years, and I was always wondering if it’s acquired or inherited, and if it’s vulnerable to change or not. Also, I was attracted to examining how the continuous deprivation can change the psyche of the person. Through this novel, I wanted to discuss the way people look at those who are different from them and the different forms of discrimination that can hide inside souls and grow dramatically over time. In fact, I spent a lot of time preparing for this novel and I did a lot of research, and I really can’t remember the number of the friends who helped me at the writing and proofreading stages!
Who are your favourite writers?
I read to amuse myself in the first place, then I decide if what I read will benefit me and help me improve my writing style or not. I adore reading Naguib Mahfouz, Nabil Farouk, Ahmed Khaled Tawfik, Alaa El Aswany, Mohammed El Mansy Qandil, and I’ve learnt a lot from them.
Have you received any offers to turn your literary works into films or plays?
I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about this or not. I received an offer and we’re still in the initial phase of agreement, so I can’t give you more details right now.
What are your future literary works and projects?
I have many projects, but I intend to publish my new novel “Presence”, by which I’ll return to the pop art world, not by writing about fantasy or magic, but from the path of science fiction!