Hotseat: A mother’s tale

Inspired by her experience as the mother of an autistic child, Dedre Stevenson began writing her fantasy fiction trilogy

Interview, Hot seat

You’re a mum of four. How do you find the time to write?
The answer is ‘with difficulty’ because I can really only write in the mornings when my children are at school and college. The first book, The Revenge of the Blue Jinni, took me two years to complete as a result. I was a bit faster with the second and third instalments though!

What inspired you?
I’ve always wanted to write, ever since I was little. But for a long time, it wasn’t practical. I have two Masters degrees, and I really wanted to work, but because my husband’s career was so demanding, and my second son, Ibrahim is autistic, I made the decision to be a stay-at-home mum. However, I’m the kind of person who needs some kind of additional cerebral stimulation, so while at home, I started to write articles for local publications, and the idea for the trilogy started there.

In the stories, your heroine, Phoenix, is perceived as autistic. Tell us about that.
Pheonix is largely inspired by Ibrahim – and autistic children in general. When my son was little, and we realised something was amiss, my husband and I used to watch him, giggling at things that weren’t there – or perhaps things that we just couldn’t see. In Emirati culture, there is the belief that babies can see angels because they are so innocent and pure of heart. Once they get older, they lose that ability. I always like to think that special children never lose that ability, because their hearts are so much more pure than ours.

Has Ibrahim taught you to see life in a different way?
Oh, absolutely! So many people say they don’t believe in miracles, but I think you can see them every day if you just look at how much we can achieve. Even simple actions like talking and communicating with each other in a normal fashion is, in a sense, miraculous. Those are the kinds of things you appreciate when you have a child who struggles so much to achieve a little of that. My other children have become far more compassionate and selfless because we have Ibrahim, and they are all interested in pursuing humanitarian careers because they understand that some people are very vulnerable, and need our protection and help.

Tell us more about Pheonix.
Pheonix is an Emirati child, born in the US to her UAE national parents. They have partly lost touch with their heritage and embraced a Western culture. From the moment Pheonix is born, she is surrounded by Jinni – both good and bad. She sees things other children can’t see, and because of that, her behaviour is perceived as strange. In reality of course, she is extremely special and is actually the chosen child who will save the world from the evil, blue Jinni. The trilogy tells the story of Pheonix from her birth up until she’s 16, when she fulfils her destiny and the ancient prophecy.

Wow. How did you come up with those ideas?
I love Arabian folklore and the traditional tales of the Jinni. The bad ones resent the human world and will try to hurt us, while the good ones help us out – like finding our keys when we’ve lost them – and so on. I was also keen to show Emirati children that they have beautiful tales in their folklore that are worth reading. My children are Emirati and yes, they read Harry Potter and the Twilight series and those books are great, but they are part of Western culture. I wanted to demonstrate that they have wonderful tales in their Eastern heritage too.

Are your books available in Arabic?
The first in the series is already available in Arabic. Translation takes a long time, and it all has to be approved by the Ministry of Information, but the other two instalments are on the way.

What’s the best thing about writing?
The absolute sense of escapism. When you’re buried in your own little world, creating your character’s destinies, all of life’s problems just melt into the background and you can forget about them for a while. I love the fact that my novels are pure fantasy too. Some people have suggested that I write a novel about more real life subjects – but I just laugh! Why would I want to do that? Life can be a pretty miserable place at times. And the aim of my books is to take people away from all that for a while.

And the hardest?
Sometimes, you sit down at your desk and you just can’t even squeeze out a word. It just won’t come. At other times, the words flow from your fingers and it’s like you’re on fire.

So what’s next?
I’m very excited about a film production company making a 3D animation movie of the books. We’re starting in the next few months, but I can’t say any more – so watch this space!
The Hakima’s Tale trilogy is available at most bookstores, Dhs55 per instalment, or Dhs195 for the complete box set.

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