Kathy Shalhoub interview

Lebanese-Polish writer on her first foray into publishing

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Sometimes it takes a journey down the wrong path to realise you’re destined for bigger things – and that’s precisely what happened to Dubai-based Lebanese-Polish author Kathy Shalhoub. The 34-year-old artist and mother of two earned a Ph.D in marine optics and worked as an underwater robotics specialist before discovering that her real talent lies in the art of the written word. ‘I was doing a lot of data analysis and found it too brain-intensive – there wasn’t enough room left for any type of creativity,’ says Shalhoub. ‘So I started a blog, and the blog eventually turned into a book.’

Published in 2011, Shalhoub says her book, entitled Life as a Leb-neh Lover, is a semi-fictitious memoir that light-heartedly draws on her own identity crisis; it remained in the top five bestsellers at Virgin Megastore for a full year. ‘The blog started as my day-to-day life, then it began developing a theme of its own. As time went on, it started being very much about me as a Lebanese citizen, and the Lebanese adventures I was going through abroad,’ she says.

Transforming her blog into a book is something Shalhoub will discuss in one of her workshops at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature next week. She reveals that, like many writers, she was initially hesitant to pursue the field as a career. ‘I’ve always loved writing, but I never thought I could make a living from it. I was pregnant when I wrote the book and nobody wanted to hire a pregnant specialist in underwater robotics in Dubai,’ she says. But, much to her surprise, the title was published within a year. ‘I had to do a lot of rewriting and a lot of back-story filling.’ She also didn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. ‘Most of it is true, but it’s always good to exaggerate or embellish stories to make them better,’ she says.

Shalhoub is now working on her second book, The Fortune Teller’s Daughter, and says that writing has become her full-time job. ‘I try to write every day – if I’m not writing I’m doing research, revision or marketing. I have to take it seriously if I plan to be successful,’ she says.

The new book, set in a village in Lebanon, is a fictional suspense tale that marks new territory for Shalhoub. ‘I think I’ve always wanted to write fiction and my first book was more of an accident – I never thought anyone would publish it,’ she says. ‘Fiction is much harder to write than non-fiction.’ But she’s been putting her heart and soul into the project. ‘I’ve been taking classes, doing a lot of reading and lot of practice. It’s been an eye-opener.’
Kathy Shalhoub appears at Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on March 7 at 10am and 5.30pm, and March 8 at 11.30am. Tickets from Dhs60. www.emirateslitfest.com.

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