Interview with author Leïla Slimani

Cassandra quizzes Leïla Slimani about her writing process.

While researching my jewellery collection inspired by Morocco, I read several books on the Amazigh, their traditions and especially their jewellery. Do you have any ancient Amazigh coins in the family that you can tell me about?

My aunt, who inspired the character of Selma, gave me a very beautiful Fatima hand with an embossed snake and an encrusted ruby. In my family, all the women have these big hands, made of gold and silver, which protect us against the evil eye and which are supposed to bring us good luck.

Reading your book 'The Country of Others', I was touched by the words on page 232: 'She kissed them with passion and in the kisses she placed on their cheeks there was not only strength of her love, but all the 'intensity of her regrets'. While writing this book, did you find that your family's emotions overwhelmed you?

In general, I do not allow myself to be overwhelmed by my emotions when I write. I can be very moved but despite everything, you always have to keep a certain control when you write, a distance. Sometimes, years later, I reread a text I wrote and that's when the emotion overwhelms me, once the book is no longer mine.

Are colours important to you in your narrative? They are, of course, very important in jewellery and I am very interested in hearing your opinion?

It depends on the texts I write. But yes, colours are important and besides, I often draw inspiration from paint in my work. For this trilogy on Morocco, the colours were fundamental because Morocco is a country whose beauty lies partly in a shimmer of dazzling colours: the blue of the sky, the ochre of the earth, the green of the oases. There is a passage in 'Watch Us Dance' where a young Danish hippie, who arrived in Morocco in 1968, raves about the colour of the women's clothes and the stalls in the market. She says: "At home, in my country, everything is grey."

What are your favourite things about being a writer? Is it the way to creatively paint a scene, or is it the structure/texture of the words?

What I love the most is the solitude! Being alone for hours in my office and inventing another world and another reality. I believe that it is primarily setting the stage that interests me, but it is inseparable from the work on the language. The two walk together.

What are your preferences for writing: at home, morning/evening, during long stages or rather in small phases? Do you consider yourself a very orderly writer or do you have papers and inspirations everywhere?

I am a very messy writer. I write all day, every day, at home. Sometimes I manage to write for hours, several pages in a row and it is happiness. Other times, nothing comes and even giving birth to a short sentence seems impossible. There are no rules!

What is your favourite Moroccan meal?

My mother's couscous and harira!

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