The ink of my soul bleeds onto the screen of your device. The anguish of my words collides with every keystroke that I type. I am the narrator of a song that will fill the voids in your heart with haunting melodies of coerced conformity and opulent oppression.
Writing a novel is an idea that can sit with you for an excruciating eternity, dragging you slowly down a path towards procrastination and unrealised dreams. Destiny, however, would not wait for me to sit idle, instead, it burst through the doors with a zeal and zest that could not be contained or ignored. The alignment of many elements in my life came together and an idea was born out of the causalities and traumas to alter my life in ways I had not anticipated. Now I was on a road to redemption, a path that would vindicate me of the machinations of my mind. The busy tumultuous workings of my thoughts had not had a true concentrated outlet for so long that it leapt out of me as soon as I opened the gates.
Most women know how much of your essence is fragmented from the casual and familiar sexism that pervades most areas of life. It undermines the very foundations that are present in even the most independent and resilient of women. Assertive women merely speaking their mind are routinely told they come across aggressive and angry. In this world full of such biased expectations, I wanted to tell the story of what that feels like for women. Feminism, the assumption that the contributions of women are equal to men’s, is not a new concept, but this is something that is very dear to my heart. I live in Europe so am lucky to have the relative freedom to oppose these fundamental flaws in the world and in my daily life. However, I am aware that there are women out there who are crushed under the weight of a patriarchal paradigm, buried under the impositions that society’s expectations heap over them. Faceless, concealed, hidden, masked, veiled, covered. The subjugation strangles the humanity from the air and replaces it with tyranny of the very people that claim to be protecting the vulnerable. The media is full of stories that ooze of pestilent apathy and inhumane indifference which result in wretched despair and disbelief. I feel it palpably. The desperate pleas for their screams to be heard, pain to be seen, stories to be felt. Unfortunately, compassion comes at a price, the hopelessness of the victims for their plight is often mirrored in the hopelessness of the reader that is informed of their agony through the many media outlets. How can one practically help someone in Palestine, or Afghanistan or India? You can sign petitions, write to the governments or raise money for charity, but the dispiritedness grows in the most compassionate of people when they face such dismal powerlessness.
Hyperbolic metaphors are often my tool of choice. Women across the world are browbeaten into submission, this is undeniable. Channelling my thoughts, I asked myself which place in the world would I least like to live, where would I feel the stifling hand of the domineering patriarchy quell any demand for equality and basic human rights as a woman? Hyperbole lead me to a juxtaposition so great I was shocked at the reality of the divide between oppressed and oppressor.
In a land that purports to be the heart of humanity, Saudi Arabia is the land of the brutally oppressed. When I started writing Mazahl’s Ascent, women in Saudi Arabia were not allowed to drive a car, open a bank account, or visit the doctors without the express permission of their male guardians. They are soon to be afforded the right to drive, and yet the very people who campaigned for this, at great peril to themselves, have now been arrested. We will give you what you want, but you will not feel righteous or vindicated in your achievement, we still control you.
In the dawn of October 2016, sitting in my local library, fervent notes saturated the page. Plots, ideas and concepts ran amok in between the lines. Mazahl entered my imagination with urgent immediacy and spoke to me of beliefs and notions I had always wanted to share with the world. I have often felt that I was on the peripheries of social exchanges, an observer scrutinising the world. What would it be like to live in Saudi Arabia when you are on the fringes of acceptable behaviour? A character that was the perfect vehicle to explore the issues that women of Saudi Arabia face, but she would have to find a resourceful way to challenge the autocratic systems that are endemic in all areas of life there.
Mazahl is strong and athletic, a contrast to the customary slim, fragile woman with body hang-ups and insecurities that have graced the pages of beauty magazines and books for too long, although this is changing thankfully. Many of the women in books are one dimensional, two-dimensional at best, their characters not fully formed enough to encapsulate the many depths of a persons soul. Mazahl would carry the burden of representing women that had attributes that were in direct opposition to the norm, by forging a path that would set our hearts and loins on fire.
I intricately planned out the plot first. This was a fascinating and surreal process for me. I would liken it to a conversation with a new friend that lasted days at a time. We discussed what was important, views on significant subjects from religion and spirituality to feminism and the resilience of the human spirit. Through these internal dialogues, I forged a path through the wilderness of my mind and came up with a story outline that intrigued me. It was like having a knitted jumper that you pull the wool from, and unravel until all you have is the strings of yarn that begin haemorrhaging the vessels of your imagination onto the blood soaked pages of a lonely laptop screen.