Iraqi writer, Shahad Al Rawi, won the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s 2018 First Book Award with her debut novel, The Baghdad Clock. The novel was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2018 and topped the bestseller lists in Iraq, Dubai and UAE.

Shahad spoke with The Fountain about this achievement as well as the difficulties that come with being a female writer in Iraq.

TF: You have won the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s First Book Award with The Baghdad Clock, you must be over the moon?

Certainly! I feel proud and happy to have received this prize, which shines a light on my first novel. Actually, as soon as I received the news, it produced the sense that I was walking on clouds. Success with this first step into the literary world has a special flavour. As I said in my first statement after the announcement, I am deeply happy that the prize carries the name of Edinburgh, with all the historical and cultural riches and the beauty of that city, and also because the competition was a close contest with outstanding novels that also deserved to win.

TF: And for those that have yet to read can you elaborate on the novel?

My novel–despite the fact that it takes place amid a difficult life worn down by wars, economic sanctions, and isolation from the world–talks about humanity, about love, about friendship, about relationships between people, about songs and memories, about also about death and emigration. The first part is written in the words of a child discovering the world around her and establishing life with her naïve understanding. Then I follow the life of this girl until she grows up and enters her college studies. The hero of my novel is the location, which the girl imagines in the form of a ship at anchor, which the people leave, one after another. There are many tears and many laughs, and just as in life, there are unfinished stories as well.

TF: As a writer from Iraq, do you draw your inspiration from other Iraqi writers, from what is going on around you?

Yes, I form an incentive for my generation and those that follow in terms of success, self-confidence, and moving forward despite the difficulties that we currently face in our country as a result of the rifts that our society has witnessed in its national identity and in views on the role of women and the distrust of their production. In addition to thirty thousand likes on my Instagram page, along with thousands of comments sharing their delight at my winning the Edinburgh prize, there have also been campaigns to minimize me as a writer, something which usually happens to female authors.

I received congratulations from the prime minister, the speaker of parliament, and a number of ministers and ambassadors, including the ambassadors from the US and the Netherlands. It was an important celebration in my life.

TF: And what next can we look forward to from you, are you working on a second novel?

I have a new novel that I’ve been working on, which I hope preserves the imaginative power and emotional earnestness of the first. It’s a novel that’s not entirely realistic, but nevertheless is true. The success of my first novel puts me in a new position, where I’m trying to write another novel that goes beyond my previous work.

The Baghdad Clock is out now, published by Oneworld Publications.