Award-winning and prolific author Fatima Sharafeddine was born in 1966 in Beirut, Lebanon. She has a B.A. in Early Childhood Education from the Lebanese American University and Master’s degrees in Educational Theory and Practice and Modern Arabic Literature from Ohio State University. She has penned over 35 children’s picture books. She was recently nominated for the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.
Why don't you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started writing for children?
I am Lebanese, left my native country in 1990 heading to the USA for graduate school. I received two Master’s degrees from the Ohio State University in Early Childhood Education and in Modern Arabic Literature. I worked for long years in the US with preschool children, as well as I taught Arabic language and culture classes at Rice University in Houston.
I moved to Belgium in 2001, and was jobless for a couple of years. During this period I decided to teach my children reading Arabic. That’s when I realized the gap we have in the Arab world regarding children’s literature. It was very hard to find Arabic books that I could share with my children. And since writing for children was a passion that had accompanied me throughout my life, I decided to start writing.
Your publishing credits are long and impressive. How many books have you published so far and in what genres?
The first time I got published was in 2004. Currently, I have over 45 books published by my three main publishers: Asala (Lebanon), Kalimat (UAE), and Mijade (Belgium).
I mainly write picture books for ages 0 to 9. I also translate books from English and French into Arabic. One of these books, “I am not sleepy and I will not go to bed” (by Lauren Child) recently made it to the IBBY Honor list for books translated into Arabic.
I am currently busy writing my first young adult book.
I understand you were recently nominated for the 2010 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Were you surprised? How does this make you feel as an author?
I feel honored to see my name up there with big names in the field of children’s literature.
I was aware that my publisher was applying for me to enter this competition, but I didn’t expect to be nominated.
Your publisher is based in Lebanon. Are your books published throughout the Middle East? What about in the US?
My Arabic books with both my publishers Asala and Kalimat are distributed in a number of Arab countries. As for my books with Mijade, they have been translated to over 8 European languages and a couple of them to Korean. The French versions are distributed in Belgium, France and Canada, and the rest, to countries speaking their languages (Danish, Finnish, Irish, German, Slovenian, Spanish Catalan, Spanish Castilian, Portuguese). Unfortunately I don’t have any books translated to English yet. Therefore I don’t think my books exist in the USA.
You're constantly attending book fairs, doing book signings, and giving workshops. This entails traveling a lot. How do you balance all this book promotion with your own writing and your family life.
I do travel a lot. My family has been very supportive. My two children and husband believe in my work and always push me to do more, to accept invitations for participation in book fairs or go on the next trip to give a workshop. I really feel very lucky.
As for writing, the times I am in Belgium are the most productive times for me. I fully dedicate my days for writing, reading, or doing research for the next book. I also feel lucky to have the opportunity to be a full time writer, knowing that most writers of the world have to have a day job in order to make ends meet. Besides, I get a lot of support from my colleagues here, fellow members of the SCBWI-Brussels. Our critique group is of extreme help to me.
From your own experience, which tool has been more effective for promoting your name and books–book fairs, book signings or workshops?
Book fairs offer a good exposure for my books. It is the time when publishers meet, buy and sell copyrights. But the activities that promote my books most are readings that I do in schools, public libraries and community houses in all areas of Lebanon. And since I have been doing this for few years now, the children know me, and wait for my visits during organized events such as Book Festival (Summer), and Reading Week (Spring).
Are you a disciplined writer?
I am not. But when I have a project between my hands, I work continuously with very little breaks, until it’s accomplished and sent to the publisher.
Describe a regular day in your life.
I wake up at 7, get the children ready for school and drive them there. I have my breakfast around 8:30, then I sit in front of my laptop. I work for about 3 hours before taking the first break, doing little chores around the house. I try to go to the gym 3 times a week, at 1pm. I work for two hours after lunch, then the children are back from school. I get busy with preparing dinner or driving the children here and there to their various activities.
After dinner I try to sneak back to my laptop, but if there are other activities going on with the family, I prefer to join them.
Most of your books are picture books. What is the secret to a great picture book?
I think the main secret is to be able to write with the child’s voice, from a child’s perspective.
Do you think a critique group is essential for a writer?
Absolutely! I am very proud of my critique group with SCBWI-Brussels, and I always encourage my colleagues in Lebanon to try to start critique groups. But unfortunately, this hasn’t been achieved yet.
What advice would you offer aspiring children's writers?
Always remember that you are doing what you are doing because it’s fun. The minute it stops being fun, it stops being interesting for readers.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to my readers?
I wish them all the best in their writing career, and I would like to remind them that every one of us is unique, creative, and can offer original writing. Writing stories for the young ones is a lot of work, but the rewards are great!