A Writer's Process: Riham Adly

It’s not an easy thing, writing in English in a country like Egypt.

The urge to write started when daddy got sick with stage 3 pancreatic cancer. The urge to read started when daddy passed away. I was living in Dubai. The tragedy forced my family to return to Egypt, my supposed home.

The cultural shock was massive. It was hard adapting to the pollution, the incessant car horns, and a purely judgmental society, which doesn’t welcome anyone veering off the stereotype. It’s been 20 years now since I came back, so has anything changed? I’ve been through two revolutions. Presidents ousted and presidents elected. Did things get any better?

I decided not to ask myself this question and instead throw my mad jumble of passion and fear into writing. I had a setback for some years when I started dental school; I had tried to fit in, by hiding what I really loved because it was looked down on and considered silly. To write stories is to be silly.

It took me another 4 years to start writing again after graduation. I attended a writing class in Cairo, and for once I didn’t feel like an alien.

I let the words flow, and got to know my muse. She was wild, unkempt in her ways and even a bit sly.

She got carried away sometimes trespassing into restricted zones. I had to keep her in check, every once in a while. I had a young adult manuscript ready. I asked my creative writing instructor to provide feedback and edit. She agreed to do it for a fee, which was fair enough, and after weeks of  being milked dry, and spending hundreds of  Egyptian pounds, I was told that my work was rubbish and not worth wasting time on.

My writer friends call me Rose, friends I got to know through winning the “MAKAN AWARD” local writing contest in Egypt. Roses are a symbol of love, and sensuality, but also a reminder of change. A bud blooms beautifully, only to lose its petals and shrivel into the earth. Its scent meanders through memory like the sweet surmise of a soliloquy spoken in the darkest of silences.

Today after years of struggling with life’s duties and heart’s desires, I proudly host my own book club in Cairo.

I’ve managed to publish more short stories online and a short story collection is on the way.

Roses are my companions. I buy a bouquet every week, to grace the ornate vase on my vintage writing desk, also adorned with painted roses. I jot down ideas in floral notebooks, and seek inspiration from a Kashmiri floral tapestry hung on my sky-blue walls. I can’t have a private garden here in Cairo, but only I can control my present and my future. 

I must travel long to find my true self and true voice, but it’s worth every tear-stained moment, and every crippling bend in the road.