Karim Chedid is currently writing a historical fiction novel tracing the route of a family from Haifa, Palestine to Lebanon, and ending in the emigration of the queer grandson to London. He also runs an Instagram account @LevantineHistories where he archives oral histories from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and the diaspora, and writes poetry. Karim is an alumnus of The Future is Back – a writing workshop for emerging LGBTQ writers led by writer Olumide Popoola.
I was at a dinner at a relative’s house in Tufnell Park, talking about a story I remember from my late paternal grandmother. The story included memories of hers from Wadi el Nisnas and HadarHa Carmel, a valley and adjacent hillside neighbourhood, in 1940s Haifa, Palestine. The mundane details I described of everyday life in a neighbourhood soon to be ruptured by a violent ethnic cleansing of thousands of people, including my grandparents, captured the imagination of the relative. The response she had was: ‘have you written this down?’.
I hadn’t. I had only dabbled with writing in a Creative Writing course during my undergraduate degree in Beirut, but after a decade of a busy career in financial services, I was itching for a creative outlet. In fact, I was itching to write down these stories. I didn’t know where to begin. First I bought a notebook to organise my thoughts. Then, the process of writing by hand was far too slow for my thousand-thoughts-per-minute mind, and I trained myself to write on a laptop. I bought a personal laptop to have as a ‘digital space’ for my writing separate to my work computer. Then I hit a roadblock. Survival things like laundry, house cleaning, cooking, seemed to always take priority over my writing. And here’s the thing, as with any other activity, writing needs practice. The less I wrote, the more difficult it became to write. The more difficult it became to write, the more impossible it became to find the time to do it. And the cycle continued.
Then came the pandemic. I was in a position of privilege in that I kept my job, only had a (very demanding and attention seeking) cat to look after at home, and a sudden burst of free time on weekends free of socialising. I realised I spent a lot more time thinking about writing than I did doing it. I also found myself creating an Instagram account after a social media hiatus that lasted seven years. The world of Instagram – despite all its negatives – introduced me to a number of like-minded (hello echo chamber!) writers, digital creators, archivists, and historians doing work I’ve always wanted to be part of. I found a digital community passionate about oral histories from Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and beyond. I started writing online. I wrote one post at a time… one story at a time. The post word limit helped give me structure. The posts gave me deadlines. The non-fiction writing flexed my writing muscle in fiction. The more I wrote non-fiction, the more I wrote fiction.
While this was going on, a link was shared on WhatsApp from Pride of Arabia – a group of LGBTQ Arab diaspora in London – advertising an opportunity on The Future is Back. I had to submit a short piece of fiction – 1000 words – and a statement of purpose. 1000 words were probably all I had written by that point, mustered together from various bits and bobs of prose. I submitted on the day of the deadline – actually the evening – and forgot about it. Two weeks later, I got in!
The workshop was everything I had hoped for. It helped with having a community of writers, benefiting from group workshops of each others’ writings, deadlines, exchange of ideas, and discussing an anti-racist commitment to writing and what this means for each of our stories. For me that opened my eyes that I don’t need to over-explain foods, traditions, and cultural phenomena from my region just because I’m writing in English for an audience spanning many cultures. The universality is in the detail.
In fact since the course finished we have continued with writing meet-ups to keep the writing discipline going. I started the draft of this post on one. A year into my writing journey, the writer’s block, difficulty to find time to write, anxiety before hitting submit, horror reading back something I have written I no longer agree with, and social media burnout that many other writers and creators speak about have become all too familiar. But the satisfaction I feel when I read over a post, a scene, or a poem that someone else connects with, or that captured a moment or a feeling in time, is something I will never take for granted.
Published 23 June 2021