By Mudassir Raja
Nabil Benali – a 45-year-old Algerian expatriate working as a journalist and TV producer in Qatar – recently penned his second novel.
After his first crime novel was published in 2002, Benali took about 15 years to come out with his latest book, a historical novel that has been published digitally and on paper on Amazon. The book, L’Espion d’Alger (A Spy in Algiers) has been written in the French language and won the Jury Prize in the international contest at Les Plumes Francophones.
The novel is set in 1607 Algiers and the plot involves freeing a Christian slave from captivity. The mission wants at all costs to liberate Alexander and take him to Spain. His father, Don Miguel, solicits Mansour, the personal interpreter (turjman) of the Pasha of Algiers, to hasten matters. This is a seemingly straightforward transaction on the surface, but nothing in this city where love and war can’t live without each other can be so simple.
In the words of Yasmina Khadra, a known Algerian writer, the book is “a breathtaking intrigue led with talent and erudition. A pure wonder!”
Nabil took part in Doha International Book Fair, where his historical novel has received a lot of appreciation. Community got a chance to catch up with the author.
Tell us about your writing journey.
I am married and have a son. I have been living and working in Qatar for 10 years as a TV producer. When my son would see me writing, he would ask me what I was writing. I would tell him I am doing a story. About what, he would ask. I said I am doing a story on pirates.
I sent my story to many publishers. They either didn’t answer or refused to publish it. Imagine, one publisher replied to me saying I had to send him an envelope and stamps as he would send me the manuscript back. I was totally [down]. After two years [of effort], I thought I had to give up.
After that, there was a competition by Amazon in France in 2017 summer. My family and friends asked me to send my material to the contest. I did not expect much. But then the organisers called me and asked me to come there as I have won a prize.
This is my second book. The first one was a detective novel in 2002. At that time I was not so mature.
What has inspired you to write novels?
It is something nobody can answer. For example why do you paint, or do anything? You do not know. But what I know is that when I was young, I started reading. When you read, it makes you feel and you want to do the same [for others]. You try to do the same. You imitate somebody. [And in the process, you] find your own way.
I read many detective writings. I read many writers. I was especially inspired by Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese-born French writer. He is very famous. He knows how to tell a story. I try to follow him. If I have to tell a story, I will use the same tools.
What subjects are you interested in as a writer?
I lost many years looking for something useful. There are many books that are not worth the value of the paper they are printed on. Many people have said many things already. Why write another book then?
After many years, I came across the words of Beethoven (Ludwig van Beethoven, a German composer), saying if you want to have success at national level, you have to sing for your country. So I said to myself to stop thinking. I will write about something I know perfectly. I will talk about a North African Muslim who did not know occupation – he is proud of what he is.
I started thinking about writing the story in 2011 and I finished it in 2015. I did a lot of research. You have to check what you are writing. You need to know exactly about the people of that time. What they ate and how they behaved.
This book is a historical novel. I have fictionalised the history. All the kings and the places are there, but my story is not real – it is fiction. It is a novel – you have a story, you have intrigue, you have many characters, and you want to know the end. The story is completely tied into Spanish, English, and French history.
What is the plot of your book?
During those times, there were many pirates in Algeria going to Europe or capturing Christian ships and bringing them to Algeria. All the people caught were turned into slaves. In my plot, a mission from Spain comes to free some Christian slaves. They have to pay money but they find it hard to make the final deal. It is a very complicated story.
Where did you publish and launch you book?
Amazon published the book. I had its launching in Paris in October when I won the prize. It is in French, so the book launching needed to be in France.
How has the response been to your book?
When you publish a book and you do it to be a star, to be famous or to have a lot of money, you are on the wrong path. You have something to share. If it pleases people, it is ok. If it does not, you do not have to be sad. It is an experience. There are many people who try to succeed in art and paintings.
People are buying my book. On my Amazon page, I have reactions. Some will like it and other will not. It is ok. If I get a lot of money from the book, do I stop? No I will not stop. I have to work harder as it does not matter what happens to this book.
What are you planning to do next?
I will continue writing, of course. I do not stop. I never stop. I always take notes and record my voice. I would like to write a story set in the modern times in near future.
How do see your life in Qatar?
Being in Qatar has helped me find time and given me the opportunity to accomplish my projects. This may not have been possible if I were elsewhere. If you get something that you are looking for in a place, you end up liking that place. I found an ideal place in Qatar.
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