The Witch Doctor of Umm Suqeim

Team TMN grab coffee and cake with journalist, Craig Hawes, as he gives us the low-down on his newly published book, The Witch Doctor of Umm Suqeim

Tell us a little about yourself…

I’m a journalist who works for a men’s lifestyle magazine here in the UAE called alpha. I’ve been living and working in Dubai on and off (but mostly on) since 2003 and I’ve also written drama for BBC Radio and a short film screenplay, which was produced by TwoFour54 in Abu Dhabi.

What did you do before moving to the UAE?

I freelanced for various magazines and newspapers in my native Wales and London, but I did other jobs too to pay the rent: hospital portering, stacking shelves in supermarkets, working in a clothes shop. All excruciatingly dull at the time but I don’t regret any of it.

When did you first consider writing a book?

When I left Dubai in 2007. I spent three years intermittently working on the stories, then I came back to the UAE in 2010 with the book pretty much finished.

The book is a collection of short stories… how did the idea come about?

Quite simply, I wasn’t sure whether I’d be any good at writing fiction and was reluctant to spend a year on a novel that might never get published. I was testing the water, then ended up winning a few short story prizes and the collection grew from there. That said, I adore short stories and I read at least one collection a month.

Are the stories based on true events and experiences or pure fiction?

It’s all fiction, although it was inevitable that bits of my own life would get tangled up in the mix too. There are one or two stories that are very loosely based on newspaper stories and apocryphal expat tales. I’ll leave the readers to work out which is which.

Looking back, is there anything that you would have done differently?

No, by the time the book was published I think I’d done all I could to make it the best it could be. I’m ready for a new challenge now.

So with your first book now published, what’s next on your agenda?

BBC radio in the UK aired a play of mine last year and I enjoyed writing the script so much I’d like to get another one commissioned as soon as possible. I’ll also start on another book before the end of the year, but first I have a lot of reading to catch up on.

For others who wish to follow in your footsteps, how easy is the process of finding a publisher?

It’s hard. Getting an agent is essential if you’re sending your book to a huge publisher like Penguin or HarperCollins, but smaller independent publishers are more likely to read and consider your manuscript. The UAE isn’t the best place to start out, though, due to a dearth of book publishers. Hopefully things will improve in the coming years, but there’s no stopping writers sending their work overseas.

Do you have any tips for aspiring fiction writers?

Don’t bother trying to become a writer unless it’s a compulsion. To have completed a book and then get a publishing deal gives you a wonderful sense of achievement, especially as you’ll probably get rejected a lot at the beginning, but the financial rewards are pretty scant unless you’re a bestselling author like JK Rowling or John Grisham. Do it for the love, not the money. Read a lot and write a lot. The ratio for me is 50/50. Oh, and always have a book in your bag or pocket.

Where is your book available to purchase?

The Witch Doctor of Umm Suqeim will be available in all major UK bookstores and online on Details of Dubai stockists are still to be confirmed. There will also be an eBook version coming soon.

How can people contact you for queries relating to this book launch?

They can contact Claire Hougez, the marketing manager at Parthian Books:

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