For many years, I have wanted to write this book to leave my legacy for my children as this story is largely based on my life. There are stories in the novel that are entirely true whereas others are fictionalized.
When I traveled to Syria as a Durham student in 1992, I knew very little about the country. Many have asked me how I had the gall to jump on a plane and travel to a country where I did not even have a hotel to arrive at. My answer was that I always had a desire for wanderlust and luckily I had some experience as I was not a novice to the Arabian Peninsula. I had worked in Yemen, also a conservative Islamic country, as a junior staff member in the British Embassy operating the large radio machinery, but there, even though I learned much about the Yemeni language and culture, I solely socialized with expatriates and their families.
My level of planning for Syria was rudimentary at that time as the internet search engines did not exist and I only knew of one professor who had been there. I carried a travel guide book like a Bible as it was my sole fount of knowledge. It was in Syria where I wore my first hijab, an Islamic female head covering, not because I had to but rather I was keen to blend in with my Syrian friends. Another tradition, which I was aware of before I travelled to Syria, was the renown of the warmth and generosity which Arabs extend to visitors which is unparalleled in the world. I had not had the opportunity to accept such a welcome in Yemen although I had heard accounts of it from other expatriates. In Syria, from the onset, I was overwhelmed by their welcome.
The longer I stayed in Damascus and especially when I started working for Dr. Andrew Rathmell, as his Arabic translator and assistant researcher, the more I understood of Syria’s tumultuous and violent history. At the time, Hafez al-Assad, the President of Syria since 1971, was at the height of his autocratic power and the country was in a state of relative calm since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. His vast security apparatus was evident on every street corner whether army, police or civilian informants. My travel guide dedicated an entire page to the various types of mukhabarat, secret police, present in the country but it also reassuringly wrote that Syria was a “safe” country for travelers. Not so obvious was the fear, paranoia and suppression which his people lived under.
My love for Syria has never been far from my thoughts and when the unrest in Syria began in 2011, my determination to start writing intensified. I was distraught and appalled by the suffering of the people and by the destruction of its historical sites in Aleppo, Palmyra, Bosra, Homs, Damascus and elsewhere. I know that many will not have the opportunity to see the sights I saw and meet the people I met because of the ongoing conflict but I hope that readers can enjoy the cities, landscapes and culture within my story.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day at the Decatur Book Festival during the Labor Day Weekend. It was great to meet members of the Atlanta Writers Club, people interested in my book and participants in other booths. I received wonderful reactions to my book and grateful to have made some sales as well as passing out my business card. Thank you to Atlanta Writers Club for the opportunity to participate in the Decatur Book Festival.
One friend asked me "Why did you choose the title you have?"
Firstly, I chose Gazelle because it's a symbolic creature used often in Arabic literature dating back to pre-Islamic times. Also the female protagonist, Elizabeth, is much like a gazelle who faces dangers and fears, some seen and some unforeseen, in a country very different from her own and uses her wits to survive there against the odds.
Another question that I received asked whether there will be a sequel. I do intend to write a second book which will take place in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Elizabeth will be a newly recruited MI6 operator, working as an executive PA to the British CEO of a Dubai shipping company which has dealings with Iran during the 1990s.
She encounters familiar adversaries who stand in her way as she pursues intelligence leads and threaten her life and the lives of others.
Also, I'm frequently asked if the story is true. I would say that it is 70% true. There are parts that are entirely true and others that are fictionalised.