Code Name: Butterfly

code name butterfly

I’m very excited to announce the publication of a wonderful book I was lucky enough to edit earlier this year. Code Name: Butterfly is a short YA novel by Palestinian author Ahlam Bsharat, beautifully rendered into English by award-winning translator Nancy N. Roberts, and it’s out now from the usual online shops… and your local bookshop if you ask them to order it!

It was such a pleasure to work with Nancy, Ahlam and Archna, the senior editor at new UK-based independent publishing house Neem Tree Press, that I’ve wangled myself a new part-time freelance job helping with their social media publicity. So you’ll hear me talk about this gorgeous book a lot! The twitter account is now live: @NeemTreePress. Please follow us and do get in touch if you review children’s books and would like a review copy.

Butterfly is a feisty little novel that gives readers a moving introduction to life in the West Bank and the Israel/Palestine conflict. Intended as a YA/teenage read, I personally think it will be just as gripping for adult readers. Told from the perspective of ‘Butterfly’, a Palestinian school girl in her early teens, beset with best friend troubles, family tensions and all the confusions of puberty, not to mention a looming and confusing political environment, it’s a moving coming of age story that also deals with conflict in a more universal way.

For an independent publisher, word of mouth makes a world of difference, so if you read it and like it, please leave an online review to encourage others to pick up this funny and charming little book!

More information…

An excerpt at Words Without Borders, translated by Nashwa Gowanlock, before the translator, author and publisher settled on the name Code Name: Butterfly (for the Arabic ismee al-Harakee faraasha/اسمي الحركي فراشة), which I think packs a better punch, capturing the ironic clash of teenage idealism and increasingly sinister political engagement

“Full of humour, brave and honest, Code Name: Butterfly is by far the best young adult novel from the Arab world I’ve ever read.” Susanne Abou Ghaida

A lovely review of the Arabic edition, ismee al-Harakee faraasha. This review is of the old Arabic edition, but it has been republished in a new design by Neem Tree Press with the same stunning cover as the English edition (layout  by Mariam Abbas and book design by Ghalia Abbas).




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Tajdeed: Contemporary Arabic Stories in Translation

The Common 11

Long awaited, the Arabic short story special of The Common journal is now out!

“The issue was co-edited by Jennifer Acker and Jordanian short-story writer Hisham Bustani, with an eye not just to bringing new Arabic literature into translation, but into joyous, sharp translation — with work by some of the best emerging Arabic-English translators. This collection is not for Arabists, but for English-language fictionophiles.” (ArabLit blog)

The Common issue 11, entitled Tajdeed: Contemporary Arabic Fiction, features the work of 31 contributors from 15 Middle Eastern countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Translated for contemporary English-speaking audiences, the issue presents a diverse group of emerging and established literary stars.

The anthology is available to buy at You can also read several of the short stories online, including the one I translated – the surreal Minouche by Moroccan author Anis Arrafai – but I’d urge you to buy a copy of this stunning publication. One to treasure.

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A look back at 2015

2015 was, in short, too busy for blogging!

Samar yazbek The crossing coverLate winter and early spring had me busy editing and revising my two book translations, both of which came out in July. The positive reviews of both Fadi Zaghmout’s The Bride of Amman and Samar Yazbek’s The Crossing (which I co-translated with Nashwa Gowanlock) have been amazing and truly deserved for these insightful books. I have to say those frantic weeks of responding to queries and checking the proofs were challenging, not least because my youngest son still wasn’t sleeping properly and frankly I was exhausted. But I still very much enjoyed working with the brilliant editors at both publishing houses, which represented the polar extremes of the industry – a major international publishing conglomerate and a tiny Hong Kong-based indie press.

Elle et les autresApril was busy: I gave my first Arabic literary translation workshop for Advanced Masters in Arabic students at Edinburgh University. Also that month, I was honoured to appear on a panel at the London Book Fair Children’s Hub, where we discussed inclusive and diverse books we had translated for Outside In World. It was wonderful to have been involved in the charity’s excellent Reading the Way initiative where they are actively promoting international books, many of which were recently highlighted in this lovely Guardian article: Disability inclusive books that should be available in English. answer me leilaAnd it put me in touch with Syrian author and illustrator Nadine Kaadan, with whom I have enjoyed collaborating on another story since. Fingers crossed 2016 will see one or more of her books published in English!

I started work in the spring on my biggest ever project, a 300+ page non-fiction Russian-language tome about historical comparative linguistics which I have been translating together with Ian Appleby. The focus on Turkic languages has been very educational, but in fact there is barely a language group across Europe and Central Asia that isn’t mentioned in some way, so it’s been a lot of fun for a linguist geek like me.

LIfe is ElsewhereI vowed to myself in summer that I wouldn’t get distracted and take on anything else. Naturally I broke this promise when offered various small pieces of work I couldn’t resist: essays by Samar Yazbek which have been published in The Guardian and in the anthology Life is Elsewhere: Journeys Through World Literature (Pushkin Press/English PEN), a delightful short story by Anis Arafai for The Common, a chapter of The Daughter of Suslov by Habib Abdulrab Sarori (Banipal 52) and a bilingual Arabic-German interview in the Goethe Institut’s Art and Thought/Fikrun wa Fann magazine.

fadi with brian

Autumn saw me swept off my feet organising the biggest event I have ever taken on (OK, maybe not bigger than my own wedding!): the UK launch tour of The Bride of Amman. Fadi and I had a whale of a time visiting 6 towns and cities and speaking at bookshops, an arts cafe, Oxford University and Eton College, with a behind-the-scenes tour of both Eton’s and the British Library’s Arabic manuscript collections thrown in for good measure. Sincere thanks to Brian Whitaker, who joined us in London and Brighton, and to all our hosts throughout the week. Fadi was much more organised than me afterwards and shared a great write-up on his blog, The Arab Observer. Such a joy to finally meet an author I’d been communicating with online for over a year and it was truly a meeting of minds.

garasTowards the end of the year, I did a little interpreting with GARAS (Gloucestershire Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers) – a charity that is doing some excellent work in our county. I’m very pleased that our town will be welcoming several Syrian families over the next few months and I hope they find a warm welcome here.

horsesAnd just when I thought life was calming down a bit, two irresistible German book projects came along at once. I’ve been working on a German crime thriller, which has indeed been a thrill to translate, and as soon as that’s sent off I’ll be starting on a German book for Penguin Random House: Ulrich Raulff’s The Horses’ Last Century, a fascinating look at the cultural history of the horse. I’m especially pleased with the second one (Penguin!) as it came about after a bit of schmoozing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, proving that it was not just idle fun and was completely justified to take most of the week off to attend every single Germany-themed event – and there were a lot this year!

The end of the year brought two more happy surprises. Firstly, I was shortlisted for the extremely generous Arts Foundation Literary Translation Fellowship, along with three amazing and talented translators whose work I admire – Deborah Smith, Rosalind Harvey and Sophie Hughes – making it a great honour to be mentioned alongside them.

translate in the cityAnd secondly, I was offered what is pretty much my dream job (aside from translating books): leading a workshop about translating books. In July 2016, I will be the Arabic literary translation tutor on the annual Translate in the City summer school at City University, London. I’ve attended the same course for Russian and have also twice participated in the BCLT summer school, which follows a similar format. The fact that I’ve done this kind of summer school 3 times is testament to how inspiring, nurturing and enjoyable it is to spend an intensive 5 days in the classroom with like-minded translators of the same language combination, so I hope we get a good turnout of (aspiring) Arabic literary translators in July.

Well, that was a rather me-centred take on 2015. To round off, I thought I’d mention my top 3 translated reads and top 3 tunes of the year, so you go away with something useful and not just me blathering on about myself. Enjoy – and happy new year!

Best TRANSLATED fiction I read in 2015 (not necessarily published then):

(There weren’t as many translated titles in my ‘read’ pile as I expected, which is perhaps because some friends and I started a book club in 2015 and I tried not to dominate our list with translated titles. I’m sure in 2016 I’ll sneak a few more in!)

And my top tunes for 2015:

Real Love – Clean Bandit & Jess Glynne

Ain’t Nobody (Loves Me Better) – Felix Jaehn ft. Jasmine Thompson

Easy Love – Sigala




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The Bride of Amman – upcoming UK tour!

Fadi Zaghmout and I are delighted to announce the dates for our launch events in 5 UK cities in November – including perhaps the first Arabic book launch in a gay bookshop? Hope you can join us!

thebrideofamman_v6-01The Bride of Amman: Sexual freedoms and body rights in the Middle East

Join Fadi Zaghmout as he discusses civil rights and gender politics in the Arab world and reads from his novel, The Bride of Amman, out now in English translation.

With Brian Whitaker,  former Middle East correspondent for The Guardian and author of Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East (London and Brighton)


The Suffolk Anthology bookshop, Cheltenham – 7pm, Mon 9 November (FB event here)

The Middle East Centre, St. Anthony’s College, Oxford – 5pm, Tuesday 10 November (FB event)

The Arts House Café, Bristol – 7pm, Wed 11 November (FB event)

Gay’s the Word bookshop, London, with Brian Whitaker – 7pm, Thurs 12 November (FB event)

Waterstones, Brighton, with Brian Whitaker – 7.30pm, Fri 13 November (FB event)

Thank you to all our hosts, and thank you everyone for helping to spread the word!

Fadi's #bookface #selfie - smallAnd maybe you’ll want to share your own #TheBrideofAmman #bookface #selfie?

Twitter: @FadiZaghmout & #bookface gallery on Pinterest

More about The Bride of Amman:

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The Crossing – review in the Guardian

“The Crossing is not simply reportage or political analysis. It bears comparison with George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia as a work of literature. Yazbek is a superb narrator who knows how to pace her text, craft dialogue and convey a universal sense of grief; this is how she crosses the line from journalism to high literary art. 
Although it is probably not be what she intended, it may be that Samar Yazbek has written one of the first political classics of the 21st century.”
Wonderful words by Andrew Hussey in The Observer about Samar Yazbek’s new book The Crossing, out on 2 July in translation by me and Nashwa Gowanlock. The paper also ran an extract and there was another piece about Samar and her remarkable new book in The Sunday Times. I hope all this great coverage will help bring The Crossing the broad readership it deserves and bring much greater awareness of the plight of Syrians.
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2 books out in July!

thebrideofamman_v6-01Can’t resist a quick celebratory post as I’ve just submitted the manuscript I’ve been working on for the past few months, my first novel translation – The Bride of Amman, by Jordanian author, blogger and social activist Fadi Zaghmout.

I have to say I’m rather proud of it: not so much my words, but just the fact that it’s a pretty awesome ball-busting, taboo-busting, gender-bending feminist blockbuster of a book. Available from July in an online bookshop near you, and meanwhile you can read an extract at Words without Borders and an interview with Fadi, the author, over at My Kali magazine (it’s worth a click for the eyebrows animated gif).

Samar yazbek The crossing coverBut I can’t celebrate for long as it’s back to the grindstone with another big deadline looming… Also out in July is The Crossing, the new book by Syrian journalist and novelist Samar Yazbek, which Nashwa Gowanlock and I are currently working on for Rider Books. A political, sometimes lyrical, tour of the war-torn northern provinces of Syria, it’s a harrowing and moving text, essential reading if you want to understand what’s going on in this tragic war.

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Autumn update

Too much has happened since August for me to be able to keep up!

Some of the most enjoyable work I’ve undertaken recently has been translating a number of Arabic children’s picture books as part of an exciting project called ‘Reading the Way: Inclusive Books from Around the World’ run by the charity Outside in World. I can’t wait to shout about these books when the focus groups have met to discuss them and promote them to UK publishers. Fingers crossed the English translation rights will be snapped up by some discerning publishers!

It has also been an exciting time for collaborations, particularly with Nashwa Gowanlock, a superb translator who like me was a recipient of the BCLT Arabic mentorship for literary translation.

Together we worked on a gripping new play by Syrian playwright Mudar al Haggi, When Farah Cries, for an anthology funded by the European Cultural Foundation. We also collaborated on an extract of a wonderful Palestinian young adult novel My nom de guerre is Butterfly by Ahlam Bisharat (for a special YA edition of Words Without Borders), and several lovely short stories about food for a mouth-watering international anthology.

birka-228x228The textbook I edited earlier in the year is finally out and I’m looking forward to teaching from it with a new student with whom I’m starting an intensive colloquial Levantine course this week. Al-Birka: Introduction to Arabic letters and sounds can be purchased from Amazon or direct from the publisher Albujayra.

And also as part of my constant evangelising about Arabic language and literature, I recently wrote this article for the British Council blog series about world languages: Arabic – more accessible than you think. Enjoy and please do leave a comment. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

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