It’s been just over a year since I last wrote a blog post. I’ve been putting off writing this for almost as long. Not because I didn’t want to be writing it, but because I lost my words; because I used them all up. At least, that’s what it felt like.
Exactly a year ago, I signed a book deal with Amazon Publishing’s imprint Little A to write The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes. It was my dream come true, even before I actively realised that it was my dream.
In hindsight, and without sounding overly dramatic, it feels like my whole life was leading up to this; was in preparation for it. The life I lived, the people I met, all the choices I made and didn’t make. All the practice I had as a journalist at expressing my opinion on all sorts of topics; the telling of stories both mine and those of other people.
I was born in Egypt and I’ve lived in London more or less since I was eight-years old. I never considered myself particularly ‘Arab’, or Muslim and never really considered those factors as having an impact on my view or on people’s views of me.
But the older I became and the more I was forced to confront the expectations and stereotypes placed on me – those I placed on myself, those my culture placed on me and those that came from the wider world – the more I realised that whether or not those were categories I necessarily felt like I fitted into, I did fit into them, all the same.
Confronted with this reality, and with the increasingly reductive messaging about Arab, Muslim women, the idea to write a book about *my* experiences as an Egyptian woman growing up in the UK became a compulsion that grew stronger every day, until finally I couldn’t bring myself to think about, care about or work on anything other than that.
And so for the last 10 months I pretty much locked myself away in my house and in my head to examine every aspect of my life, interrogating the intersection where race, culture and universal experience meet – and at times, clash.
I read everything I could find (I’ll do a separate blog post outlining some of the books I read as part of my wider research), spoke to tons of Middle Eastern women of a variety of ages who live in a variety of countries and even interviewed my parents – on what I would have once considered awkward, unspeakable topics.
Over 12 chapters, the book explores everything from representation, expectations of what a ‘good Arab girl’ looks like, sounds and acts like, and the effects of this on things like sex and relationships. I also explore how it feels to live as an “invisible” immigrant in a Post-Brexit, Post Trump’s America world.
I’ve received a lot of questions on Instagram about how I managed to focus so wholeheartedly on the book, how I managed to get it done without procrastinating. Honestly? It was breaking that focus – to see friends, to eat, to get out of the house and out of my head – that I found more difficult. It was returning to myself after submitting the final draft of the book, almost two months ago now, that has proved the hardest part.
Because in forcing myself to analyse the motivations and factors – both invisible and not – that have controlled my life thus far, I kind of became a different person; I grew into a new version of myself. Once I had seen, I couldn’t un-see. I can’t un-see.
The lessons I learned while writing, while reading, while almost actually *becoming* the book over the last few months are ones that have changed me in all sorts of ways. From for the first time in my life feeling comfortable to wear my curly hair in its natural state, to the way I relate and engage with others – and to myself – to what I even want from my life and from the world, everything has been transformed. I’ve been trying to figure out how to re-enter the world as this new person.
That’s why I haven’t been blogging, that’s what I’ve been doing: becoming.
So I’m baaaack! Or, at least as back as a new version of myself can be. I’m so excited for what this year will bring and all the growing and becoming still to do, and of course to release this book! I’ll be sharing the journey on here and and on my socials @alyamooro, as well as picking up where I left off, writing about books and food and my thoughts on a variety of topics.
I’m still figuring out what this new version of myself would look like when it comes to my blog and my work, so if there’s anything in particular you would like to read about then do let me know in the comments or on my social media channels.
To read more about The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes –out September 2019 – check out the announcement of the book on The Bookseller, here.
The Greater Freedom was also selected by Bustle as one of 7 feminist non-fiction books to keep an eye out for this year. Check that out, and the great company it keeps, here.