Maitha Al Khayat: My hobbies allow me to become insane from the insane world of parenting

Thank  you to accepting  our  interview request.Could you introduce yourself to use?Where do you  life?Which kind of books are reading?Which kind of  musics are listening?

My name is Maitha Al Khayat.  I’m an Emirati mum, writer and illustrator.  I’m very delighted to be interviewed in a Turkish magazine so thank you for this opportunity.  I come from the United Arab Emirates and I have 5 children.  I was a passionate reader since I was a child, reading mostly classics like Alice in Wonderland and fantasy stories like The Wild Swans.  When I became an adult, I still read all kinds of fiction from romance to fantasy and from historical to thrillers.  It’s funny you are asking what kind of songs do I listen to, for you might be surprised to know that when I work I HAVE to listen to Turkish songs; especially from Tarkan and Berkay.  The energy in the songs help unleash my creative juices.  For relaxation I really enjoy listening to Sami Yusuf and Maher Zain. 

How  and  when did  you  begin to draw and write?

I loved drawing since I was a child.  Any book I read I would always redraw it in my own way and show it to my siblings, cousins and neighbour friends, who really enjoyed my art.  I only officially began writing in 2008, wow ten years ago, I really can’t believe how time passes by.  The reason I wanted to write was because I felt my children needed to ready about books about the UAE culture, which were rare at that time.  I also wanted to write books that had some humour in it because coming from the desert, our culture and traditions are very strict and sometimes harsh for our children.  I wanted them to learn our traditions in a subtle and engaging way.  The reason I started to draw some of my books was because I didn’t find artists that understood some of my crazy ideas.  

3Your childhood times past  in UK and US. You are also  Muslim and Arab.You lived in Western and Eastern culture.Where you see yourself between these different culture?

I was lucky to travel with the family to the UK and US when my father was completing his masters and Phd degrees.  There in the west I learned to love books and story time, especially when my father planted the seed of storytelling in my heart since I was a baby.  I struggled at first with the western language and adjusting to school and culture.  Making friends was hard for me and so was school.  My teacher kept sending me to the library where I found my own world and made friends with The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seus and The BFG by Roald Dahl.  

When we had to go back to my country, I had to adjust back to our own culture, but the hardest thing for me was that the culture of reading was not that popular at that time.  I struggled to find the right books in Arabic that are fun and engaging like the western books.  So I continued to read in English until I became a mother.  

How did the living  between different cultures affect your art(writing,drawing)?

I think I would not have been able to write in a certain style if I have not had the chance to experience two different cultures.  Books in the west are not reserved and are free and imaginative which we lacked in the society that I was brought up in.  Storytelling was more verbal and livelier in my country than it was in books, because I think mainly is that our dialect is not as the classical Arabic found in books.  Sometimes people say I have crazy ideas or bold topics but I only write what I feel I would have enjoyed as a child.  I really loved fantasy and humerous books and thats what I like to offer in my stories.  Sometimes people encourage me to write about death, war or divorce but I don’t find myself writing dramatic books.  I’d rather write stories that would allow the child to go on an imaginative adventure and laugh each time they read my book.  

Could you give some information about the children literature in Arabic world?Is there anybody who you follow  and consider important his/her  works?

At first when I began to write for the Arabic children, I did not know many Arabic writers!  But then I was lucky to discover fabulous books by Fatima Sharafoudine from Lebanon, and Taghreed Al Najjar from Jordan.  They have been in the Arabic children’s book industry years before I started and they are award winning authors.  Children’s Literature in the Arab world has really boomed over the last 8 years especially when there have been many governmental literary initiatives that emerged in the United Arab Emirates to support the love of reading and producing high quality children’s books in the Arabian gulf and peninsula.   The Zayed book award and Etisalat Children’s Award are only a few of the greatest recognizing entities to acknowledge great children’s stories and high quality children’s illustrations in Arabic books.   In addition there are other awards that support reading such as the Reading Challenge that has been launched nearly three years ago by H.H Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoom to award young readers aiming to ignite the love of reading among Arab students across the Arab World and develop Arabic language skills. I’m also a board member at the UAE Board of Books to Young readers, a non-profitable organization that promotes the love of reading and giving a chance to young readers who do not get the chance to have books.  

You are always attending national or internatiol books fair,workshop etc. Could you  share with us  a  memory and observation  you think it is important and unforgettable

Yes indeed I have attended and joined in many reading sessions, performing live drawing, and most of all teach children and youth how fun it is to be a writer of any kind whether writing books, cartoons, movies and even video games.  There are many unforgettable moments like the first time I launched my book My Own Special Way in Arabic at a bookfair and I also celebrated selling translation rights, which placed my name on the map internationally.  I’m also very excited that it has been translated into Turkish as well.  One memorable moment was also receiving the award for my book “Turn Off the Lights” at the Publisher’s Association in Sharjah 2015 for best book for young ages.  But what makes the experience unforgettable is the ability to enlighten children.  The wonder and awe in their eyes when you tell them a story that will stay with them forever. 

 How  is your  writing and drawing process?How  do you  deal with  them as wife and  mother? how  your family’s effect  during writing and drawing process  ?

I have different processes for both writing and drawing skills. When I’m writing I don’t decide when and where to write.  When the inspiration happens it happens anytime and I have to either record the idea in a special notebook which I call the SEED BOOK which I nearly carry everywhere with me in my handbag.  I jot down the ideas there and then when I have time later on, I prefer sitting in a cafe and write the plot of the story.  It takes me about a week to get the whole story down.  I leave it afterwards and come back to it after a couple of weeks as an editor and chop away unnecessary sentences or incidents.  Sometimes when I’m writing a longer story like a chapter book, I sit on my desk and wait for the characters in my head to wake up.  It’s really hard sometimes to call them so I have to do a few warm exercises like shuffle through my playlist or scribble other things randomly unrelated to the story.  

As an artist I am more disciplined because the text and story are already there, I just have to find a quiet time when my children are at school and dedicate myself to finish one or two spreads before they arrive.  

I feel that the only reason I became an author and illustrator is because I am a mother and wife.  These hobbies allow me to become sane from the insane world of parenting which you really have to be a superhero in this time to be able to bring up your children.  Sometimes this career is hard on my family because I’m a freelancer and deadlines sometimes happen during holidays and weekends.  However, I see their pride in me when a new book is released and love joining my activities at the bookfairs.  it’s a chance for them to skip school as well. 

I only know  you wrote and draw ‘I Love My Father’s Long Beard”  You wrote “İşte bu Benim  Tarzım. I know  all of your books  are very special for you. But what is the specialist book  and  the lovest  book for you? 

I have written about 20 books plus a graded reader series that included more than 120 books to teach children how to read step by step.  It’s very hard for me to choose or decide which is the best of them all because there is always a memory behind each book I have written.  It’s like choosing who is your favourite child.  But I can tell you what are my best-selling books and they are chosen by my fans; When A Camel Craves the Munchies, Mum’s Amazing Socks, The Runaway Louse, Uncle Khalfan’s Sheep, I Love My Mum’s Pretty Veil and Benim Tarzim.  

Finally ,do you have any advice for children,parents  as a mom  and a author?

For children I tell them enjoy your childhood as much as you can and find a book that you like and read read read.   For mummies, I cannot advise them for I am sure lots of people give them advice, all I can say to them is that I know how it feels going through the hardships of motherhood and reading really helped me to overcome some of those tough times.  

As an author, no one can stop you from pursuing your dreams except yourself.  You can be whoever you want and no one can stop you.  

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