Interview with the Lebanese-Australian Teacher and Author: Rawah Arja
New York, USA
Learn more about Rawah in the following Q & A:
MP: How can you introduce Rawah Arja as an author to the reader?
RA: My name is Rawah Arja, and I’m from Sydney, Australia. I am a teacher and youth mentor as well as a writer for young adults. As crazy as it sounds, I never liked reading and writing as a teenager and would much rather spend my time hanging from trees or digging up imaginary treasures in my backyard. I often found books boring and had to fight to keep my eyes open. The words on the page were too small, and worst of all, there were no pictures! Who reads books with no pictures?
I first discovered my love for writing when my father, who is now in his seventies, told me a story about how he grew up too poor for his family to afford electricity and so used the petrol station lights in nearby villages in Lebanon to catch up on his reading. His love of books and education helped him escape into the world of books where anything was possible, and the only light he had to worry about was the magic beaming off the pages. That story inspired me to write, and that was the start of my journey as an author.
MP: Can you tell us your writing story? When did you start writing?
RA: Imagine living in a world where mirrors didn’t exist. You never saw yourself and you never knew what you looked like. That was me throughout high school as well as university, but in my case, not only was a Muslim woman rare to find in print but people like me were demonised, and our stories were hijacked. I never felt as if I made any connections to books–hence the fact that I hated reading. But during my time in the teaching profession, I realised that the dislike for literature amongst my community was still prevalent and nothing had changed from my time. I noticed it was mostly boys who never read, and so I spent my lunchtimes in libraries trying to find books they would like but found it incredibly difficult, so I decided to write one they’d enjoy. That was the journey into publishing my first debut novel The F Team.
MP: What time of the day do you usually write?
RA: I usually write in the morning when my family are still asleep, or at night when my brothers and sisters and their children have all gone home. As long as it’s quiet, I can write anytime.
MP: The F Team? What does it mean for you? What is the significance of the title?
RA: The significance of the title can only be understood once one has read the book. In a nutshell, The F Team centers around Tariq Nader, leader of ‘The Wolf Pack’ at Punchbowl Boys who has been asked by the new principal to join a football competition with his mates in order to rehabilitate the public image of their school. But there’s a catch—half of the team is made up of high-school boys from Cronulla, also known as enemy territory—and Tariq must compete with their strongest player for the position of captain.
At school, Tariq thinks he has life all figured out until he falls for a new girl called Jamila, who challenges everything he thought he knew. At home, his outspoken ways have brought him into conflict with his family. Now, with complications on all fronts, he has to dig deep to control his anger, and find what it takes to be a leader.
In confronting and often hilarious situations, Tariq’s relationships with his extended Lebanese family and his friends are tested like never before, and he comes to learn that his choices can have serious consequences.
MP: What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
RA: The most difficult scenes for me were the scenes with Tariq’s love interest Jamila. Not going to lie, I struggled to write about romance and feelings and how their relationship should progress. Boys were the last thing on my mind as a teenager, and so I had to have some awkward conversations with my nephews, asking them what they would do to ‘woo’ a girl and how they would get her attention. Let me tell you, I most definitely look at my nephews differently now, knowing what they think about. Boys need to get hobbies!
MP: Where can readers purchase your book?
RA: They can use the link in my social media bios (Instagram/TikTok), or they can google it to try to find the best price!
MP: If you could ask one successful author three questions about their writing, writing process, or books, what would they be?
RA: Why do you write?
How do you come up with your ideas?
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
MP: What is the message through your writing? Why do you write?
RA: I want readers to reach out to people and cultures that are different to their own. Trust me if you know a Lebanese family, go introduce yourself. Either one of two things will happen: you’ll get a free lunch, or you’ll be invited to the next Arab wedding or both!
Ultimately, The F Team was born out of feeling lost, feeling helpless, and worst of all, feeling as though I didn’t matter. I never want anyone to feel like that, let alone teenagers who are at a critical stage in their lives trying to find themselves. I want readers to feel inspired that no matter how hard things get, they have the ability to turn their lives around and make something for themselves even if the whole world is standing in their way. The F Team is for anyone who felt second best, for anyone who was ignored, and most importantly for anyone who wants to make the world a better place.
MP: Any future Publications?
RA: Yep, I have a few more ideas up my sleeve. I am currently working on a new young adult novel about a group of cheeky teenage girls, loosely based on my experiences at school.
MP: What is your advice for new authors?
RA: Don’t give up. Take it all in because one day you’ll see your novel in bookstores, and from a distance a young boy or girl will pick it up and choose you. Someone will always choose you, but you have to choose yourself first. Everything else will follow.