Boys in Baghdad
Boys in Baghdad. Photo by Chatriwala.

I tried to write Sabah and Lamia’s story but nothing worked. I tried to imagine what it was like in their home in Baghdad but I could not conjure up sounds or smells or faces or places. I tapped into my imagination but found nothing there that was remotely Iraqi. And why would there be? I am Malaysian Chinese.

So back to the drawing board. Back to transcribing the interview. Close my eyes. Listen to their voices. Off to the library. Borrow (almost) every book on Iraq. Google Map Baqubah, Baghdad, Amman – satellite view, map view, photos.

Arnold Zable, writer and story teller, said that good story telling (both fiction and creative non-fiction) is about imagining. If the writer is immersed in the story, he or she will be able to bring the reader along. Imagining is sensual – see, feel, hear, taste, touch, then recreate the scene in prose.

My fast food approach to writing – quick and expedient – failed miserably. My inner landscape needs more work. Imagining is like cooking up a good stew, you really need to take care to brown the meat in batches – don’t overcrowd the pan, take time to sweat the chopped veggies over low heat, add the spices and fry till fragrant, pour in the stock and slowly simmer till the meat falls off the bone, the sauce is thick and rich, and the smell of dinner wafts from the kitchen to the dining room to the lounge and eventually fills the whole house.