Weaving Life Jackets with Omneya Shohayeb

When Omneya Shohayeb put pen to paper, writing down her what was to become her first published book, she did not know that she was starting a story of her own similar to the collection of short stories that occupied the pages in her book The Life Jackets. Sarted as a blog by the same name reaching readers from 72 countries, The Life Jackets is surely a great female success story.

The clever title of the book might be the first thing which draws the prospect reader’s attention, The Life Jackets being an allegory for people who help us in times of need. But what keep the reader interested are the simple yet powerful stories which are told in Omneya’s descriptive words in a way that makes the book extremely memorable to say the least. We sat down with Omneya to talk about her stories, her book and her Life Jackets.


Describing your support system of family and friends as life jackets is very interesting, where did the expression come from?

The origin is mentioned in the first story. The idea came when a friend offered an optimistic alternative to the ending of a classic children’s story, changing it so that no one drowns since they all have life jackets. I realized the importance of positive thinking and how that in reality a life jacket can be a person, event or alternative way of thinking. Later, another friend helped me brainstorm and we came up with “The Life Jackets”.


In the preface, you’ve mentioned your family and friends as some of your own life jackets. Were some of the characters in your book based on them?

The book is a literary work of fiction, all characters and events are mostly of my imagination. However, most of the book is inspired by real events, people and most importantly emotions.


Being an Egyptian who writes in English must be difficult. Where you ever discouraged by the fact that English books don’t usually sell as much as Arabic ones in Egypt?

Living in Ontario, where the primary language of communication is English; an English book was the natural way to go. However I am grateful to my parents for providing me with an education that allows me to be comfortable expressing myself in a language that is so widely read in the world. Having said that, I believe that writing is so much deeper than the language it is printed in, very much like music. We see classic works translated in many languages and read by millions worldwide.


Your book was published in Canada. As a young Egyptian female this must have been challenging. What was the experience like? And what are some of the difficulties you had to face?

I think your work overcomes most of the challenges on your behalf. Finding an appropriate publisher was definitely a tough task, however during my first meeting with Daisy May Publishing, they believed in my writing, the genre that I presented and in the cultural diversity of my stories. They were very supportive throughout the process and still are till this day. I am very proud that today my book is part of the instruction material for an English language Course at Mohawk College (ranked #1 college in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area) and I have been invited as a guest speaker at student classes at Mohawk.


The events going on in Egypt since January 25th have been an emotional roller coaster. Do you think this affects the creative process for writers (or artists in general)? If so, does it affect it for the better or worse?

I think intense times bring out the artists, thinkers and lovers in us, be they personal, political, social or otherwise.


Any advice for aspiring writers?

My Indian friend from Los Angeles told me when I first started writing, “Write and people will read!” That is my advice to any writer. Start now.


Can Egyptian readers find your book in stores here?

The book is currently in bookstores in Ontario, Canada and on Amazon.ca. They can also order it through the website www.thelifejackets.ca. However, it is very important to be that it is made available in Egypt and I am currently undergoing negotiating for a distribution deal in Egypt.

Readers can also access my fiction writing on “The Life Jackets” Blog: www.thelifejackets.wordpress.com


Do you know what women want?

Women want to be inspired! Women are the most unique and intriguing beings. They combine the extremes of femininity and power, each unique in her own inner and outer beauty. However, I think that what all women have in common is that they want to be inspired and positively motivated.

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