Chance encounter leads to debut novel on growing up Arab in Australia

Sara El Sayed was all set to study journalism when she attended a QUT open day just before finishing high school. There she met internationally acclaimed poet and QUT Professor Sarah Holland Batt and a new destiny was forged.

“Sarah spoke to me about the creative writing degree, and I was immediately drawn to it. She later became one of my lecturers and I cannot recommend the course highly enough,” said Sara who this week published her debut novel, Muddy People: A Memoir (Black Inc Books), completed during her Master of Fine Arts (Creative Writing).

The book, which is already attracting critical acclaim, is drawn from Sara’s own life and tells the story of growing up in Australia within an Egyptian Muslim family. Described as humorous and heart-warming, it takes the reader on a journey into the life of Soos as she negotiates cultural difference in school and beyond.

Sara moved to Brisbane from Egypt with her family at the age of seven and grew up in the Redlands area. The challenges she faced finding her identity in a majority white community have inspired her writing, including her contributions to anthologies including Growing Up African in Australia and Arab, Australian, Other, but her experience as a QUT student gave her the confidence to express that voice.

“I would not have the skills to be a writer without studying creative writing at QUT. It has opened up so many opportunities for me. I learned so much from my lecturers, all of whom were award-winning writers. And, through my Master of Fine Arts, I’ve been lucky enough to have been mentored by my supervisor Rohan Wilson,” she said.

“Studying creative writing can be tough – that much was clear from the very first unit I did as an undergraduate. It’s all about being vulnerable with your work, growing a thick skin, and accepting critique. These are all learned skills.”

A finalist in the 2020 Queensland Premier’s Young Writer’s and Publisher’s Award, Sara completed her post-graduate study earlier this year and now works with QUT’s student recruitment team. She is also using a Queensland Writers Fellowship to write her next book, The Blind Pussy Cat.

Muddy People: A Memoir is out now.

Main photo: Sara El Sayed – Bec Blooms Photography

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