Acclaimed writer Sheila Llewellyn, who featured in our third Literary Festival in 2018, talks to Write by the Sea about the background to her latest book Winter in Tabriz, which is published by Hatchette and is available from 24 June 21. It has been selected by the Times Educational Supplement as one of their Summer Books for 2021, Winter in Tabriz : ‘subtle, serious fiction.’
I spent the winter of 1978 in Iran working at Tabriz University, and experienced the last few months of pre-revolutionary Iran first hand. It was there I learned about Iranian dissident writers, poets and journalists who had been arrested, detained, and in some cases, tortured for expressing their criticism of the Shah and his policies. Then when the revolution happened, in 1979, some of the writers who’d stayed on in Iran, thinking things would be better, or had been in exile and came back, found that repression and persecution was much worse under the new Islamic Republic, so they wrote about that too. There will always be dissident writers. Words are their only weapons.
I knew I’d write about Iran someday. In 2012, I was at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry in Queen’s Belfast, doing PhD research, and one of my mentors, the late Professor Ciaran Carson, Director of the Centre, encouraged me to develop my writing about Iranian dissident poets. So I wrote Winter in Tabriz as a fictional account of pre-revolutionary Iran, with various real-life dissidents, including poets, as background characters. It tells the story of four young people living in 1970s Tabriz, during the months immediately prior to the revolution, and the choices they have to make as a result of the ensuing upheaval. The lives of Damian and Anna, both from Oxford University, become enmeshed with two Iranians, Arash, a poet, and his older brother Reza, a student sympathetic to the problems of the dissident writers in Iran, and a would-be photojournalist, interested in capturing the rebellion on the streets. Damian and Arash are involved in a gay relationship. As well as the dissident theme, I was interested in exploring what happens to those who find themselves at odds with the prevailing legal system by virtue of their sexuality, and also the legacy left behind when someone becomes one of ‘the disappeared’ – and how those who love them are left to deal with the emotional turmoil of ‘not knowing’. And woven in among these heavy themes, I hope there is enough of the cultural heritage of Iran, its poetry, its archaeology, its fantastic history, and its people, for readers to enjoy and appreciate its complexity. (Photo credit: Malachi O’Doherty
Read the reviews of Winter in Tabriz here https://www.hachette.co.uk/titles/sheila-llewellyn/winter-in-tabriz/9781473663145/
More about Sheila Llewellyn
Sheila Llewellyn was born in England and now lives in Northern Ireland. She completed a PhD in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast in 2016. She has won the P J O’Connor RTÉ Radio One Drama Award and the Silver Award for the Best Broadcast Radio Drama in the New York International Radio Drama Festival in 2012. She has also been shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize, the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize, and shortlisted twice for the Costa Short Story Award. Her short stories have been published in various anthologies and journals, including :What lies Beneath (The Hilary Mantel International Short Story Prize Anthology); The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women Writers from the North of Ireland; and Irish Pages. In January, 2018, her novel Walking Wounded was published by Sceptre.
‘An expertly imagined novel about war’s long trail of damage’ – Hilary Mantel
‘A beautiful and humane debut novel’ – The Guardian