For those who don’t know, you’ve worked in theatre, television, film, dance and opera. Would you mind talking a little about your creative journey?Mahfouz
My creative journey has been very long and winding like most are I suppose, but two things were absolutely central to it—libraries and free performance spaces. I used to read 8 books from the library over a weekend as a kid, it was my absolute obsession and education as a writer, though I didn’t do it with any intention to write. It was at the Southbank Centre, at a free poetry show in 2008 that I saw what was possible in performing your own writing to an audience and that set me off on the journey I’m still on now. I never expected to be a writer and so was open to every writing opportunity that came about, whatever medium it happened to be in. Later, when I’d gone full-time as a writer, the financial necessity to say yes to everything is really what drove the breadth of formats I was working in, which I appreciate now but was pretty stressful at the time!
How do you prepare for live performances, after months, even years, of creating these works? Do you still get nervous?Mahfouz
When I first started performing, in 2008, I was so petrified my hands used to shake and no matter how steady my voice, the paper I was reading from would reveal all! That lasted for about 8 months. And I got through it mostly by being excited, as I still couldn’t believe such events existed and I was being a part of them. After that, it became much less scary and I don’t really get nervous anymore unless it is a new piece of work or a very different setting to ones I’m used to. It becomes almost the opposite task—I have to work myself into reading older work with a nervous energy otherwise it is difficult to sustain the focus and motivation on stage.
You provided an essay for Nikesh Shukla’s The Good Immigrant, as well as editing The Things I Would Tell You. When we spoke to Nikesh earlier this year he said “It was incredibly important that the book not be a political manifesto”—was this a guiding factor for you when compiling and editing The Things I Would Tell You?Mahfouz
Yes definitely, as always with Nikesh, that is a great way of putting it. Though it is a strange engagement, because it can’t help but be a political book because part of my urgency in creating it was as a rebuke to the highly politicised and narrow representations of female Muslim identity in Britain. At the same time, I encouraged the writers to submit whatever they wanted thematically and stylistically, there was no intention of it being a book explicitly and exclusively covering political or social issues. In hindsight, to me, this makes it even more of a political statement and one I am really happy is out there to be read.
In a previous interview you stated “I have playwrighting as my means of documentation.”—how important is this documenting to you? Is it as a form of preservation, or more so, to do with highlighting a situation, scene or condition?Mahfouz
Documenting is probably the most political act an individual can do with minimum resources and status. It is very important to me and ranks far above my desire to create a ‘perfect’ piece of work. This is partly why my output is high—my need to document experiences, situations, questions of the time we are living in from perspectives that otherwise could be overlooked or outright excluded, means that I am usually far from precious about showing work that I know is not technically as good as it could be and often has not even been edited. I’m aware this is untenable to some writers—and readers!—and this process varies from project to project and differs between mediums, but having written for 10 years now, I have accepted it as the way that excites me creatively, most of the time.
What does a typical day (if there is such a thing) look like for you?Mahfouz
There is literally no such thing! My son wakes me up around 6am every morning and gives me a hug, which is the only routine I have and it is definitely the best one in the world!
Would you say that you’re creatively satisfied?Mahfouz
At the moment, most definitely. I’m working on a feature film, a TV show, an opera and a few theatre projects with the most amazing minds. I still can’t believe it most days.
Finally, what are you reading at the moment? Who would you recommend?Mahfouz
Hold Tight by Jeffrey Boakye is giving me complete life. I just went to a seminar with Kerry Hudson, Bernadine Evaristo, Paul McVeigh, Juno Dawson, Monique Roffey and Nick Makoha, so I’ve been loving their books. Plus all the Out-Spoken Press poets always, obviously.
Read more from Issue No. 14 or share on Facebook and Twitter.