The Thursday Throng Author Interview with Wafa Tarnowska, Award Winning author of Arabian Nights

This weeks guest on the Thursday Throng is an author who is a Smithsonian Notable Books for Children Award winner from 2010. Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you all to Wafa Tarnowska whose beautifully illustrated book, Arabian Nights, I was privileged to be given a signed copy of – thank you Wafa.

Wafa Tarnowska was born in Lebanon, has lived in Australia, India, Cyprus and Poland, and is now based in London. In her work, Wafa strives to create a valuable bridge between East and West, helping to break down the stereotypical images people have of one another. Wafa is also the author of The Seven Wise Princesses, a retelling for children of the Sufi writer Nizami’s medieval classic Haft Paykar.

Arabian NightsDo you remember being read to as a child? I do and the tales of the Arabian Nights were some of my most favourite stories. I loved the language, the colour and the intensity of the images they created in my mind; as a result I’m always a little nervous when I come to re-read something based on something I read as child, I’m afraid that it won’t live up to my memory and that somehow it will be tarnished forever. I really needn’t have worried with this. The retelling of these stories has a lovely lyrical feel to them, it feels a bit like a spoken lullaby playing with my subconscious and sending me gently to sleep. The pictures I created in my mind as I read were just as vivid as I remembered from childhood. But, this is a book for children and you might feel it has nothing to offer the adult reader, I beg to differ, too often what we read as adults takes us away from the mystery of life and the wonder that we experienced with the world as children, this book offers you a simple way back to that experience.

Arabian Nights is beautifully illustrated by Carole Hénaff, the simple colourful drawings set complement the stories perfectly. If you feel you need an excuse to get this book, buy it to read to your children, your friends children or your nieces and nephews – I’m absolutely certain you’ll fall in love with it, just as I have done.

wafa tarnowskaHi Wafa, My first question is ‘What is One thing that No-One Normally Knows About You?’

That I was married for 26 years to a Polish Count. But never experienced any of the perks because his family was totally disposed during WW2 and had to escape penniless to the UK. It was nice to dream of what could have been. (Linda’s Aside: wow, I never saw that one coming!)

What did the best review you ever had say about you and your work?

My Arabian Nights consistently received 4,5 to 5 star ratings on Amazon and other book websites therefore I am immensely grateful for the readers who have taken time to post these comments. I quote one posted on Amazon

“The stories are wonderfully told, in rich language, never talking down to the young reader, the stories don’t involve any violence but people are turned into animals and stone, etc. with magic. The sensual aspects are present but kept to an age appropriate level. Kings or princess are “with” the princess and then a year later there is a baby, the word “lover” is used, that sort of thing. I enjoyed the authentic flavour of these tales. The art also adds to the authenticity of the book. Done in acrylic paintings, the style reflects the time period using two dimensional figures and a palette of desert colours including sand, turquoise and terracotta with browns and greens. The book itself is beautiful, being overly oversized (picture book format) with quality paper and a cloth covered spine. A lovely addition to any children’s or fairy tale enthusiast’s bookcase. This is a keeper.”

What did the worst review you ever had say about you and your work?

Up to date, I have only read two criticisms of my work: one from a reader who was shocked to read how within the first few pages Shahriyar kills his wife for having been unfaithful to him. She thought that it was inappropriate to include death in a book for children but I happen disagree. I think one should not dilute world literature to please modern day audiences who in any case are regularly subjected to violence, especially through video games.

The second criticism is more justified because it is correct. I said in my introduction that I based my version on a 14th century manuscript of the Arabian Nights found in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. However I have included the story of Aladdin which does not exist in this version because it was added in the early 1700’s by Antoine Galland the first translator of the Nights into French. In fact, there are no Arabic manuscripts of Aladdin and Ali Baba. We included Aladdin because we wanted a well-known story to attract readers and because I love the character of the genie living in the lamp. I remember my grandmother  saying in a frightening voice:” Shabbayk, Labbayk, abdak bayn yadayk” (I am the slave of the lamp and your wish is my command!) for I have always loved the uniquely memorable rhyming words of this sentence.

Who would you like to play you in a film of your life?

Helena Bonham Carter (Linda’s Aside: that is the perfect choice for you Wafa 🙂

What is the single biggest challenge you faced when writing your book?

Lack of time. I have a full-time job in the corporate world and I do my writing on weekends, holidays and evenings.

What has been the best experience you have ever had in your life?

Being a mother to my children Daisy and Stefan has been one of the greatest joys of my life. Seeing them graduate from Oxford University in a ceremony conducted mostly in Latin was probably the happiest day of my life.

Are you jealous of other writers?

No not really, I think the writing sea is large enough for all kinds of fish. I just happen to currently be a little one. (Linda’s Aside: not for too long hopefully!)

Where do you find your inspiration?

In old tales and manuscripts and in art. I love Persian and Indian miniature paintings. I wish I could draw to illustrate my books.

What is the book that you wished you had written?

Alice in Wonderland.

Are there any habits you wish you didn’t have?

Shopping for clothes. the best remark I heard lately was from one of my childhood friends who told me she loves “shopping in her wardrobe”. I wish I could teach myself to shop in my wardrobes rather than on the high street!! (Linda’s Aside: me too 🙁 )

Tea, Coffee, Water, Juice, Wine or Beer … which do you prefer when writing?

Coffee of course. Arabica beans were discovered first in the Yemen. As Arabs, coffee is in our DNA!! (Linda’s Aside: and the coffee is fabulous too)

Where to buy the book and find out more about Wafa

At the moment Wafa Tarnowska is a shy creature online and you won’t find her anywhere but LinkedIn (here: However, I do have high hopes that eventually she will find her niche in the blogging world as she has so many more tales to share.

If you would like to get a copy of Arabian Nights then you can it on Amazon in the UK and on Amazon in the US too.

You can find my reviews of Arabian Nights on Amazon in the US, the UK and on Goodreads too.


Why ‘The Thursday Throng’?

These posts are called The Thursday Throng in honour of the throng that waits eagerly outside the book store when a new author is doing a book signing event or appearance. On this website it takes the form of a ‘Meet the Author‘ online event with some information about our author’s latest book and an interview. If you would like to take part in the Thursday Throng then why not email me to find out more.

If you would like to see all the Authors who have been featured on The Thursday Throng you can click here:

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  1. Thank you Annie, i hope your niece likes the book, please feel free to share her feedback and yours. Wafa’

  2. Gosh, that was quick Annie and I’m really impressed too – it just makes me realise just how powerful interviews like this can be for authors 🙂