Leila Slimani, 39, was born in Rabat, Morocco. At 17 she moved to Paris to study political science. Her first novel, Adèle, was published in 2014, and in 2016 she was awarded France’s most prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, for her second novel, The Perfect Nanny. In 2017 President Macron appointed her as his personal representative for the promotion of the French language and culture. She lives in Paris with her husband, Antoine, a banker, and their two children.
I wake up with my children at 7.30. The best moment of my day is when my husband takes them to school. I listen to the radio while asking myself when I will smoke my first cigarette of the day.
At 11, I lock myself in my office and I begin to write. If I really want to work, I have to be completely in my own world. I want to feel like a little bird in a nest, secure, like nothing can happen to me, so I close the doors and window and turn off my phone.
Across Europe there is a great debate about colonization. [For her latest novel, The Country of Others] I needed to go back to the story of my grandparents to understand my identity and to explain how I am French but at the same time Moroccan, a Muslim woman who is integrated in all Western values. Through their story I want to show that you can be at the same time a colonizer and colonized, dominant and dominated. It’s possible to live together even with contradictions.
My inspiration comes from the outside, so I always have my notebook with me. Sometimes I make my children stay longer at the park because I’m listening to a conversation. They are always saying, “Mummy is a spy.” I try to explain that a writer is a kind of spy, but also a thief and a liar. They have a very bad opinion of me.
Sometimes when I’m writing, nothing comes. I wait, I smoke, I look at my computer, I hate myself. I eat chips and sometimes drink a glass of wine, I hate myself even more. I call my husband, telling him that my life is over and I will never write again. But when I manage to write I think everything is wonderful.
I listen to the radio while asking myself when I will smoke my first cigarette of the day.
My family are obsessed with food. When we are having lunch we are speaking about dinner, at dinner we are speaking about the next day’s lunch.
I’m not on social media anymore and I feel relieved. Instagram breaks my confidence in human beings. Nothing on there is true. I like secrets and mystery, I don’t want to know what brand of shoes people I admire are buying or what they eat for breakfast.
I am still working to change the law that forbids sexuality outside marriage in Morocco with 490 Collective [a women’s freedom movement], but meeting with politicians has been difficult in lockdown. With the #MeToo movement and feminism spreading all over the world, even in Morocco people understand that you can’t be a democratic country if women don’t have the same rights as men.
Instagram breaks my confidence in human beings.
After dinner there is a difficult and very long moment when you have to get the children to bed. Then my husband and I watch a movie. I love 1950s Hollywood, but I prefer to go out.
With the lockdown we completely forgot what that was like. I hated the 9pm curfew in Paris. You’re just a little bit drunk and starting to really talk, but then it’s cut short. I don’t like being told to go home and I don’t have a bedtime. I can stay awake very late. My children are next to me and they are safe. For me, the night is all about freedom.
I think maybe children understand better than adults what it means to write stories. They are totally able to live in fiction. My daughter tells stories about herself that obviously never happened. I told her it’s OK to lie. If you only live in the real world, you’re going to be so bored.
Leila Slimani’s In the Country of Others is out now from Penguin