The truth is, Trapped in Iran was not planned in any great detail. As professional – and impressive – as it may sound to say Samieh and I sat down together, debated about where to begin, what to focus on and how the story should unfold, in reality, how the book evolved was far more simplistic: I suggested Samieh just write her story and we would take it from there. We agreed Samieh would send me every 20,000 words and I would rewrite them as English is Samieh’s second language and like any non-native English speaker, it would need to be rewritten to be published in English.
Samieh and Rojha had escaped Iran and returned to Ireland in October 2014 and it was a month later that Samieh had decided to write her story. Although we never agreed a set timeframe in which to have the book completed, there was a sense of urgency as Samieh was looking for employment and once she found work her time would be limited. Likewise, I was heading into my final year of college and had a thesis and other assessment pieces to focus on.
Samieh decided to start the story at what was the most obvious point for her, which was meeting the man that had controlled her life and tormented her mind for the previous six years. There was a whole back story to this though – what it was that led Samieh into this man’s arms in the first place – and that was crucial for readers to empathise with Samieh and what she freely admits was a poor relationship choice.
Samieh dived into the writing with gusto; she clearly had a lot to say, which is not surprising as women’s voices are stifled in Iran. Now she had an outlet to express her feelings, she was a woman on a mission. I was excited about receiving the first 20,000 words and was anxious to get stuck in. Somewhat surprised at her speed, by the start of December I received an email from Samieh entitled ‘My story’. It was all systems go!
Our first difficulty reared its head early on and with hindsight is probably something I should have anticipated. Although Samieh had lived in Ireland since 1995, her earlier life was in Iran and my knowledge of her native country was practically non-existent. I’d seen the 2007 film Persepolis that was set during the Iranian revolution, but that is where my knowledge on homeland ended.
This proved a big problem because so much of what Samieh described about her culture and customs was alien to me. I was constantly asking her to explain things in more detail, which was a frustrating situation for both of us; it slowed Samieh down in her writing and I felt a burden calling her all the time.
As we don’t live near each other, most of the additional information I needed was received over the phone, in email or text messages. The beeping of a Viber message became a familiar and, oddly, comforting sound to both of us. It signalled we were moving forward.
In the lead-up to Christmas, I took some time off work to stay with Samieh. It proved a good move as we were able to spur each other on and during this time we made significant progress. Day after day, and often well into the night, we typed away on laptops balanced on knees, drinking tea and trying to comprehend the enormity of what we were doing. We were writing about a serious topic, but we made sure we had fun, too. I don’t think we could have gone the distance if we had taken it seriously all of the time.
Once the backdrop to the story had been set, Samieh moved into the heart of the story – her time trapped in Iran with her daughter. Reliving this traumatic period in her life brought up a lot of painful memories and took its toll. Samieh had trouble sleeping. When she did manage to sleep, she was tortured by nightmares. I suggested we take a break, but Samieh was eager to press on.
By the middle of January 2015, Samieh had finished her story. We were both exhausted and bordering on burnout, but the end was in sight. With every 10,000 words I completed of the manuscript, I felt my spirits lift. There were days I felt I couldn’t face writing, but it was rare that a day would pass and I did not write anything.
As Samieh and I had been friends for almost 10 years by the time we were writing the book, we knew each other well and could be honest with each other. At times I challenged Samieh on certain content she had written…. Was it necessary? Did it take away from the story? I was under pressure and I did not want to spend time rewriting something I felt may be insignificant. At times Samieh agreed, other times she was persistent and in these cases, the content was always included.
By March, the manuscript was completed. The rewriting had taken four months (although in reality it seemed a lot longer). I say completed, but that was only the first draft. I sent it back to Samieh and she went through it all again, adding in other information that she remembered. This was then sent back to me, I added in the new parts and we repeated the process again. By the third draft, we were both satisfied with the story. There are no words to describe the relief and sense of achievement we both felt. There were tears of joy and it was a time for celebration, but we were not quite finished yet. We had a book, now we had to find a publisher….
(c) Kaylene Petersen
About Trapped in Iran
In 2010, Samieh Hezari made a terrible mistake. She flew from her adopted home of Ireland to her birthplace in Iran so her 14-month-old daughter, Rojha, could be introduced to the child s father.
When the violent and unstable father refused to allow his daughter to leave and demanded that Samieh renew their relationship, a two-week holiday became a desperate five-year battle to get her daughter out of Iran. If Samieh could not do so before Rojha turned seven, the father could take sole custody forever. The father s harassment and threats intensified, eventually resulting in an allegation of adultery that was punishable by stoning, but Samieh a single mother trapped in a country she saw as restricting the freedom and future of her daughter never gave up, gaining inspiration from other Iranian women facing similar situations.
As both the trial for adultery and her daughter s seventh birthday loomed the Irish government refused to get involved, leaving Samieh to attempt multiple illegal escapes in an unforgettable, epic journey to freedom. Trapped in Iran is the harrowing and emotionally gripping story of how a mother defied a man and a country to win freedom for her daughter.