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Book lovers at the Sharjah International Book Fair. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Sharjah: From walking around for months to drawing inspiration from their personal lives, leading authors have revealed the secrets that make them write so fluidly, during the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF).

Speaking to a global audience through ‘Sharjah Reads’, the virtual platform of SIBF, best-selling English novelist Kate Mosse said: “Though I do research in the libraries and archives, my most inspiring research comes from my feet! I walk around in a place that inspires me and dream about the book for months. I create the architecture of the novel in my mind while walking. It is like building a house.”

After months of walking, dreaming, and imagining, the story starts to take shape. “As soon as I am confident about the setting, place and the type of story I want to tell, I start writing and hope for the characters to join me ... “Though I work hard to research the dates and facts from history books and the archives, the characters only come alive when I start to imagine them living their lives, wearing clothes of the time, eating the food of the time, and so on. Characters must be placed in their time by historical research as well and with attitudes appropriate to their era.”

Mosse’s new novel City of Tears, the sequel to the best-selling The Burning Chambers, will be published in January 2021.

Go social

Meanwhile, international best-selling author, poet and social media sensation Lang Leav had a singular piece of advice for aspiring writers: Don’t wait for publishers to discover your work. Put it out on social media and let the world recognise your talent.

Speaking on Sharjah Reads, Leav said: “Social media is such a fantastic platform to get your work seen and also to get feedback. I would advise every aspiring writer to use it well. We see so many stars being made overnight by leveraging social media these days.”

The author of seven collections of poetry and two novels who first found fame by publishing her poems on social media, spoke about her virtual support base that includes international celebrities like Drew Barrymore and Lili Reinhart. “Social media is an interesting testing ground for me. I usually put out my new work there for feedback and it has never failed me yet. However, each platform has its own personality; you have to figure out which one is best suited for your work.”

Of course, coffee helps too …

Leav has few rules while writing. “I write only in the mornings, for a few hours, but I try to make them count. Writing poetry is a free-flowing process for me, but while working on a novel I try to put in as many days as possible. Coffee and silence are my only requirements!”

Keep it simple

In another Sharjah Reads session, Mishel Hamad, a Kuwaiti author and youth icon who began writing at age 14, relies on a rather underappreciated, but effective, strategy — simplicity. “We are naturally predisposed to liking words that are easy, sentences that we can read and understand quickly. Also, words from your heart reaches other hearts.”

Reach deep down

In the same virtual talk, Pakistani novelist Awais Khan Awais was asked about how he selects the words for the titles of his books and he revealed it is a manifestation of his inner feelings sometimes. “’In the Company of Strangers’ was born as I mixed in certain circles in upper-class Pakistan. On the surface we were friends, but deep down I felt that I was, in fact, in the company of strangers. It was in this context I found inspiration for both the book and its title.”

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Book lover at the Sharjah International Book Fair. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Organised by Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), SIBF 2020 concludes on November 14. Being held under the theme, ‘The World Reads from Sharjah’, the 39th edition has adopted a fully digital format to host its cultural programme of 64 unique events, which are being streamed on SBA’s virtual platform over the 11 days of the fair. People can register for upcoming discussions at sharjahreads.com.

Exemption from fees

On Sunday, His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, issued a new directive to fully exempt every Lebanese publisher exhibiting at SIBF 2020 from paying stand rental fees.

Valued at Dh640,000, these exemptions that follow his directive, are in line with Sharjah’s ongoing efforts to support and promote Lebanese publishing houses and libraries, which were directly or indirectly impacted by the devastating explosion that hit the Port of Beirut, earlier in August.

SBA chairman Ahmad Al Ameri said: “This new directive by His Highness The Ruler of Sharjah is a reinforcement of the emirate’s cultural and humanitarian message. We are dedicated to standing beside our brothers and sisters in their time of need. In fact, having offered similar privileges to publishers from Syria, Egypt and other nations in SIBF’s previous editions, this is a continuation of our tradition to support publishers in the Arab world who Sharjah views as the true guardians of Arabic language, literature and culture.”

Al Ameri added: “Within a day of announcing the AED 10 million grant for publishers as ordered by His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Al Qasimi, to boost the efforts of both regional and international publishers to overcome the challenges posed by Covid-19, this directive by His Highness is a re-emphasis that Sharjah is truly an incubator and a champion for book makers from around the world,” Al Ameri added.

Top books

This year a special category of books under ‘Award Winners and Best-sellers’ has been brought to SIBF 2020 by top English-language publishers from the US, UK and Canada.

At Hall No. 5 at Expo Centre Sharjah, home of SIBF, visitors can find this year’s Booker Prize shortlisted Burnt Sugar by Dubai-based Avni Joshi and last year’s Booker winner The Testament by Margaret Atwood, to many works by 1988 Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz — Sugar Street, Palace of desire, Palace Wall, Miramar and The Journey of Ibn Fattouma.

Two-time Booker winner Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up and Wolf Hall are displayed prominently, while The Parisian by Isabella Hammad, who won the 2019 O Henry Prize and was nominated for the 2019 National Book Award, had to be replaced more than once on the shelves as copies were picked up very quickly.

American-Libyan author Hisham Matar’s In the Country of Men which was nominated for the 2006 Booker Prize, appeared to be equally popular with the fair goers. Orhan Pamuk, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006, is represented by Snow, A Strangeness in My Mind, Silent House, Istanbul: Memories and the City, as well as his hugely popular My Name is Red.

One novel which is flying off the shelves is De Niro’s Game, the debut novel by Lebanese-Canadian writer Rawi Hage, which won a pile of awards in 2006 including the Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction, the McAuslan First Book Prize, and the International Dublin Literary Award.

The perennial best-seller, however, remains Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. It is proving to be especially popular among a new generation of readers who have been coming to the fair to discover his unique magical realism style of writing.

At SIBF 2020, strict precautionary measures to ensure the safety of visitors to the fair is being observed in line with ͵羺 government’s efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19. Those interested in buying their favourite titles must pre-book to visit at registration.sibf.com.