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Jafar Al Oqaili
Some people like to describe Egyptian novelist Ahmed Mourad as a ‘commercially successful’ writer, and the bestselling author does not seem to be bothered by that as long as he is able to write award-winning novels that are adapted to the screen.
Ahmed Mourad, whose debut novel Vertigo shot to fame as soon as it hit bookstores in 2007, does not distance himself from his readers and writes new novels whenever he has the opportunity to do so. At the 36th edition of the Sharjah International Book fair (SIBF), he seemed to dedicate all of his time to meet his readers, signing his novels for them, and meeting their requests of taking photos with him. He was doing that with a smile on his face as if he wanted to say that the creative author’s place is there; among their readers, and that his good relations with his readers was not coincidental, but was the result of a long road of persistence, perseverance and dedication to doing the best, in addition to the be in the reader’s imagination.
Published by Dar Merit in Cairo, Vertigo was published in English by Bloomsbury, in Italian by Marsilio and in French by Groupe Flammarion. It was also adapted to a TV series that was broadcasted in Ramadan 2012, and won the Mediterranean Culture Award in Italy in 2013.
Mourad’s debut novel was celebrated by readers just as his other novels, the last of which in 2017 was The Deer Hunting Season, which was published by Dar El Shorouk in Cairo like all of his novels except Vertigo.
Mourad does not see a significant relation between the author’s age and their creativity. He argues that sometimes the debut novel of a young writer does a paradigm shift in the field of literature, while other writers who are older than him might write 20 novels that do not make a difference. According to Mourad, born in 1978, the secret recipe that enabled him to achieve the success is all about experience and talent – experience can be the result of reading only, not a product of age and other stereotypes: “The most important thing is to be able to captivate readers with a fascinating narrative flow, not bore them.”
The first edition of Vertigo was sold out in less than two months, and its author considered that an exceptional case, preferring to handle his second novel Diamond Dust, published in 2010, as if it were his first. Mourad admits that Vertigo succeeded without much effort, and its success bore heavily on his future works: “How can I keep climbing and I know that eventually there will be a peak. My journey could also lead me to an abyss, which could result in a fatal fall!”
Bestsellers are like a double-edged sword; motivational and destructive. The author is passing a test, a rodeo mounted on an uncontrollable bucking bull. He either holds onto it or remains vigilant, cautious and alert, or he gets arrogant, lets his guard down and gets bucked off with the first unexpected movement; he writes weak titles that will be discarded immediately.
Ahmed Mourad published six novels in 10 years, that is, one every two years. If it was up to him, none of his drafts would have reached publishers because he keeps revising and modifying his manuscripts. At one point however, he becomes obliged to hand the draft to the publisher in accordance with the agreed timetable and deadline. He notes that he is haunted by a sense of insecurity and that is why he does not spare any efforts to averting the weak aspects and elements in his written titles, if he is given the opportunity, especially as a scriptwriter. He prefers to write the screen adaptations for his titles, and he did that in the Blue Elephant and Diamond Dust.
Mourad does not hesitate to remark that in each novel. He uses a different linguistic approach, which is more interesting and engaging on the one hand, and closer to the reader on the other, given that he is fully aware of the role of language as one of the most important factors of success.
On the organised systematic efforts to ‘break the paddles’ of creative writers and belittle them by those would like to monopolise the publishing industry and control it, Ahmed Mourad says that there are two types of drivers, one who looks forward and drive their way through to their objective, and one who engages on looking left and right, which distracts them and deviates them from reaching their objective. He underscores that he follows the logic of the first driver: “I do not like to engage with someone who thinks that I represent a threat to them,” he says, highlighting that he pays attention to constructive critique, not negative ones. At the same time, he refuses the idea of competition on the literary arena, because each literary genre, and each literary style has its readers and fans.
Answering a question about the reaction of his first publisher to the success of Vertigo, Mourad says that Muhammad Hashim, Director of Dar Merit, would not have had published the novel had he not expected it to succeed, commending his role in helping young writers, and his intestinal fortitude to publish their titles, taking the risk of profit and loss, commercially speaking.
Mourad expresses his happiness about his experience with Dar El Shorouk, the respected publishing house that has been engaged in the book industry for half a century. He does not distinguish himself from other writers, and all of his ‘requests’ are the same requests of any other author, namely; the book’s first edition number of copies, the number of copies of forthcoming editions, the importance of pricing the books in a way that increases their circulation, decent media coverage and ensuring availability of the books in the market.
On the translation of Vertigo into three languages and Diamond Dust into Italian – published by Marsilio – and later to German, Mourad emphasises that he is delighted that his novels are translated into international languages, because he writes for the world, not only Arab readers. He notes that translation plays a vital role in enhancing intercultural dialogue, and decreasing misconceptions and stereotypical perceptions of the Western world about the Arab region. He considers it as an essential element of the ‘soft power’ that helps promote the region’s presence in the global arena.
Mourad describes the Sharjah International Book Fair as the ‘Eid’ that brings together all active actors of the publishing industry; the publisher, author and reader, allowing them to engage with each other. It also transforms reading from being a hobby, into a noble habit, so that the question will not be to read or not to read, but what to read next!
Between Vertigo and The Deer Hunting Season, Ahmed Mourad published three novels; The Blue Elephant in 2012, which was shortlisted for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF), also known as the Arabic Booker Prize. As for his other novels, “1919” was published in 2014 and “The Land of God” was published in 2016.
Apart from being a novelist, Mourad works in the field of photography and graphic design. He studies at the High Institute of Cinema in Cairo, and graduated in 2001. His graduation projects “Alhaaumon”, “And on the Seventh Day”, and “The Three Papers” won many short film awards at film festivals across the UK, France and Ukraine.