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Lang Leav, Morgan Motson, Noura Al Noman and Peter Lerangis take part in book forum


The creation of setting, characters and plot in children and young adult fiction was the topic under discussion at a book forum titled ‘Gain control over the interest of young readers’ that was held on the second day of Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF). Sharing their thoughts at the forum were four of the world’s most popular writers in the field; Lang Leav, Morgan Motson, Noura Al Noman and Peter Lerangis, with the special guests forming part of the fair’s Cultural Activities programme.

Noura Al Noman’s first novel, Ajwan, was published in 2012 and won the Best Young Adult Book Award of the Etisalat Children’s Books Award in 2013. She described how she took up writing because she was unable to find young adult science fiction in Arabic for her daughter to read and because she wanted to reach out to young people who were not engaged with what was going on in this part of the world.

“I took up writing because I realised that young people weren’t that concerned about the news of what was happening in our region. I wanted to write characters that they could identify with but who could also reflect the issues of today, so I set my world in another galaxy but one that was similar to our world. My character in Ajwan is a refugee, but she’s an interstellar refugee,” she said

Peter Lerangis’s work includes the Seven Wonders series, all five books of which made The New York Times Best Seller list for Children’s Books. He has also written novels based on film screenplays, including The Sixth Sense, Sleepy Hollow and Beauty and the Beast. He took the opportunity at the forum to discuss how his characters evolve throughout the writing process.

“You have your outline for your novel and begin to populate it with characters and that’s when everything falls apart. That’s because your story can’t exist without characters – the plot cannot come to life if you don’t have real people and these people are not necessarily going to obey you. The problem is that the character develops a voice, you end up liking that voice and then the character refuses to go where you want them to,” he said.

Morgan Matson’s first novel, Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, published in 2010, was named an American Library Association Top Ten Best Books for Young Readers, was shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Book Prize, and was designated as a Publishers Weekly ‘Flying Start’ Book. She described how feedback from her readers was important to her and even leads to her amending her work in subsequent editions.

“There’s an American chain called Dairy Queen and they do this thing called the ‘Blizzard’ which is a really, really thick milk shake. I made the mistake of saying that one of the characters took a ‘sip’ of a Blizzard. I started to get multiple emails about it every day, with people saying, ‘you can’t sip a Blizzard’ you have to take a bite of a Blizzard!’ I got so much reader mail about this one thing that we went back and changed it – I thought I can’t keep hearing about this Blizzard for the rest of my life!” she said.

A New Zealand citizen who spent the first years of her life in a refugee camp, Lang Leav is an international bestselling author with 1.8 million followers on Twitter. She is the winner of a Qantas Spirit of Youth Award and the coveted Churchill Fellowship. With her books a constant presence in bestseller charts in bookstores worldwide, she explained how the process of writing became demystified to her .

“I come from a poetry background and my biggest challenge when writing my first novel was changing it from a long, rambling emotionally-driven piece into an actual structured story that you could follow. It was quite a steep learning curve in terms of drama and plot. But I find that the process is a bit like The Matrix – once you’ve written a novel it’s almost like you can see code!” she said.

The four-author discussion panel was just one involving renowned global authors at SIBF 2017. Themed ‘A World in My Book,’ this year’s edition of the world’s third largest book fair features 393 guests from 48 countries taking part in more than 2,600 events SIBF 2017 continues at Expo Centre Sharjah until November 11.