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In a virtual discussion at the 39th edition of the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), Wasini Al A’raj – Algeria’s most eminent novelist, short story writer, translator and academic, discussed the novel and its structure, and talked of how he supports and motivates young writers.

“I celebrate unique talents, and I have encouraged many writers who have become acclaimed authors,” said the author in a discussion with journalist Mohammed Abu Obaid, via the virtual ‘Sharjah Reads’ global platform at SIBF 2020.

“I cannot ask anyone to stop writing; on the contrary, I give them the opportunity to develop themselves. I do not intend to place obstacles on their path, but I speak frankly and honestly to them about their capability, and I never lie to them about it,” said the multiple-award-winning writer who holds a PhD in Literature and is also a university professor.

“My first work of fiction was the novel, ‘Facts from the Sufferings of a Man who Ventured toward the Sea’, and I will never forget the influence of notable cultural personalities like Antun Maqdisi and Hanna Mina who inspired me to become a novelist. They celebrated and appreciated my works and encouraged me. Through their actions, I learnt the importance of supporting talented writers while also being honest and strict with them,” he added.

Wasini Al A’raj, winner of the Sheikh Zayed Book Award for Literature 2007 for his novel, The Prince and the Passage of the Iron Doors, also spoke about his life-long experience in writing novels, as well as his close bond with the city of Damascus.

Al A’raj remarked that as a literary art form, the novel is dependent on imagination and creativity to give it the best storytelling potential. He emphasised that supporting talented novelists and igniting their creativity, positively impacts the novel’s structure and enhances its value.

“Recently, I participated in a workshop held in Sharjah to mentor young writers on crafting a novel. It is crucial to hold such workshops because they provide talented writers with the opportunity to write systematically and in an organised manner. At the same time, it is an opportunity to discover promising novelists. Becoming an accomplished novelist is a matter of both talent and persistence. During my career, I have learnt that you can pinpoint talented writers through the visions they incorporate into the text,” he added.

“In my experience of heading the judging panels of several notable Arabic novel awards, I have seen that many entries submitted as ‘novels’ are, in fact, reflections. This is why I believe that many writers do not have a clear vision of writing a novel which is a long and complicated piece of writing with a definitive story structure that plots out an interesting narrative,” he added.

Discussing the influence of the city of Damascus on his creativity, Al Ara’j said: “I do not get tired of speaking about Damascus because it is always in my heart. I travelled to Syria when I began writing short stories, spending a lot of time there, and the city will always remain special to me.”