SIBF 2020: Whatever your job, you can make writing a career: Authors

Nandini Sircar/Sharjah
Filed on November 5, 2020
Photo by M. Sajjad

Authors reflected on how their "very different careers" have led them to their lives as writers.

Respected writers from around the world gathered virtually for the 39th Sharjah International Book Fair, shedding light on ‘writing as a new career’ in one of the inaugural sessions on Wednesday.

Leading cross-cultural dialogues on SIBF’s online platform, British crime novelist Karen Millie-James and Lebanese writer and director Leena Khouri reflected on how their “very different careers” have led them to their lives as writers.

“The process of writing gets easier with time. You need to learn to work on your craft and overcome writers’ block. You should respect the power of your pen and platform, be it a short story, a novel or anything else,” said James, who has a corporate background.

Writing a book was never part of James’ initial plans. But what started as a hobby in her spare time away from the office has now become an exciting part of her life.

Sharing some advice to budding writers, she said: “I always feel that when you are writing, write about what you know. I did European law. My favourite author is John Grisham. He is a lawyer.”

“It’s my family and my professional background that’s given me the characters I think and how I feel about them. Our lives are also shaped by events in our childhood. That plays an important role, too.”

Plotting techniques

Sharing some plotting techniques, James highlighted the idea of taking a “character-first perspective.”

“People write in different ways. I let my characters run with the plot and let them dictate me how I should write my book. I feel ‘characterisation’ is very important. That’s because characters change like we do.

“Someone starts out very well but something happens in their life to change them. Events shape your life and events shape characters.”

Khouri added that writing also takes a lot of research. “You need to know your characters, the environment, themes and the philosophy behind what you are going to write. You can’t say I know enough. You have to delve into adequate research.”

As she discussed how she took up creative writing and turned it into a full-time career, the Lebanese writer and director said: “My main domain is theatre. When I started directing, I realised that the script of the director is far more powerful than the actors. So, the need for a good playwright and better scripts pushed me into writing.”

Khouri’s journey as an author started with the many ideas she had. “Then, I found women who had been suffering for varied reasons. I started conducting interviews with them. I would sit and listen to them for long...This was followed by writing down their experiences in the form of a play which eventually became successful.”

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