How writers research and interpret history at Sharjah International Book Fair
Two eminent Arabic authors and one of Serbia’s most respected writers told the audience at the Sharjah International Book Fair, being held at the Expo Centre Sharjah, that history can dictate their work but not stifle their imagination. Award winning poet, author and publisher Vladislav Bajac, whose books have been translated into 25 languages said history and creativity can often complement each other without distorting the truth.
“When I wrote my first book which had an enormous influence on my life at the time. I combined fact with fiction and made ‘faction’. The subject I used as a source became almost a biography, so the use of my imagination was minimal. And my last book, published just five days ago is about my own attitude to music, culture, politics and so on. At first I was not sure whether it was a good novel or a bad novel.
“One thing we need to bear in mind when we are writing a novel that covers the history of our own experiences is whether we remember the facts as they really were. The accuracy of our perceived memory can often lead us down a different path.”
Waciny Laredj is an Algerian novelist and Professor at the Sorbonne University in Paris and the Central University of Algeria. For the past ten years he has produced work on the tragedies of the Arab nation, questioning the sacred and static account of its history. He has won several prizes for his work, including the Sheikh Zayed Prize for Literature.
“When I wrote ‘The Prince’s Book’, I read 400 accounts and manuscripts to try to make my research as accurate and full as possible. After some time, I realized that many of these books were not original material, they had copied their content from other books and so then we had copies of copies and there was very little corroboration of what was true and what was apocryphal,” he said.
“People were writing about him as a myth and I wanted to write about him as a character. A writer may take historical events but unless he investigates properly it is not good writing. You must never settle for a superficial source, you have to dig deeper.”
Emirati novelist, Nasser Al-Zahry, said the first lines you ever read in your life can have some of the biggest influences.
“Whatever situation you are in, that print and those words will stay with you. As far as accuracy and quality are concerned, we have a problem with the over-production of novels in GCC countries. And because of the digital opportunities available to everybody now, very often they should not label themselves as ‘novels’ – these are often simply exercises in weak writing.
“The prevalence of digital writing is certainly not beneficial to Arab culture and publishers must take some of the blame.”