WRIT­ING A WORLD IN WHICH NOTH­ING IS NOR­MAL

Ahmed Mourad tells dystopian, Hitch­cock­ian tales. And he’ll be teach­ing bud­ding writ­ers to take a leaf out of his book at this week’s Shar­jah In­ter­na­tional Book Fair, says Saeed Saeed

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE SHARJAH BOOK FAIR -

When it comes to Ahmed Mourad, vis­ual cues are never far away from the writ­ten word.

For nearly a decade, the Egyp­tian writer steadily built a dual ca­reer as an author of thriller nov­els and a screen­writer, pen­ning tele­vi­sion dra­mas and films. When he re­turns to the Shar­jah In­ter­na­tional Book Fair this week­end for a se­ries of work­shops and a panel dis­cus­sion, he’ll have both an ac­claimed film and novel to talk about.

Au­gust saw the re­lease of the film adap­ta­tion to Mourad’s 2010 thriller Tarab Al Mas (Di­a­mond Dust), the script for which he also wrote. The Hitch­cock­ian film stars Egyp­tian A-lis­ters Isra Yaseen and Ez­zat El Alaili, and fol­lows a young phar­ma­cist’s quest to dis­cover the truth be­hind his fa­ther’s mur­der. It did well at the Egyp­tian box of­fice

Mourad’s lat­est novel has also gen­er­ated a stir in the re­gion’s literary scene. Mawsam Sayd Al Gha­zlan (Deer Hunt­ing Sea­son) is set in a name­less city, in a dystopian fu­ture, where per­sonal free­dom has all but van­ished. Se­cret spy planes hover above, in­vis­i­ble, to record the move­ments of cit­i­zens, who have ro­botic do­mes­tic work­ers help­ing them in their daily af­fairs.

Liv­ing amid the gloom is Nadeem, a bi­ol­o­gist whose pop­u­lar­ity and hope­ful in­sights on hu­man ex­is­tence are far re­moved from his ni­hilis­tic, athe­ist views, which in turn are tested when he falls in love with a woman he first sees in a dream days ear­lier.

“It took two years to write,” Mourad said in an in­ter­view with the Egyp­tian press at the of­fi­cial book launch in Cairo in Jan­uary. “What I am try­ing do is not only to make peo­ple think, but to feel all the emo­tions. I like how some of the read­ers dis­cussed the book, ar­gued about some of the con­cepts and even read it in a few hours. That does make the two years of work worth­while.”

True to his style – and maybe a first for the Arab pub­lish­ing in­dus­try – Mourad pub­li­cised the book with a song and mu­sic video. But the bruis­ing ti­tle bal­lad, sung by Hany El Dakkak, and the gothic vi­su­als – fea­tur­ing an enig­matic woman in a red dress and a sullen-look­ing Mourad wan­der­ing dark al­ley­ways – stans alone, and doesn’t di­rectly link to the novel’s con­tent. “To be hon­est, it came from me feel­ing that this novel de­served to be pub­li­cised and that led me think­ing to hav­ing a song cre­ated for the book. I like that idea be­cause songs have the abil­ity to live for­ever,” he ex­plained.

The pop­u­lar­ity of the novel, par­tic­u­larly among young Egyp­tian adults, has re­sulted in Mourad be­ing hailed an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant fig­ure in the Ara­bic literary scene.

Mourad was born in Cairo and stud­ied film­mak­ing. He wrote his first novel, Ver­tigo, in 2007 dur­ing a stint as one of for­mer Egyp­tian leader Hosni Mubarak’s of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­phers.

De­scrib­ing writ­ing as a cre­ative out­let from the stresses of the job, the blood­thirsty tale of mur­der and po­lit­i­cal in­trigue in Ver­tigo was seen as a breath of fresh air in an Egyp­tian literary mar­ket de­void of thriller writ­ers. The

Na­tional, in its re­view of the book, praised the author for its “thrills and spills wor­thy of a good pulp-fic­tion romp.”

The novel was so suc­cess­ful it was trans­lated into English, French and Ital­ian within 12 months of its re­lease, and was adapted into a drama se­ries for the small screen in 2012, with Tu­nisian ac­tress Hend Sabry in a star­ring role.

Where that book ap­pealed to a mass au­di­ence, Mourad turned the heads of the literary estab­lish­ment with 2014’s Al Feel Al Azraq (Blue Ele­phant). The noir-ish tale, set in a psy­chi­atric hospi­tal in Cairo, was short­listed for the In­ter­na­tional Prize for Ara­bic Lit­er­a­ture. Dis­cussing his pen­chant for pen­ning gut-wrench­ing tales with characters liv­ing on so­ci­ety’s mar­gins, Mourad said it was his duty to shed light on the darker cor­ners of so­ci­ety.

“I be­lieve that the novel is pri­mar­ily a re­search into ev­ery­thing that is seen as strange for hu­mans,” he said in an in­ter­view pro­mot­ing his In­ter­na­tional Prize for Ara­bic Lit­er­a­ture nom­i­na­tion.

“We write about ev­ery­thing that is dif­fer­ent or dis­sim­i­lar from the norm. We don’t write about nor­mal­ity.”

Ahmed Mourad will hold writ­ing work­shops at the Shar­jah In­ter­na­tional Book Fair at 10am on Thurs­day and 6pm on Sun­day. He will also take part in The Magic and Writ­ing panel ses­sion tonight at 7.15pm. For in­for­ma­tion on all ses­sions and tim­ings,visit www.sibf.com

Shar­jah In­ter­na­tional Book Fair

‘Tarab Al Mas’ (Di­a­mond Dust), ‘Mawsam Sayd Al Gha­zlan’ (Deer Hunt­ing Sea­son), ‘Ver­tigo’

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