Ahmed Mourad: writing a world in which nothing is normal

The author 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

Ahmed Mourad, author. For a story on the International Prize for Arabic fiction, 2014, A&L by Ben East.
CREDIT: Courtesy Kheridine Mabrouk
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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


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