Two Emirati authors search for success at the Frankfurt Book Fair

Jalal Luqman and Khaled bin Hamad attend the world’s biggest book fair to learn from the best in the publishing business

Jalal Luqman, left, and Khalid Bin Hamad at Frankfurt Book Fair. Saeed Saeed / The Naitonal
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Writing a book is only part of the arduous journey to get it to the marketplace.

Once the intensive writing work comes to end, so begins a near endless run of meetings to discuss various painstaking aspects such as editing, illustration, copyright and translation rights before the book ends up in the store.

And that’s if the writer has the luxury of being snapped up by a reputable publishing house. Without that support that mountain becomes almost insurmountably high.

Overcoming the challenges

Jalal Luqman is used to such challenges. The Abu Dhabi-born Emirati author is no stranger to doing things alone.

In addition to being a successful multimedia artist and running his own events company, Luqman spent four years making his short film 40 Dirhams, a short, dark-comedy about the power of money, before it screened last year at Manarat Al Saadiyat in Abu Dhabi.

Although the film was partially funded by the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, Luqman recalled the money ran out fast and the film suffered delays as a majority of the Emirati cast and crew were undertaking  national service.

The satisfaction of completing the project propelled him to rekindle a long dormant writing project The Armagondas, a six-part English fantasy novel series set in the imaginary Crohelic Empire.

With another grant from the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation, the book was self-published and launched in April as part of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Satisfied by the local response, Luqman flew to the world’s largest book fair in Frankfurt, Germany, through a grant from the the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, in search of an international publishing deal.

A whirlwind of meetings

With the book fair ending on Sunday, Luqman spends each day in a series of meetings with publishers to discuss ways bring his debut to an international audience and ultimately the big screen.

He was also granted a royal audience after he provided a copy of the book to the Sharjah Ruler, Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, who toured the Frankfurt Book Fair on Wednesday.

“It is invigorating as this is the place to be if you are serious about your literary work. The who’s who of the book world is here and it has been great to chat with them and learn things along the way,” he says, from the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation pavilion.

“I am also an artist, so I see what I write, in a way. What I would love to do here is find somebody, such as a literary agent, to carry the book forward and eventually portray it into the screen.”

Luqman acknowledges his quest is highly ambitious, but he points to the fact that he has proven naysayers wrong by completing 40 Dirhams.

He also stated the idea for The Armagondas book series began 25 years ago, a time-span that taught him patience comes with most creative endeavours.

“I still have some of the early outlines of the story that I written on napkins from that time,” he says.

"I learned that it is about perseverance and not being scared of rejection. I mean, Gone with The Wind was rejected 192 times as a novel while the first Harry Potter book was rejected 13 times. So, in a way, I still have to pay my dues when it comes to being rejected. It is part of that journey."

In search of validation

That aspect of the creative life Khaled bin Hamad knows too well. The Dubai-based comic book author and illustrator has been facing his own struggles in the UAE to convince local publishers that his English-language Manga manuscript is worth their investment.

Like Luqman, he was also the recipient of the government grant, and Hamad has been spending the days meeting with a slew of comic book publishers from Europe, Japan and the US.

He says the professional feedback has been rewarding.

“To be honest with you, I came here searching for the validation that I couldn’t find back home. And that’s nobody’s fault, it just that the publishers in the UAE didn’t understand what I was doing,” he says.

“So through these meetings with international publishers who are aware of Manga comics, those interactions have been amazing.”

The will to succeed

With Hamad's fictional tale set in the region during Abbasid Caliphate (from the 8th to the 14th century), considered to be the Islamic Golden Age, Hamad said publishers were interested in his narrative which was far removed from the negative portrayals of Islam that's seen in the media today.

With some publishers promising Hamad that more discussions will take place on his work after the book fair, he already views his Frankfurt mission as a success.

Book cover of The Armagondas Volume One: The Orphans of Armagon by Jalal Luqman. Supplied by Jalal Luqman
Book cover of The Armagondas Volume One: The Orphans of Armagon by Jalal Luqman. Supplied by Jalal Luqman

At the end of a long day of meetings, both Emiratis are confident that their books will eventually reach an international audience.

“It took me over 20 years to write this book, so spending the next 20 years to get it published is nothing for me,” Luqman said.

“This means, it is going to happen, period.”

Hamad nods. "I have been working hard, day and night, to get my manuscript done," he says. "The work will be published. There is no way this won't happen."