Budding young novelists will have the chance to learn from the best this weekend as a new creative writing initiative comes to Dubai for the first time.
Co-hosted by the Emirates Literature Foundation in collaboration with the UK literary agency Curtis Brown, the two sets of workshops will be held over three days, lead by author Lisa O'Donnell (The Death of Bees). Unsurprisingly, when the courses were announced earlier this year, most of them sold out. There is just one spot left in the second course to be snapped up.
This is the first time that Curtis Brown Creative courses will be offered in the emirates, and Anna Davis, Curtis Brown Creative's founder and managing director, says it's been a long time coming. Davis has published five novels herself, was a part-time lecturer in creative writing at Manchester University, and wrote a weekly column for The Guardian while working at Curtis Brown. The company's first novel-writing course took place in 2011 from their London offices.
"Quite a few of that first group of students went on to get publishing deals – including Jessie Burton, whose debut The Miniaturist began on our course and went on to sell more than a million copies," Davis says.
"Now our creative writing courses run throughout the year in London and online, and 71 students have become published authors. I love my work – and the only problem is finding time to writing another novel of my own."
The first three-day course is for beginners and will be held from Friday, October 11 until Sunday, October 13. The second course is an advanced writing course to be held from Thursday, October 17 until Saturday, October 19.
We caught up with Davis ahead of the event to hear her take on why Curtis Brown chose Dubai, and how hopeful writers can get started.
Curtis Brown is coming to Dubai for the first time in October. Why has Dubai been chosen?
For years I’ve been hearing about the Emirates Literature Foundation and the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Various brilliant writers who I know well have visited Dubai to take part in the festival and have come back hugely enthusiastic about it, along with colleagues of mine from Curtis Brown.
Last year I was delighted to meet Isobel Abulhoul, founder and chief executive of the foundation, at our offices in London, and we got talking about the possibility of running creative writing courses in Dubai in conjunction with the festival. It was an inspiring conversation, and I was excited when [she] was keen to pursue the idea of a collaboration.
Do you know much about the literary scene in the UAE?
I’m still something of a newcomer to the UAE’s literary scene, but I hear from writing colleagues that it’s becoming increasingly vibrant, and that publishers are being more adventurous and proliferate in the books they are publishing and translating.
This is really great news for all of us in the trade. It's also significant that Sharjah has been selected as Unesco World Book Capital this year – and is rapidly becoming a global centre for literature and publishing.
How do you think traditional publishing is faring in 2019?
I think the book scene is alive and well – it’s just that you can choose between paper and digital forms for your reading. People were worried for a while by the rise of the ebook – thinking that it could be the end of the paper book that we know and love – but actually it feels like after the initial leap ahead, the ebook market has settled to a steady level and print books have fought back and are alive and well.
If anything, I think publishers make their paper books more beautiful than they used to so that they are gorgeous as objects in and of themselves, making you want to buy the physical rather than the digital copy. I’m personally really pleased about this as it suggests we will continue to want book shops too, and I love book shops.
Is becoming an author still a viable career option do you think?
It’s never been easy to earn a living as an author. There are of course a small percentage of authors who make a lot of money out of writing books, but most authors need to do other work alongside their writing. I would never advise anyone who really wants to make money to write – you need to write because you love it.
Actually, for many writers, it’s in any case preferable to go out to work for some of the time rather than sitting at a desk staring out the window and waiting for inspiration. Life feeds into the writing in good ways.
What are publishing houses looking for right now?
Well, that can vary a little from one country to another – but in the UK, I’d say publishers are looking for new and diverse voices – for stories we haven’t heard before told in fresh ways.
This also means that the memoir is having a moment of increased popularity – there’s an appetite for books about seemingly ordinary people who have lived through extraordinary experiences. Publishers also looking for fiction with emotional impact, and for books with strong and witty voices.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Gosh – there are so many things I could say in answer to this question. I suppose the most important thing to say is that if you want to write, you just need to sit down and do it. Try to make some regular time for yourself so that you have continuity – even if it's only in short bursts of half an hour here and there.
And don’t worry too much about what you’re writing – just keep producing those words. You can always go back and edit them later. Also, read. You’ll learn so much by doing so. If you want to be a writer, you should first be a reader.
To become a published author, you need to have a good idea and to write it really well. Everything needs to work together. And I think good writing is made in the edit. Often people get to the end of their novel, and think that’s it – they’re done.
But actually, ‘The End’ is just the beginning – that’s where the real work begins. Always edit your work to make it as good as you possibly can before you show it to anyone. And always start out by showing it to trusted readers before you even think of sending it to agents or publishers. Make sure you’re giving yourself the very best chance of success by the time you send your work out into the world – really you owe it to yourself, and perhaps also to your characters to do that.