Novelists Ernesto Franco and Eman Al Yousuf tell
SIBF 2020 audiences what motivates them to write

During a virtual discussion held as part of Sharjah International Book Fair 2020

Sharjah, November 14, 2020

What motivates an author to write? Do they write for themselves or to please their audience? This was the subject of a virtual session titled ‘Why I write’, held as part of the 39th edition of the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), themed ‘The World Reads from Sharjah’.

Emirati writer Eman Al Yousuf and Italian author, editor and publisher Dr Ernesto Franco spoke about what motivated their work and what the act of writing meant to them. Layla Mohamed moderated the discussion.

Dr Franco spoke for all writers when he began by saying: “I write for you, but to understand me and our shared humanity. I write also to discover what is still unknown.”

He compared literature to a democracy. “What is literature? It is more than one thing, but most of all it is a paradox,” he opined. “It is essentially a democracy. A reader listens to the voice of the writer which speaks to him through the book. He then decides whether he agrees with what the author has to say. He can reject it, but he can do that only after listening to it.”

Dr Franco concluded: “Literature will change your life. It will teach you about life and how to lead a better life. Literature can enrich your life like nothing else can. But it will also make you suffer. However, even that pain will enrich you. Literature is dangerous, it is magical! That is the paradox of literature.”

Eman Al Yousuf, who has written three novels and four collections of short stories, started writing at a very young age. “I was trying to find out who I was, you know,” she said. “We never really get to know who we are and in my case my writing is about trying to find myself.”

“Essentially, I write for myself. Whenever I start a new book or story, I always write like no one is going to read my work,” she explained. “In fact, the first stories I wrote was for myself, I had no intention of getting them published. But after I got published and won the Emirates Novel Award for The Guard of the Sun, I realised that I was no longer alone – people were reading, praising, critiquing my work. It can get to be overwhelming. It is not fun.”

“So, now, when I start to write, I switch off all other noises and voices and step into my secret garden. I tell myself I will not publish the story, so I can stay true to myself while I write. Writing is a very intimate act. It is you being yourself. In the end, all good writing is based on honesty,” she concluded.

The session was one of eight intellectual discussions organised by SIBF this year, which bring together a line-up of Emirati authors with their counterparts from countries such as Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, to name a few. The sessions were conceptualised by the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) in collaboration with several cultural institutions worldwide.