Dubai Five giants of the literary world met with the Festival Book Club in a session called Face to Face — Readers Meet Writers at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Thursday night.
A well-established Festival tradition, the Festival Book Club gives members a chance to meet and discuss with the authors of the books they have been reading for the past year.
While some authors find it awkward to be discussed by reading groups, Alastair Reynolds, award-winning science fiction writer, thought otherwise.
"It's a novel experience to have one of my books read by a reading group. [Some readers] see science fiction as escapist, frivolous. My mother was a part of a reading group but they would never come near science fiction because they think it's not for them. Science fiction can be very relevant, could be good literature," said Reynolds, whose book Terminal World was a book club's choice.
Bestselling author and screenwriter David Nicholls agreed. "I'm flattered by the conversations the book provokes, and if readers can relate to it in their lives, if the messages are very helpful," he said, referring to his book One Day which was the book club's choice this year.
Being present in a reading group's discussion, however, is a challenge. "I find actually being there in the room very hard because the fact is that your work is being criticised in your face. There are lots of faults in the book and I am aware of all them, having pointed out at the time when it's too late to change it," Nichols said.
Among the topics usually discussed in reading groups is how the story is put together. For bestselling historical writer and novelist Katie Hickman whose book The Aviary Gate was discussed, this is where good research steps in.
"I'm a nerdy researcher. I want to know really the nitty-gritty of things. If you don't have a pretty firm foundation to rest your plot on, then your readers are going to sniff you out very quickly," Hickman said.
Research also plays well in deciding the characters of the story, according to Zarghuna Kargar, author of book club choice Dear Zari.
"For me, the process of finding the women characters [in my book] was very easy. That was the main concept of [our TV] programme.
"Women were very keen to tell us about their story, to share with us their feelings. But in some instances I had to go to Afghanistan again and again and again and meet some of the women."
The Q&A session provided more details about the thoughts of the authors in writing their books. The session emphasised the importance of reading or reading in groups, which acclaimed Tuared Libyan novelist Ebrahim Al Koni said is needed especially in the Arab world.
"We, in the Arab world, are in bad need of organising reading groups. The tragedy in the Arab world is reading, even individual reading.
"People receive information through TV. The abuse of technology diminishes this kind of thinking," said Al Koni, author of book choice Gold Dust.