Book Fair Panel: Writers and Readers – Who Leads Who?

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As Audience hears how readers, reviews and reactions affect a book

By Solomon Nda-Isaiah, Dubai 

Three distinguished authors at the Sharjah International Book Fair have told an audience that as readers they can often play a major role in the content of future stories. Feedback from school visits, social media and critical summaries all have the potential to alter the direction of the next book.

On the panel was bestselling American author, Victoria Christopher Murray, who has had 28 books published, including Temptation, which stayed on the Essence Bestsellers List for nine consecutive months, children’s writer Katherine Woodfine, author of the highly acclaimed Sinclair’s Mysteries series, and Emirati writer Fatima Al Mazroui, academic and member of the Federal National Council based in Abu Dhabi

During the session, each of the authors described the relationship they have with their readers and whether they tailor the story to their audience.

Victoria Christopher Murray said it was a numbers game which no writer could win. “When you have hundreds of thousands of readers, it’s impossible to cater to all tastes and impractical to pick just one.

“I think about the details of the plot first, that has to be a starting point, and from there I develop the characters. These are the people who the readers really relate to. After the book itself, social media plays the most important part of my relationship with my readers. I can’t call them friends, but they are friendly acquaintances. I received one Facebook message which asked ‘why don’t you write about this subject?’ and it was a great idea, so I used it as a reference point and that book went on to win several awards.”

Katherine Woodfine added: “Whenever I go to fairs and festivals and visit schools, I speak to a lot of children and ask them what they think about my books and if there is something they are really excited about, then I will take that on board. Through certain conversations, they can even become collaborators in the writing. In the Sinclair Mysteries, I wrote a story set in the early twentieth century and I was explaining it to children of about 12-years-old. One girl asked me if they were going to meet the suffragettes, the British women’s movement campaigning for the vote, which hadn’t occurred to me, although it made perfect sense and it ended up playing a major part of the book.”

While Fatima Al Mazroui agreed that encouraging young people to read was essential to learning, she was cautious about them turning their attention to writing.

“The reader is very important but it is a smart writer who takes them into a different world. A reader sometimes will read one book and then want to be a writer and that is a big problem. Everyone wants to become famous. It is not right that they want to start writing straight away, I have 20 years’ experience of reading, research and writing, who are they to become writers? I am very much against readers of so little experience becoming writers.”

Speaking about the importance of reviews and reaction, Fatima Al Mazroui added: “I have addressed so many taboo subjects and that has led to a lot of talk and debate. If you write a book and nobody wants to talk about it, it is not a good book.”

Victoria Christopher Murray’s novels, which have won numerous awards and stayed on bestsellers lists for months at a time believes accolades and reviews are important but not essential.

“I don’t write for the awards or for the lists, although that’s not to say I’m not glad I get them. I consider top selling lists to be a validation from my readers and awards to be a validation from my peers. To be honest, I think it may be more important for the publishers and the book sellers that I achieve recognition because it helps them to sell even more.”