x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ahmed Bukhatir is living his dream at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

The singer turned novelist Ahmed Bukhatir wants to be the UAE’s ambassador for books.

Ahmed Bukhatir, the famous emirati singer, has turned his hand to writing fantasy fiction. Courtesy Ahmed Bukhatir
Ahmed Bukhatir, the famous emirati singer, has turned his hand to writing fantasy fiction. Courtesy Ahmed Bukhatir

Ahmed Bukhatir has been enchanting crowds with evocative tales for two decades – this time, however, he is not using his singing voice.

The Sharjah resident is an accomplished singer of nasheed – a genre of Islamic-inspired music – and is now set to make his author debut as part of the Festival of Literature on ­Thursday. He will share the stage with the teenage Emirati author Dubai Abulhoul to discuss his forthcoming English-language fantasy novel.

Scheduled to be published in July under his pen name A A Bukhatir, Dragon Boy and the Witches of Galza is the first of a planned multi-part series about a village boy oblivious to the fact that he’s a dragon.

Doubting his origins, he undertakes a journey of self-discovery in which he encounters a colourful cast of characters, including wizards, witches and centaurs.

The move may be a left turn from the spiritually wholesome music that his fans are accustomed to, but, for Bukhatir, it’s a return to his first love.

“I recall very clearly that when I was 12 years old I have written a short story about my adventures with my brothers in our old house,” he says.

“The story talked about day-to-day events more like a diary. It consisted of 20 pages. Surprisingly, one of my elder sisters picked it up when we were in London for our holiday and she read the whole thing. She told me that it was very interesting and written in a dramatic way and that one day I could become a writer. I didn’t pay attention to her or to what she said because that is what we boys do.”

Other life success also got in the way. Ever since his groundbreaking 2000 debut album Entasaf Al-Layl (Middle of the Night), Bukhatir’s evocative and powerful hymns made him a star of the global nasheed industry, with tours of America, Europe and Australia. His eight albums – his latest was last year’s Prophet of Peace – have sold more than half a million copies, with songs in Arabic, English and French.

Despite the acclaim opening doors for fellow UAE nasheed artists, Bukhatir says that he remained artistically unfulfilled.

After putting books aside in favour of his love for video games, Bukhatir got the reading bug for another ­genre.

Four years ago on a flight to Toronto, he watched the 2010 movie adaptation of Cressida Cowell’s fantasy book How to Train Your Dragon.

A fan of fantasy films, he was surprised to discover a similar genre of books.

“Since childhood, I loved the ideas of wizards, sorcerers, witches, dragons, fairies, monsters and the supernatural world. Whenever there was a movie out there, good or bad, I would watch it and get fascinated by the visual effects,” he says.

“What I was missing in my life was the fantasy-fiction imagination that was incorporated in books. And I wanted to create my own world, my own characters and story, my own fantasy fiction.”

Not all of his discussion will focus on the otherworldly – Bukhatir hopes that his festival appearance and forthcoming book could inspire other Emiratis to pen their own tales.

“I do want to be an ambassador for the book world here in the UAE, because I really do believe that if I could do this then so can you.” he says.

“I want to connect the bridge between the UAE and the West. I want people from that part of the world to come here, have a look and see a lot of people who are talented in the arts who are yet to be discovered.”

• A A Bukhatir appears in a session with the title Of Dragons & Hidden Thrones, at 7pm on Thursday. For details visit www.emirateslitfest.com

The Penguin Fringe

The festival also boasts a colourful local flavour courtesy of The Penguin Fringe programme. From Thursday to Sunday at Al Baraha Ballroom at Festival City Mall, a range of UAE schools will showcase singing and acting talents. Highlights include Abu Dhabi’s Al Bateen Secondary College, which will bring its Hootenanny 28th Street Band and Jazz Orchestra to the ­festival. Dubai’s Safa School will perform a version of Cinderella. The English College Primary and Secondary School choirs will play a selection of songs. The Emirates International School will bring the children’s book Horrible Harriet to life, while the Siobhan Killalea School of Irish Dance will perform key dances from the Celtic tradition.

Panel discussions

With more than 100 panel discussions to choose from, festivalgoers should study the timetable keenly to avoid clashes. Don’t fret if you missed a session featuring your favourite author, as all the main guests are scheduled to appear more than once during the festival. Fans of bestselling author Joanne Harris should enjoy her session on Saturday, discussing her new fantasy novel The Gospel of Loki. On Friday, the famed lyricist Tim Rice will discuss his theatre ­career and his award-winning partnership with Andrew Lloyd Webber that produced landmark shows such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Evita.

Arab literature devotees should also check out the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature winner Alia Mamdouh as she discusses her novels and short-story collections on Friday. The International Prize for Arabic Fiction winner Mohammed Achaari will appear on Saturday to discuss his evocative writing technique, which blends poetry with prose.

Workshops and masterclasses

Some authors will use their festival appearance to teach as well as regale. The festival once again boasts a strong series of workshops and masterclasses by acclaimed authors catering to all abilities. A warning, however: these classes are interactive and writing exercises will be undertaken. For teenagers interested in the craft, the You Too Can Write workshop on Saturday by the Emirati author Manal Al Ghdani should get the creative juices flowing. The travel author Tim Mackintosh-Smith will break down the craft of penning winning travel tales on Thursday, while the suspense author Peter James will demonstrate ways to elicit excitement from your plots in his Writing Thrillers workshop on Friday.

For more details on session times and tickets, visit www.emirateslitfest.com

sasaeed@thenational.ae