Unlike his previous works, the Egyptian novelist Ahmed Mourad’s new book “Murder for Amateurs” is not fiction. Instead, it’s a narration of his personal relationship with writing, cinema, and boredom.
The book, recently published by Dar Al Shorouk, comes after seven novels, from “Vertigo” (2007) to “The Bir Al-Watawit Hotel” (2020). His third novel, “The Blue Elephant” (2012), became a best-seller and was short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction in 2014. It was also turned into a film, along with a sequel. Mourad wrote the scripts for both.
Mourad, who was born in 1978, says overcoming boredom has been a preoccupation of his since his childhood. “I can hardly settle on a certain mood, a specific sport, or a favorite type of reading,” he said. “I hardly write on one subject twice. I felt fed up with political crime writing after my second novel of the kind, ‘Diamond Dust’, despite its success. So, I decided to write a fantasy and horror novel. Thus came ‘The Blue Elephant’.”
He added: “I am bored by some of my protagonists, so I kill some of them, and place pressure on others.
“The main benefits of this chronic boredom are reflected in my inability to stand still, the constant doubt about my writing’s quality, and my strenuous attempts to reach the meaning as soon as possible.”
“Write about your worst fears; what haunts and distresses you; and what you wish for! Write as if what you are writing is the last thing you will write before you die! Don’t forget that now you have become … a professional killer of boredom.”Ahmed Mourad
On Self-Doubt and Writer’s Block
Mourad takes the “art of writing and storytelling” as the main subject of his new book. He also talks about the advice he gives aspiring authors in workshops.
On the subjects of self-doubt and writer’s block, he says: “These flops are capable, in and of themselves, of frustrating and hindering any person, even if he has an unbridled talent.”
When writers feel stymied by questions like “Am I talented?”, he says: “There is nothing a person can lose by trying to write. The loss will only be if you have a skilled writer inside you and you frustrate and bury him alive in boredom.”
Mourad cites the “Harry Potter” series to show how passion was behind the production of the most popular novels and films. “What would have happened if J.K. Rowling had gotten tired of the world of magic, and viewed her writings as mere childish tales not worth writing?” he wonders.
On the question of whether writers need writing rituals, Mourad says they definitely should devote a specific time to writing.
Daily writing is as essential as commitment to work and study, he says. He also recommends setting a goal for writing a specific number of words each day.
Mourad himself has settled on an average of 1,000 words per day. He rewards himself for fulfilling this commitment, by going out at night, or traveling by the end of the month.
“As a writer, you are your own boss,” he says. “So, never forget to appreciate your achievement!”
The ‘Blue Elephant 2’ Script
The book includes the full script of Mourad’s “The Blue Elephant 2” as a practical application of the techniques of scriptwriting. He starts with choosing the narrative style, determining the character who will lead the events, and other elements that will translate the story from paper to the screen.
“Stop underestimating your crazy, petty thoughts, and your silly childhood fears. … They may be the raw material and sentiments you need to write your novel or film someday.”Ahmed Mourad
The 322-page-book seeks to take the readers down from dreamworld fantasies about fiction and screenwriting, says Mourad. It draws a road map that helps the author himself organize the flow of ideas, from their being an urgent obsession, to creating a coherent plot and writing an attractive story or cinematic script.
Mourad recounts his various life experiences, and he invites his readers to reflect on their own lives.
“Stop underestimating your crazy, petty thoughts, and your silly childhood fears,” he writes. “They may be the raw material and sentiments you need to write your novel or film someday. I wrote ‘The Blue Elephant’ with the feeling of a frightened child.”
Writing is not an “easy and guaranteed” action, Mourad says. However, it is capable of changing one’s life, if the writer shows respect and devotion.
The condition behind successful writing is to enjoy what you write and convey that pleasure to the reader, he says. “Pleasure is a human message that art uniquely achieves.”
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Mourad depicts the act of writing as an imaginary hunting trip to kill the “boredom” animal inside us. This can only be achieved through writing with passion.
He concludes: “Write about your worst fears; what haunts and distresses you; and what you wish for! Write as if what you are writing is the last thing you will leave before you die! Don’t forget that now you have become … a professional killer of boredom.”
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