Annabel Kantaria, writer and winner of the Emirates Litfest Montegrappa First Fiction competition, talks juggling day jobs and overcoming writer’s block.
The things that wake up Annabel Kantaria at 3am are not of the ‘did I lock the front door/pay the DEWA bill’ variety. Instead they’re ideas, words and plot twists for both her current novel and the string of books she has planned for the future.
‘Some of the best sentences come at night,’ says the 42-year-old Dubai-based mother-of-two, who scooped first prize in the Montegrappa First Fiction competition at this year’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature after impressing UK literary agent, Luigi Bonomi with her pitch for her novel, The Marmalade Murders. ‘I jump up and scribble them down on an A4 notepad that I keep by the side of my bed,’ she says.
Putting the bones of her novel together around her two day jobs of raising two young children aged four and eight and freelancing for UK newspaper The Telegraph, Arabian Ranches-based Annabel admits that she adopted a ‘nothing-to-lose’ approach to entering the competition, and didn’t think she stood a chance of winning after ‘polishing and polishing’ the first chapter of her novel. ‘I thought it was too good an opportunity to miss,’ she says. ‘I’d been to some of the Festival master classes the year before and knew I had nothing to lose by entering.’
Attending classes to unlock creativity – such as those organised by British author Hayley Doyle at Creative Writing Dubai – is something Life As A Leb-neh Lover author and creativity coach Kathy Shalhoub agrees can help kick-start the writing process. ‘Whether it’s exploring the best point of view to use in the narrative, developing more well-rounded characters or clearly defining the genre of the story, creative writing workshops help writers navigate the writing pitfalls and give writers that added push when they’re stuck,’ she says.
Ah yes, the dreaded writer’s block. Annabel might just have the answer to overcoming that. ‘Write, don’t sit and think about it,’ she insists. ‘Writing is a muscle and you need to exercise it every day.’
In an industry where literary agents have the attention span of the average goldfish – ‘Agents give each manuscript three minutes,’ she says – Annabel admits it was the internal battles that proved the biggest obstacles to overcome.
‘Lack of self confidence was the biggest setback,’ she admits. ‘You sit there on your own writing it, thinking, “I’m not getting paid for this”, spending all your time doing it and wondering if anyone is ever going to read it. You have to just keep on plugging away.’
Creative writing courses held by British author and actress Hayley Doyle at Creative Writing Dubai start in September at The Pavilion, Downtown. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details. To find out more about creativity coaching email email@example.com.