The book is not dead despite the ever-increasing assault on our reading habits posed by social media. Team Y meets two top authors whose success is helping to inspire the next generation of writers.
From East to West, a writer’s reach knows no bounds, even in an era where digital media is considered paramount.
Whether you prefer e-books, reading online or a good-old fashioned hardback; reading is still a popular pastime.
This is clear as we run into award-winning writers Ruth Eastham and Matt Dickinson, at The American International School Muscat (TAISM) on a late January evening.
Both are popular fiction writers edging towards a more informal and younger audience, and are here on a book tour.
Like rock stars thronged by paparazzi and fans at the Grammys, the two British writers are rounded on by students asking for selfies, autographs and tips on how to become an author.
However, the school’s management steers the duo to the impressive (and tranquil) library, an obviously appropriate setting for our interview.
Ruth, who hails from the English county of Lancashire in the UK, has written five books including one of our all-time faves ‘The Memory Cage’.
While mindful of the reading habits of the younger audience, she dismisses the notion that traditional reading habits are a thing of the past.
She says: “Hardcover books – or real books – aren’t dead.
“In fact, when the e-books came out, everyone saw that as the future of reading. But, up to an extent, I can’t say it is the case anymore.
“It’s amazing that one can store tens of thousands of books in one platform but it does lack the general feel of a book and other elements such as the fresh smell of a new book.
“I have one myself but I rarely use it nowadays. Something about the touch of a real book is satisfying – and kids of today definitely want that too.”
It’s a fact that’s highlighted by recent statistics published by the Association of American Publishers that confirm a 3.8 per cent drop in e-book sales in 2018 from the previous year.
Ruth reckons that books – including those on digital platforms – are instilling a sense of passion for reading and writing in young people.
It’s a belief that Matt shares, and he concurs that hardback books are here to stay.
The Cambridge-based writer who miraculously survived the Mount Everest disaster of 1996 and went on to compile his first bestseller ‘The Death Zone: Climbing Everest through The Killer Storm’ is happy to expand on the topic.
He says: “I do agree that media in itself is changing so people have less time on their hands to read.
Perhaps a move to digital is what’s inevitable.
“Yet, as we travel around the world to schools and book fairs, we learn that there are millions of young readers out there that engage in both reading, and the modern trend that is social media.
“I wouldn’t say that people have given up on book reading, but yes, the time dedicated to it has shifted.”
Whether both authors’ beliefs are warranted, we don’t know. But watching the response from the enthusiastic students here would suggest that young people can still connect with, and enjoy, hardback books.
In fact, part of the purpose of this tour is for the two authors to help motivate young people into writing.
Ruth says: “The response we’ve seen from the children is staggering. They’ve been sitting around and listening to how we got into writing, and this shows us that they want to learn more about it.
“I came across one girl here who said that she’d like to begin writing some day – and it is scenarios like that where I think that we, as writers, can touch their lives.”
But given that both Ruth and Matt claim to be writers from an early age, are established writers a product of hard work or are they born storytellers?
“I’ve always been a writer,” says Ruth. “As a child, I’d always spend time writing stories, plays and books. And that has been with me through my adult years to continue as a writer.
“But, if you’re not willing to put yourself out there and dedicate your time and energy into research and writing, you won’t be able to break through that initial phase of creating a name for yourself.”
She’s right. Writers such as the late Carrie Fisher and JK Rowling had reportedly been snubbed by publishers more than 30 times before they found success. In fact, both went on to become multi-millionaires by the early 2000s.
Nodding, Matt adds: “Even if you’ve been born with a desire to write, a real writer will never stop learning about how to write and about how to tell a story – and it can be a very difficult process.
“So, the more you learn, the more you realise the need to learn more.
The life of a writer, in the words of both writers, is both “difficult” and a “time-consuming” process.
Matt, who has also made films with TV production companies such as National Geographic, the Discovery Channel and the BBC says: “I’ve been snubbed by publishers dozens of times. Every writer will tell you the same: it’s very unusual to get a first hit. Normally books will be rejected by many publishers before they’re finally commissioned.
Matty says: “I think it’s always been hard to get published. It’s never been an easy run and you have to offer something special to get published.
“Some people would say that it’s harder now because it’s an economically challenging time since people are buying fewer books and publishers are cautious about what they want published.
“But if you’re writing a blisteringly good book, it will get published. If you write a book that’s fascinating and you can’t put it down, that book is going to have a publisher.”
He suggests that the road for young writers can be a hard but not an impossible one.
“Just because you’ve been snubbed by one publisher doesn’t mean you must stop writing and then go into something else like filmmaking. It’s something I realized. Having progressed into filmmaking as time went by, I realised that it was more satisfying for me to be involved in book writing.
“I think when you write you can take people deeper into a subject than you can with a film. So, writing a book, you have more chances of changing people’s minds, see how people feel and make an impact. You can just do more with a book.
“The kids here have a lot of questions, and while some of them are intrigued about our lives as writers of novels and the like, some of them really have focused on our passion for writing and have even asked very intelligent questions.
“This is why I believe that there is a future for book writing – and it’s only going to get better from here on. The mediums may change but the core of writing will not.”