Abdo Khal is a Saudi novelist who was born in Al Majanah, southern Saudi Arabia, in 1962. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Abdo Khal from Saudi Arabia won this year's International Prize for Arabic Fiction (IPAF) at an awards ceremony held on Tuesday.

Abdo Khal was chosen by a panel of judges from a shortlist of six entries submitted from the region.

"The winning novel is a brilliant exploration of the relationship between the individual and the state," Taleb Al Rafei, the chairman of the judges panel, said.

"Through the eyes of its two-dimensional protagonist, the book gives the reader a taste of the horrifying reality of the excessive world of the palace."

When Abdo Khal first learnt that he was among the six finalists chosen for the award, he developed a technique to stop himself from being obsessed with the award.

"After everything was announced, I told myself that I wouldn't win… especially because they didn't announce the winners directly. That way, I would remain calm if I lost but would also be surprised when I won," he told Gulf News on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF).

Long history

The award winner said that writing and storytelling had always been a crucial part of his life.

"I have always been surrounded by stories, ever since I was very young… but I first started writing when I was 17 years old," he said.

"One of my articles was published in a newspaper and the editor was so impressed by my work that I was given a full page that had to be filled daily!"

The prize, which is awarded annually, is run with the support of the UK's Booker Prize Foundation and is funded by the Emirates Foundation, one of the leading philanthropic organisations in the UAE.

It aims to recognise and reward excellence in contemporary Arabic creative writing and to encourage wider readership internationally through translation.

However, the author acknowledged that the Arab world still had a long way to go in terms of respecting writers and also embracing them as part moves to usher in change.

"The international media respects writers and it is that respect [which] is probably causing the Arab world to acknowledge what we stand for," he said.

Catch-22 situation

"At the moment, many writers in the Middle East have to pay for their books to be published and many publishers don't sign writers on if they don't think that they will win any prizes," he added.

"Our society at the moment is wary about writers… in the West, many prominent writers became agents of change but that is something that is not encouraged here," Abdo Khal said.

"But once people are given the opportunity to read and discuss things freely and intellectually, only then will [we] be able to advance further as a collective society," he added.

The shortlisted finalists each received $10,000 (Dh36,722) with the winner getting an extra $50,000.

Author's Biography

Abdo Khal is a Saudi novelist who was born in Al Majanah, southern Saudi Arabia, in 1962.

He studied political science at King Abdul Al Aziz University in Jeddah before joining the literary world in 1980.

He is the author of several works, including A dialogue at the Gates of the Earth, There's Nothing to be Happy About, and Cities Eating the Grass. Some of his works have been translated into English, French and German. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Jeddah Literary Club and the editor-in-chief of the Ukaz newspaper, for which he writes a daily column.

The book

A painfully satirical novel, Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles depicts the destructive effect that power and endless wealth have on life and the environment. It captures the seductive powers of the palace and tells the agonising story of those who have become enslaved by it, drawn by its promise of glamour. It exposes the inner world of the palace and of those who have chosen to become its puppets.