Thursday 09, March 2017 by William Mullally

Montegrappa helping to foster Dubai's literary talent

An exclusive conversation with Montegrappa's CEO Giuseppe Aquila.

Italy’s Montegrappa, founded in 1912, is one of the finest crafters of pens and other luxury items in the world, and though its pens are meant to be treasured heirlooms passed between generations, a pen is no mere decorative treasure—what good is a pen, if you do not use it?

“Montegrappa, as a pen company, is connected to writing. Our mission, more than anything, more than the business itself, is to promote the culture of writing, and literature is the consequence of writing,” said Giuseppe Aquila, CEO of Montegrappa Italia.

It’s with this in mind that Montegrappa Italia has sponsored the Montegrappa Writing Prize at the Emirates Festival of Literature for five years in a row, with the latest winners announced this week at the 2017 edition of the fest.

“I was really impressed this year, and touched by listening to the speeches of the previous winners of the competition,” said Aquila. “In the last four years, six novels were published. Writers that were unpublished had the chance to win a contract and become published authors. Speaking to them, it was amazing to see how this prize has changed their lives.”

“Talking to these people, some of them are mothers, some of them are doing other jobs, and then, all of a sudden, their lives changed completely. It’s incredible to see a brand like ours having an impact on people’s lives, in a way. This made me feel very proud,” said Aquila. “Seeing the new winners, most of them very young, women in their 20s, all from different cultures and backgrounds, it was fascinating to learn more about them and how they approach their work. Hopefully all of them will become published writers.”

Aquila himself has been enjoying the work coming out of UAE-based talent. “I have started to read now the book of Lucy Strange, and I find that she’s really good. I’ve read a children’s book that is very funny as well, and there’s another book called Me You and Tiaramisu which is a very interesting story.”

Montegrappa’s commitment to fostering a culture of writing extends beyond Dubai. “In the UK we also have a writing prize that we did in collaboration with a literary agent who helps get contracts for the different writers. One previous winner is now on her second book, her book has been translated into around 12 different languages, and has found great success. It’s amazing to watch people become professional writers, instead of just a hobby.”

Dubai, however, stands out to Aquila. “I’m very impressed by what you’ve done in Dubai. There’s a huge number of people—it’s a popular festival, and you can feel a vibe, a feeling that people are really actively involved.”

In future years, Aquila hopes for new voices to get involved, in different languages. “What I would like to see is to go beyond English writing to bring in writers who write in Arabic, which is more linked to the local culture. Until now, all the winners and all the authors that have been published have been writing in English. And funnily enough, most of them are women. I would like to see more men participate as well.”

This year, Rebekah Heaney (What We Learnt at Number 9), Musfira Shaffi (Swiped Away), Jennifer Bromham (Pond), Farzeen Noorie Ashik (Rainbow Dorm Diaries) and Helga Jensen-Forde (Temptation at Tiffany’s) were presented their prizes by leading UK literary agent Luigi Bonomi. Past competition winners turned published authors Lucy Strange (The Secret of Nightingale Wood published by Chicken House) and Charlotte Butterfield (Me, You and Tiramisu published by Harper Impulse) helped present the prizes along with Aquila. Special guest John Hemingway, author of Strange Tribe: A Family Memoir and grandson of Ernest Hemingway, awarded the first-place winner a Limited Edition Montegrappa Pen from the newly launched Ernest Hemingway Collection of fine writing instruments.

Rebecca Heaney wins a trip to London to further discuss her submission with Bonomi, with flights by Emirates Airline and accommodation from InterContinental Hotels, along with one of only 100 limited edition Montegrappa pens. Runners-up receive another Montegrappa Limited Edition pen and copies of the current Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.

The competition requires UAE residents over the age of 21 years who have never published a novel to send in a 400-word synopsis and the first 2000 words of their fiction manuscript via the Festival website.