Abu Dhabi schoolteacher wins Montegrappa prize

Canadian expat chosen top writer at Emirates Airline Festival of Literature for her Irish fable

(from left) Luigi Bonomi, Jillian Fox -the winner of the book Other world, Charles Nahhas and Isobel Abulhoul during the Emirates Literature Festival Dubai Photo Arshad Ali/Gulf News

Dubai: An Abu Dhabi schoolteacher on Saturday won this year’s Montegrappa Writing Prize at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai for ‘Otherworld’, an Irish mythical tale of a girl caught between two realms.

Canadian expat Jillian Fox’s work surpassed over 120 entries this year to win the prize — a limited edition ‘Khalil Gibran’ Montegrappa fountain pen (one of only 163 made in the world), which has a market value of around Dh18,000.

As has been the case with eight previous winners, Fox may also clinch a publishing deal for her first book, which is around one-third complete. Luigi Bonomi, the judge of the contest who is a literary agent (he represents authors such as Judy Finnigan and Richard Madeley), will be working with Fox to see her become a published author.

In part, Fox was influenced to write an Irish magic and fantasy novel because of her late great grandparents — both Irish orphans who had migrated to Canada. Her inclination to pen a story set in Ireland was bolstered by a trip she made to Ireland. In a sense, there are also parallels between the storyline of Fox’s work and her experiences of “caught between two places”. She has lived in Canada, Germany, Egypt, China and, since 2013, in the UAE.

The winning story is set in rural Ireland of the 1840s, at a time of famine. A girl goes on a boating trip with her friend and sister towards an island they have been warned is haunted.

On the journey, strange forces, frightening as they are, seem to awaken sinister powers within her, and she finds herself caught between two worlds. “She has to really figure herself out and discover what’s important to her” in the choices facing her, said Fox.

After her win, Fox said she felt “shocked” even though she “really worked for it”. She added that seeing her first book published is now her goal. One of the conditions of the contest is that people who submit their work must have never been published authors. This year, the contest was opened up for entries from the GCC, instead of exclusively for UAE-based writers.

The top four other entries were also honoured, and each of them received a “luxury” Montegrappa pen.

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