By Mobin Pandit
DOHA: International publishers have long been relying on British and American authors to write on Middle East affairs. But the trend is changing now as there are many Arabs who have something interesting to say about their countries and culture, says a young British publisher.
“Arabs have inside stories to tell. In our company, we are trying to get the Arab perspective,” says Max Scott (pictured), Managing Director of London-based Gilgamesh Publishing Ltd.
The quest for Arab writers brings Scott to this region frequently.
He believes people from the older generation in the GCC should be caught hold of, to treasure their memoirs in the form of books. “They alone can tell what the region was like before the massive oil wealth ushered it into the present era (of rising consumerism and modernity).”
“Once this generation is gone, there would be no one to tell the world what the region was like prior to the oil find,” Scott said in a brief interview with The Peninsula.
Scott holds a master’s in Arabic language and literature from Edinburgh University and previously worked with two of the world’s top publishing companies — McGraw Hill and Prentice Hall — as a senior executive.
At McGraw Hill, he became their Middle East man. Selling books in the region took him to almost every leading book shop in the Middle East.
After a three-year stint, Scott joined Prentice Hall and focused on Europe. But his urge to get back to his favourite region, the Middle East, prompted him to join a smaller publisher in the UK.
In early 2011, he decided to test the ground as a publisher and launched his own venture —Gilgamesh Publishing Ltd — in London with two partners.
Asked about the choice of Gilgamesh as his company’s name, Scott said legend has it that it was the title of the first-ever book the world saw and was printed in Mesopotamia.
Gilgamesh has so far published 20 books — all of them on Middle East and Africa. The first two books were on the last days of Colonel Muammar Ghaddafi and Hosni Mubarak, respectively.
“At Gilgamesh, we are trying to get the Arab perspective,” Scott reiterated. “What Arabs have to say about the Arab Spring is different.”
The company is now trying to publish books on Egypt and Syria. The US and Britain are the largest markets for English-language books.
Talking about the GCC, Scott said one would expect Dubai to have more demand for books but that’s not the case. “Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia are bigger markets.”
However, when it comes to English-language writers, the region lacks them. “There aren’t many Qatari writers in English.”
Scott said he had been coming to this region for 20 years and is presently involved in a book project on the GCC’s pre-oil history and culture.
Asked why he chose to study Arabic language and literature, he said when he was young he was good at languages and knew French, German and Latin, besides his mother tongue.
“I wanted to study the most difficult language, so I decided to study Russian.”
He, though, couldn’t opt for Russian so the preference fell on Arabic and Chinese. “I then tossed a coin to decide.”
It was an interesting coincidence for Scott, 44, to study Arabic because he was born in Egypt where his father was based teaching law at the American University in Cairo.