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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 26 February 2021

10 notable moments from this year’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

A look at the hight points of the 2015 the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.
Youngsters out at force at the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival. Rebecca Rees for The National
Youngsters out at force at the Emirates Airlines Literature Festival. Rebecca Rees for The National

As the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature wrapped up its seventh edition over the weekend, here’s a look at 10 of this year’s noteworthy moments.

Welcome to wonderland

The festival kicked off last Tuesday with a glittering opening ceremony at the Cultural and Scientific Association in Al Mamzar. Director Isobel Abulhoul set the scene, describing the festival theme of “wonderland” as “about making the black squiggles on the white page leap out at us with images so real and believable that fiction becomes fact or fact becomes fiction, characters become our friends or enemies, and heroes become villains”.

Desert Stanzas

The Desert Stanzas event on Thursday night involved six poets, including India’s Imitiaz Dharker and Britain’s Lemn Sissay, performing selected readings in a Dubai desert camp. Back for the third time, the event attracted the biggest crowd yet of more than 200 people.

Julia Donaldson’s marathon signing sessions

Adult festivalgoers would have been forgiven if they thought they stumbled upon some kind of Nickelodeon convention on Friday, judging by the excited youngsters at the festival’s main hub at the InterContinental Dubai Festival City. The venue was swarming with young children (and equally enthusiastic parents) who lined up to get their book signed by the British children’s author Julia Donaldson. To say she is much-loved – and patient – is an understatement; her signing-session clocked in at more than two hours.

The elusive Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Whenever her name was mentioned by either the festival organisers, fellow guest authors or the crowd, it was often followed by a wistful sigh. Such was the aura surrounding the award-winning Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who maintained a regal yet elusive quality throughout the festival. Where other authors can sometimes be spotted hanging around the festival’s green room, Adichie arrived suddenly at her sessions and mammoth book signings and promptly disappeared.

Annabel Kantaria’s special-edition debut

After winning the festival’s inaugural Montegrappa First Fiction Competition in 2013, the Dubai-based writer Annabel Kantaria returned this year with her debut novel Coming Home. The thriller is set to receive its official international launch in the United Kingdom in May; however, Kantaria convinced her publishers, Harlequin, to release a limited-edition run especially for the festival. If the book is a hit, those copies could be worth a lot some day.

Getting Away With Murder

When you bring four best-selling crime novelists for a powwow regarding their works, you can expect some strange conversations. Such was the case with Saturday’s Getting Away With Murder session featuring the British authors Stuart MacBride and Sophie Hannah, Canada’s Peter Robinson and Iceland’s Yrsa Sigurdardóttir. When asked if there was a line they wouldn’t cross on the gruesome front, Hannah mentioned it would be “executions and dogs. Since I have a dog, I now can’t write about killing them. I can’t be in that head space, it would be too much for me”.

The Bill Gates effect

Graeme Simsion, the author of the successful The Rosie Project (2013) and The Rosie Effect (2014), said an endorsement from Bill Gates didn’t help initial sales of his debut novel. “I used to be a data analyst, so I am all about measuring things,” he said. “I remembered after doing a radio interview about The Rosie Project my book shot up from nothing to number nine on Amazon within a couple hours. Meanwhile, Bill Gates tweets how much he loved my book to his 20 million followers and my book didn’t move a jot.”

Welcome back Joanna Trollope

It has been 34 years since the British author Joanna Trollope has been in Dubai. On her last trip, she accompanied her former husband, the banker David Roger William Potter, on one of his business trips. “I was here for four days and it was very conservative back then,” she said. “I was completely shrouded from head to toe and I was terrified of getting things wrong, like accepting something with the wrong hand or offending any of these wonderful codes of conduct. This is my first time back since and just simply look at it now.”

Richard Parks sold out

It is understandable if some fellow authors stared daggers of envy at Richard Parks. The former Welsh rugby player and extreme-environment athlete not only commanded large crowds to hear him discuss his memoir Beyond the Horizon, but was in the somewhat fortunate position of having sold out all of his books before his second and final session on Saturday. Slightly embarrassed, Parks said he “would hang around after with you guys and we can talk”.

International Women’s Day panel

The festival wrapped up on Saturday with a sold-out session marking International Women’s Day, with a panel featuring Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of International Cooperation and Development, Nigerian author Adichie, the British historian Bettany Hughes and the BBC presenter Jenni Murray. Addressing the theme, Sheikha Lubna shed light on her colleagues’ initial reaction upon her appointment as the UAE’s first female minister back in 2004. “A lot of people thought it was just window dressing,” she recalled. “After a while, some would call me and say they did have their doubts but now they know that I can deliver.”

Published: March 8, 2015 04:00 AM

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