The opening weekend of the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature concluded with another day of packed sessions.
When it comes to star power, you arguably couldn’t go brighter than Jane Hawking.
As well as being an author in her own right, Hawking is also known as the former wife of the late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking.
Her moving account of their turbulent marriage, 1999's Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, was made into the 2015 award-winning film The Theory of Everything.
Hawking made the first of two appearances at the festival for a special screening of the film at Novo Cinemas at Dubai Festival City.
Speaking to The National before the event, Hawking said that although she was pleased by the film's reception, she disagreed with a few elements of the final product.
It is something she wanted to address at the festival.
“They told me they had to squeeze 25 years into two hours, which means they had to leave a lot of things that I thought was important,” she said.
“Some of the things that were left of the film was the logistics of raising a family during that time, which was a challenge. That is okay because it gives me plenty to talk about when I attend book festivals.”
Hawking will provide more insight into her life and career on March 3 with her session, From Fact to Fiction from 8pm. Tickets are Dh75 from tickets.emirateslitfest.com
Children’s literature is show business
The festival also hosted hundreds of children and their families. They patiently lined the halls to get their books signed by authors Jeff Kinney and Tony De Saulles.
The former received a rock-star welcome courtesy his much-loved Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, which has over 200 million copies in print worldwide, in addition to spawning four feature films.
The US author’s interactive and pun-filled show may have been a hit with the kids, but it took a while to perfect.
"And that's because I was never really comfortable speaking to a crowd of people I don't know," Kinney told The National before the session.
“But I want to do something different this time around. So I moved from the standard speech and book-signing format to make it more of a show. Now, I am not a performer, but I feel that I am getting out there and doing things a little bit more differently than before.”
Kinney may have had the jokes, but De Saulles had the guitar. The British author and illustrator, whose wonderfully zany images made the Horrible Science book series a global success, arrived to the festival to discuss his latest work Bee Boy.
And De Saulles buzzed around the stage, so to speak, with a fast-moving session that shed light on the important role bees play in our daily lives.
And then to cap it all off, he pulled out the acoustic guitar to play couple of catchy little ditties. The way De Saulles puts it, this is all part of the territory when it comes to book festivals.
“When I first started in the industry over twenty years ago as an illustrator first and then an author, I had no idea that I also had to step out and talk to a large groups of people and basically sell myself,” he said, prior to his session.
“And, you know, I am an introvert and I do like my own company, so I basically had to learn all this the hard way.”
Is this the next literary star?
Someone else that could be on the cusp of learning these lessons is Polly Phillips.
The Dubai-based writer was announced as the winner of the Montegrappa Writing Prize.
Running as part of the festival, the award aims to discover unpublished talent with entrants submitting the first 2,000 words (or the first chapter) of a manuscript and a 400-word synopsis to be judged by renowned London-based literary critic Luigi Bonomi.
Phillips took the prize for the sample of her unpublished novel, the domestic noir Keep Your Friends Close. Her prize included a further session with Bonomi, a lavish Dubai hotel weekend stay and a copy of the current Writers' and Artists' Yearbook.
With previous winners Annabel Kantaria and Karen Osman going to on to become published authors, Bonomi said the competition has been a great platform to launch new literary talent from the region.
“This competition provides aspiring writers with a real chance of getting their work noticed,” he said.
“Every year I am astonished by the level of skill and imagination that we discover and I hope that this year’s crop of talent will go on to join our list of published authors.”
More sessions midweek
You don’t have to wait until next weekend for the next batch of festival talk. A healthy smattering of international and regional authors will be on offer throughout the week to discuss various matters related to the published word. Here are a few key sessions to look out for.
Creative Writing Course with Jabbour Douaihy
When: March 4 (9.30am-3pm)
Where: Al Waha
Tickets: Dh800 (Arabic)
Lebanese writer Jabbour Douaihy, author of June Rain (which was nominated for the 2008 International Prize for Arabic Fiction) will take you through his writing process and explore the merits of different subject matter and styles. How do you build characters on the page? What can you do to improve the plot.
Desert Stanzas 2019
When: March 5 (7pm-9.30pm)
Where: Desert Camp
Tickets: Dh250 (Arabic and English)
An evocative night of poetry under the desert stars, alongside traditional Emirati food and music. The poets this year include Talal Aljunaibi, Afra Atiq, Zeina Hashem Beck, Frank Dullaghan and Selina Tusitala Marsh. Book early, as this event sells out quickly.
Jennifer Palmieri: Dear Madam President
When: March 7 (6pm-7pm)
Where: Al Ras 2
Tickets: Dh75 (English)
Jennifer Palmieri is Hillary Clinton's former communications director, whose book, Dear Madam President, is a call to arms for women in all walks of life to take back control. Palmieri is a first-rate public speaker, who has spent time with some of the most influential people of the century, including Clinton, Barack Obama and the late Elizabeth Edwards. Palmieri will also be speaking in the morning (11am-12pm) as part of Youth Day. For Dh175, people aged 16+ can attend five sessions on March 7, including Dr Abdullah Al Maghlooth: The Positive Influence of Social Media (12.30pm-1.30pm), and Chris Gardner: The Pursuit of Happiness (5pm-6pm).
For more information on sessions taking place at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, and to buy tickets to the events, visit www.emirateslitfest.com
*Additional reporting by Rupert Hawksley