Over one million people have attended the 34th Sharjah International Book Fair over the last eleven days, with organisers confident of breaking last year’s record of 1.4 million visitors when the final tally is counted.
Sharjah Book Authority chairman Ahmed Al Ameri said it was another bumper edition – ending on November 14 – packed with book lovers, authors and publishing industry officials.
“The second weekend has been so busy that one of the ATM machines ran out of money,” he says.
“I think the great reception comes down to us always building on the success of each year. We always try to attract the authors people want to hear, but more importantly, we do this for the cultural value. We don’t charge because we have a higher goal of creating a love of culture for people in the UAE and GCC.”
Darren Shan brings Zombie apocalypse
Master of children’s horror Darren Shan delved into his chilling world with the “undead creatures feasting on the dead.”
The Irish author, who appeared in the book fair on Thursday night and is responsible for the 12-part ZOM-B series, says he uses the books to explore deeper real life issues.
"The protagonist is a teenager called B Smith," he said in his session at the Intellectual Hall. "B is a normal teenager in most aspects except one – his father's a very vocal racist. As much as Zom-B is an over-the-top fantastical story of Zombie apocalypse, I also wanted to use these books to show the horrors we face in the real world such as racism, rising extremism, the use of power by those who have it on those who don't. All the books in the series are thrilling for the most part, but they also probably make for some serious discussions."
Asked whether his upcoming series finale would also end in his trademark, he quipped: “Haha. You have to read it find it out,” he said. “Yes, there is some closure ... it does end the story for the main characters, and has some others for you to imagine. In life, there is no neat end to the story, life is always continuing.”
Wearing the rather apt T-shirt emblazoned with the words Keep Calm and Kill Zombies, Shan offered some horror-writing tips to youngsters, advocating a good mix of the expected and unexpected. “There should be some shocks that readers can see coming and some they can’t,” he said. “You should sometimes let the readers feel ‘Yeah, I saw that coming.’”
Malayalam movie stars hit the fair
A crowd of over 2,500 people packed the book fair’s mammoth ballroom on Thursday to see Malayalam movie stars Prithviraj Sukumaran and Parvathy Menon.
Basking in the success of their latest on screen pairing in Ennu Ninte Moideen (Yours Truly, Moideen), the couple were joined by filmmaker R S Vimal for the launch of the film's screenplay, which is now available for purchase.
One of the biggest hits this year, Ennu Ninte Moideen narrates the real-life romance of two star-crossed lovers: Moideen, a Muslim, and Kanchanamala, a Hindu, with beautiful Kerala providing the picturesque backdrop.
Set in the 1960s and 1970s, the film poignantly captures Kanchanamala’s nearly 20 years of house arrest, their few clandestine meetings and the exchange of love letters often written in their own code language.
“Moideen and Kanchanamala’s love story is one movie that has brought me to the GCC many times,” Sukumaran said.
Talking about the beauty of the romance, which never culminated in marriage, he said: “It was the integrity of their character that even without any institution like marriage, they still gave their hearts to each other. It was their promise not only to each other but themselves too ...[it’s] a manifestation of self-respect.”
Asked if he had been moved to tears at any of his own emotional scenes in the film, Sukumaran said: “I can never be moved seeing my own performance on screen. I end up seeing only the flaws. But yes, Parvathy sure moved me to tears in some of her scenes.”
It was also revealed that both Sukumaran and Parvathy are avid readers themselves. So naturally, their fans wanted to know their reading preferences.
"The last book I read was What is The What by Dave Eggers based on the real-life story of Valentino, a Sudanese refugee," Sukumaran said.
A bespectacled Parvathy, wearing a black, maroon and gold sari, said her favourites included works by Malayalam author Madhavikutty, and English novels Eat, Pray, Love and Gone Girl.
Next year will be bigger and better
With the book fair’s growing popularity, Al Ameri said discussions will have to take place at some point to extend the fair’s duration. While he can’t comment if such changes could happen for next year’s edition, he did confirm that a number of big name authors have been secured for 2016. “I have one person that is so big, people will fly into see him,” he said. “I cannot tell you the name yet but I can tell you that he is even bigger than Dan Brown.” Let the guessing game begin.
*with additional reporting from Saeed Saeed