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Sun, Sand, Books and a Camel or Two

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature took place from the 5th to the 8th of March 2013 with more 120 authors and artists from over 30 countries taking part in the fifth annual event. I’ve been lucky enough to have attended all five and seen this event go from strength to strength. Not only does it offer best selling authors from across the globe, but it also puts them on the stage together and translates it simultaneously into English and Arabic. For the audience the juxtaposition of cultures, work ethics and inspirations can be breath taking, but for the authors themselves the festival offers an experience like no other.

From the moment you arrive you are welcomed into the world of the festival which aims to show you as much as possible of the Emirate while you also visit schools and offer sessions, workshops, and perform for the festival.

This year the second night of the festival took place out in the desert. What do you do with 120 writers in the desert? You put them on camels, let them watch falcons, and listen to poetry under the stars by Roger McGough, Simon Armitage, Sjon, Ben Okri, Jeet Thayll, Nujoom Al Ghanem and Adel Khozam. Oh and throw in a visit from HH Sheikh Mohammed to make the evening shine even more.

Mark Billingham, John Connolly and Ian Rankin pondering the life of a sheikh.

Mark Billingham, John Connolly and Ian Rankin pondering the life of a sheik.

During the days while not on stage or giving workshops there were excursions to the Bastakiya for heritage walks, trips to the Burj Kalifa – the tallest tower in the world and of course quiet time by the pool. The evenings were filled with a Murder Mystery Dinner where members of the public sat with the likes of Ian Rankin, Mark Billingham, Jeffrey Deaver and John Conolly among others but it was chef Ken Hom who figured out ‘who done it.’

Another evening there was a ‘Lighter Side’ dinner with entertainment provided by Bobby Chinn, Philip Ardagh, Mark Billingham and Ben Miller. There were standout sessions with Lynda La Plante who had the audience gasping with her blunt honesty and Jeffrey Archer who entertained like I’ve not seen before.

A key focus of the festival is literacy, which in this region of the world it is very low. Reading is looked upon only as a tool for learning and not for pleasure. This is where the festival really shines with its huge children’s programme and the education day with an outreach that is huge. All participating authors visit at least one school even if their reading audience is normally far away from the world of children. For many authors this is the highlight of their visit to Dubai.

The experience for the authors is also unique in that most come for at least five days so they too have the chance to relax with fellow authors, attend sessions, and simply enjoy being in Dubai. I’m already looking forward to next year’s festival.

Liz Fenwick is the author of THE CORNISH HOUSE out on 11/4/2013 and A CORNISH AFFAIR out on 23/5/2014.