x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Conor Purcell takes a tongue-in-cheek look at Dubai

His new book, The Dubai 50: The Ultimate City Guide, presents an affectionate, if unashamedly irreverent, look at the UAE.

Conor Purcell, the Dubai-based author of The Dubai 50: The Ultimate City Guide. Sarah Dea / The National
Conor Purcell, the Dubai-based author of The Dubai 50: The Ultimate City Guide. Sarah Dea / The National

The book

It begins with a daring description of Abu Dhabi, as a " … rather sedate capital city that used to be even more sedate before it began attracting sports and musical events".

And it ends with the Dubai World Trade Centre, a building that resembles " … a cross between a cheese grater and an air conditioning unit, but has a pleasing retro kitsch feel that sets it apart from its classier/glassier neighbours".

These observations form part of Conor Purcell's satirical exploration of life in the Emirates, The Dubai 50: The Ultimate City Guide, which has recently hit the country's bookshops.

Purcell, who is from Ireland and works as the editor of Emirates Airline's Open Skies in-flight magazine, says he conceived of the book as an antidote to the masses of bland, serious traveller guides out there.

That explains the passages that lampoon certain spheres of society in the UAE. Purcell is unrepentant if he's annoyed anyone.

"It's supposed to be taken with a pinch of salt," he contends. "I think people here take things too seriously, they get too worried about censorship or offending people."

Nevertheless, some people have been offended. Take the chapter dedicated to the country's radio stations. Purcell readily admits that a few broadcasters took umbrage with some of his opinions on their industry, including this: "Dubai's radio is terrible. No one is quite sure why, but aside from the housebound and young teenagers, no one is listening anyway."

"It's a tongue-in-cheek guidebook," he explains. "If you have a sense of humour about it and you're not offending Islam, the culture or individuals, then you're fine."

Even the National Media Council (NMC), the government department which all books require approval from before publication, had almost no objections. "So many people said: 'You will not get away with that', and 'The NMC won't let you', but they read it and said it's fine," says Purcell.

"I guess people who have lived here will look at the book and have a laugh about some of the things you had to be here to understand - like the Jumeirah Janes."

What to expect

No stone to have been left unturned, with chapters on places such as the Mall of the Emirates and its so-called battle with the Dubai Mall. Purcell writes: "These two are on a permanent mission to outshine each other. Ski Slope? We have an ice rink. Ice rink? We have an amusement arcade! Amusement arcade? We have go-karts on the ice rink!"

Other topics include Friday brunch and the tallest building in the world: "Mmmmm. The Burj. Man's conquest of, er, something or other, is surprisingly beautiful."

The writing process

Purcell spent four days writing the 12,000-word guidebook.

"It took some time to think about chapters, but it was easy to think of 50 things," he recalls. "It was enjoyable and interesting.

"Also, making sure each chapter is amusing was difficult - you have to trust yourself. If you start second-guessing yourself, you'll never do anything."

Some 1,000 copies were printed at a cost of Dh32,000, which was mostly covered by the sponsors American Express, before being distributed by Jashanmal.

The book has been illustrated by the artist Ignacio Gomez. "I found photos and sent them to Gomez, and he created a crystal pixilated effect to give a different style. There are so many books here that just have pictures of sheikhs, the yachts or the sand dunes," he says.

Future projects

Purcell is currently working on a children's book called The Tiny Book of Animal Facts, featuring up to 60 facts - some of which are false. It is expected to be released worldwide this summer.

Another project is a magazine titled We Are Here, which will be published approximately three times a year in different locations by people who live in the chosen place. The first, to cost just Dh10, will be Dubai focused. Most of its 124 pages are complete.

"I'm hoping to publish by July, and it will go to about 200 retail points around the GCC and 100 globally and online," says Purcell.

The Dubai 50: The Ultimate City Guide, by Conor Purcell and Ignacio Gomez, published by the Dubai-based Wndr Media, costs Dh149 and is available at Magrudy's, Jashanmal, Kinokuniya and Virgin Megastore, and online at Amazon and also for Kindle