x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Fireworks to be expected

Isobel Abulhoul, the organiser of the EAFL, says controversy raises the profile of an event but should not overshadow it.

The controversial and outspoken author Martin Amis is one of the guest speakers appearing on day one of the second Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai on Wednesday. The organiser, Isobel Abulhoul, says she is not concerned that remarks he has made about euthanasia and Islamist terrorism will overshadow the event. Last year, Margaret Atwood withdrew from the festival in a row over censorship, but later apologised and said she had been misinformed about the facts.

This year Amis, whose latest novel, The Pregnant Widow, has just been published, has been at the centre of several flurries of adverse comment, one over his satirical remarks about wanting euthanasia booths on every street corner. Abulhoul does not see it as an issue. "I think being in the news always raises the profile of an event. I was invited to a festival in Melbourne recently and everyone from all over the world knew about the EAIFL festival last year and wanted the inside story. I wouldn't say controversy is good but being in the public eye is. I don't think it will overshadow the event.

"As far as Martin Amis is concerned, we have already had a lot of interest from local journalists but they don't seem to see it as an issue. I think his session will be well attended and I'm sure there will be fireworks but isn't that what it's all about?" The festival opens with a session, called Read the Future, involving Emirati children's authors whose books have been published since last year. Abulhoul says she is particularly proud to have helped 15 new authors get their books into print.

"We have chosen them to be our opening session because we think it's amazing progress and such an optimistic message to writers who are not yet published. "They just came knocking at my door as a result of the festival last year. There was a project going on at Dubai Women's College between two departments. They had written children's books and collaborated with other faculties to illustrate them. When I saw them I thought they had huge potential although they needed work. Some of the authors were teachers and some students. The books will be launched at the festival.

"Then we have Andy Smart who is working with the Bloomsbury Foundation to get children's books translated into Arabic. "I think we have turned a new page but still staying true to the original vision that we will give a platform to writers from this part of the world." One of Abulhoul's personal favourites is by the new Emirati author Ghauda Hallami, called The Smallest Hump, about a camel. "She grew up on a farm with camels and the book is about one that was different from the others. I grew up being teased about my height and reading this lovely little book makes you think you are not alone being different. She just wanted to let children know that."

Another series is by Reem al Ghurg. "She came to us with seven baby books, about children visiting each of the seven emirates. She had a young child and couldn't find suitable stories to read to her child." A session on Friday featuring Emirati poets is another favourite, along with one on the opening day called Looking Back With Love, featuring Dubai poetry from the 18th and 19th centuries translated into English.

Says Abulhoul: "I feel that it is something that needs to be recognised and doesn't get showcased enough. It's important that we are bringing in well-known and revered authors from all over the world, but we mustn't lose sight of the people who belong here. This is really their festival."