x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Literary stars shine bright at festival opening

The annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature begins with children and music.

Above, Jeffery Deaver performs his own composition at the opening event. Courtesy the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature
Above, Jeffery Deaver performs his own composition at the opening event. Courtesy the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

The American best-selling author Jeffery Deaver hailed the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature as "without doubt the best literary festival in the world".

His comments came at the press conference held on Tuesday at the festival site, the InterContinental Hotel in Dubai's Festival City.

In Deaver's witty address, the self-described "festival aficionado" praised the festival's dynamism and international flavour.

"It is multidimensional and multicultural. Authors and attendees have come here from throughout the Middle East, South Asia, the Far East, the western hemisphere, Europe and everywhere," he said. "I would not be the least surprised if I find in the programme a session on Inuit storytelling from the Arctic and perhaps in a few years, the ins and outs of intergalactic Martian poetry."

While it was not mandatory to attend, the guest authors threw their support behind the festival by attending Tuesday morning's media conference.

As well as the official guest speakers - Deaver and the Emirati poet Nujoom Al Ghanem - the opening press conference boasted the likes of the celebrated journalist and author Abdel Bari Atwan and the award-winning poet Anil Dharker.

With the exception of Deaver, the other big name in the room was Ian Rankin. Not wanting to make a fuss, the Scottish creator of Inspector Rebus elected to sit quietly at the back and observe proceedings.

Al Ghanem, a regular guest of the festival, explained that authors value the event because of the painstaking preparation that takes place behind the scenes.

"The festival really makes the authors feel special," she said. "A lot of us are invited to the festival as early as six months before it begins. This shows the organisational level and it shows the importance they place on the authors' time by reaching out so early."

The opening night ceremony, also held at the hotel, showcased the festival's focus on children. More than 200 children from 11 schools in Dubai and Sharjah were the stars of the show, with a performance resembling the format of a cultural, evening talk show.

Hosted by a trio of students - Asma Qais, Sharan Bhatia and Habiba Alkhatib - the programme boasted guest appearances by authors Kate Adie, Philip Ardagh and Shobhaa De, as well as Deaver and Atwan.

Sitting together on a couch, the authors discussed their creative process as well as their inspirations.

"I must confess that I grew up madly in love with Elvis Presley," De said. "I am also inspired by many people, including Steven Spielberg, because he gave us dreams. He is also someone that dreamt big and I admire people like that."

Ardagh, a celebrated author of children's fiction, said the genre allows him the creativity denied to him in adult fiction.

"You have so much fun when you are writing for children," he said. "Adults tend to have some quite serious ideas in what they want to have in a book, whereas with kids, you can really go in directions that are exciting and unexpected."

Atwan addressed the festival theme of Heroes and Villains. He described how the latter were responsible for his global fame.

"According to the western criteria, two villains made me very famous," he said. "The first one was Saddam Hussein and the second was Osama bin Laden. My interviews with both of them elevated me from a humble Arab journalist to a well-recognised writer and journalist. Now, should I be thankful or grateful to them? These things just happen in life."

Deaver admitted his novels often carry a lot of blood, but nowhere near to the amount spilt in novels by his contemporaries.

"I remember having coffee with fellow crime writers and we were trying to find out what the body count was in our books," he recalled. "I don't remember who got the highest but I had a modest amount. I only killed in my 35 novels about 1,000 people. One person killed maybe 20 or 30,000, so I was quite humbled."

Deaver finished the evening with an acoustic guitar performance of a self-penned country song, titled Shadow. The subject matter of a stalker's whisperings wasn't too dissimilar from the characters explored in his novels.

The literary action kicks off in earnest with mega-selling author Jeffrey Archer, the novelist and screenwriter Lynda La Plante and Rankin appearing over the weekend, while the Italian chef Antonio Carluccio will reveal some cooking secrets in tonight's session.

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature continues until Saturday evening at the InterContinental Dubai at Festival City. Tickets cost from Dh40 and are available from www.emirateslitfest.com

sasaeed@thenational.ae

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