x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Seating plans, literary stars and stroppy teens

Our teen correspondent Lavanya Malhotra meets the new James Bond author Jeffery Deaver in Dubai.

The diminutive man on the stage settled slowly into an armchair, thoughtfully surveyed the audience from the top of his glasses, and quipped: "The name's Deaver. Jeffery Deaver." Few people realise just how entertaining authors - apparently bookish people - can be, but the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature gives us a chance to find out.

As has been reported in this newspaper, Jeffery Deaver, author of action-packed thrillers and creator of the quadriplegic detective Lincoln Rhyme, has been commissioned by the Ian Fleming Estate to pen the latest James Bond book, Carte Blanche. And for a story that cries out for glamour and a fast-paced setting, what better place than eclectic Dubai, which happens to be, as the advertisements go, "a map that gets updated every day". Happily, Mr Deaver decided to drop in and give the inhabitants of the setting of his highly anticipated new novel a little talk.

When I saw a pamphlet asking for teenage volunteers for the event, I got myself in line for an interview (to get the role of usher) pretty quickly. You don't get very many chances to do any work where you get to rub shoulders with great contemporary novelists.

At the venue, we were shown what to do as ushers by one of the smiling organisers. Tell people to sit down and only let VIPs sit in the front row. I was slightly sceptical about how well we would be able to do this - how do you know if someone's a VIP? You can't very well ask them. I think I might have ordered someone off the front row that I later realised was nobility specially flown in to see Mr Deaver. Oh well. I wonder how difficult it is for the people who put together events like these to work with teenagers, who, I daresay, aren't a particularly co-operative, or communicative, branch of the human race. It can't be very pleasant to give a bunch of adolescents a briefing about their duties, then cheerily ask: "Any questions?" No answer. "So you all understand what to do?" No answer. "Yes? No?" Six pairs of panda eyes look daggers at you. "Er, OK, then."

We volunteers, all between 15 and 18, decked in our formal best, waited for a couple of hours on plush sofas outside the auditorium before the event started, having meaningful conversations about deodorants and what types of soap smell the nicest. Don't blame us: what are six teenagers who've only just met, lumped together, under the slightly disconcerting gaze of an adult who's looking after you, supposed to talk about?

We had a quick browse through a book stall featuring James Bond and Jeffery Deaver books, and I managed to get halfway through Deaver's The Stone Monkey before an attendant wandered by, coughing discreetly. Our guide looked at the ceiling the whole time, tactfully pretending she couldn't see us leafing through the pages. I didn't quite manage to finish the book, but I think I might be starting to acquire a taste for Deaver novels.

Finally, the show was about to begin, and I stood at the door for a bit, grinning maniacally at everyone and repeating, "Hello, please sit down," until I got bored and realised I was probably being more of a hindrance than a help to the organisers, so at last sat down myself. In the process, I met one of my teachers, the chief librarian from the Old Library where I volunteer, and two other people whose names I didn't know but who knew me very well apparently. It's a small world. Happily, the organisers beamed at us all and told us what a good job we had done - telling people to sit - after Mr Deaver had finished his talk and answered some questions about his new book. I told anyone who would listen how much I had in common with the author - we liked the same sort of books: Agatha Christie, CS Lewis... though the similarities probably end there.

Later on, clutching my newly bought copy of Mr Deaver's Burning Fire, we got the writer himself to write a little note in it and autograph our books for us, too. He was happy to talk, joke and laugh freely with everyone - admirable publicity skills, I must admit. He tries to create characters that readers will connect with, he explained to us; his character Kathryn Dance, for example, is just the sort of girl he'd like to go on a date with.

I toddled home that night, perhaps none the wiser on how to spot a VIP and usher people inside auditoriums, but ready to try out books by authors I've never sampled before and get myself involved in more literary festival events. Probably a more refreshing way to spend your weekend than wandering around a mall for the hundredth time.

The writer is a 15-year-old student in Dubai.