x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Monty Python star opens book festival

The Emirates Airline Festival for Literature launches on today and wraps up on Saturday in Dubai.

DUBAI // Some of the world's most respected authors, journalists and literary figures will converge in Dubai over the next few days.

The third Emirates Airline Festival of Literature gets under way tonight with Michael Palin, the British comedian and author best known for the TV series Monty Python and his journey from the North to South Poles.

The opening is one of 130 events including 20 workshops and masterclasses that have already sold out.

Isobel Abulhoul, the festival director, said there was a "palpable buzz" in the air around Dubai.

Among the notable visitors to the festival Ms Abulhoul mentioned Edward de Bono, the Maltese physician who coined the term "lateral thinking", and Tim Mackintosh-Smith, the Yemen-based British writer who has written about the travels of the Islamic scholar Ibn Battuta.

Also in attendance will be Karen Armstrong, the comparative religion author of Charter for Compassion, and Kate Adie, the British journalist who covered the massacre in China's Tiananmen Square. Both women appeared at the festival last year.

The presence of such high-profile writers will be inspiring for the young people, said Saeed al Nabouda, the acting director general of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, which is hosting the event.

"We don't come across authors like this in our day-to-day lives in the Emirates," he said. "So to have this opportunity is really a privilege. It is important the younger generation become engaged with the festival as they are our future readers."

Ali Mostafa, the director and writer of the Emirati film City of Life, said this was one of the reasons to support the literature festival.

"Especially in this day and age in the Arab world, we have to start convincing people more about reading and the importance of literary education.

"We need people to get excited about reading and to see what goes into writing a book or a script, or any piece of writing. It is vital for the future generation."

Maha Gargash, the only Emirati to have been published internationally in English, said aspiring writers who attended the festival should try to pick up tips on how to secure an agent.

"This is the hardest part of the struggle to become a writer," she said. "There are workshops at this festival that are dedicated to this and I would recommend going."

The workshops and masterclasses are a new addition to the festival.

They include a full-day session dedicated to overcoming challenges for those who want to become journalists, as well as two hours with Tony Parsons on how to write a bestseller.

The sessions are part of the festival's constant efforts to keep delivering new material, Ms Abulhoul added.

Sir Maurice Flanagan, the executive vice-chairman of Emirates Airline and Group, the primary sponsors for the event, credited Ms Abulhoul for her drive in assembling the event.

"This festival owes everything to her fierce character and dynamism. It is my personal pride and joy that we are behind this wonderful event."

The festival finishes on Saturday.