What can a literary festival bring to Dubai?
People. People who are curious about Dubai but don’t want to look like the world’s great shoppers. Coming to a literary festival and seeing these wonderful speakers will give them an excuse to visit and explore. Although Dubai gets a lot of publicity for its developments, adding something cultural like the literary festival will take it to the next level as a destination.
Why did you want to get involved with EAIFL?
People in Britain are now seeing these events as a place to talk about the way we live, and that’s an increasingly rare opportunity. There is a considerable worry in the developed world that newspapers, television and magazines are tending towards the lighter side of things, towards gossip. In reality, there are vast numbers of people who want to learn about all kinds of interesting things, and at a book event they get to see that other people are interested too; that they’re not the only one out there with an enquiring mind.
How long have you been coming to Dubai?
I’ve been coming for over 30 years. Journalists have always come to Dubai because it’s an easy place to operate from: it works. In fact, I’ve been deported twice to Dubai: whenever I got the choice of being thrown out to a country, this is where I come.
How has the place changed?
It develops so quickly that I barely recognise it from one visit to the next. Nothing quite matches seeing it for real – the scale of the development and this extraordinary architecture.
How does writing for TV differ from writing a book?
A lot of people don’t think that writing for television is a discipline, but it is. You shouldn’t stand in front of a blazing inferno and say ‘this is a huge fi re’ when that is perfectly obvious. When you write a book, you don’t have the pictures running alongside you and so you have to learn to write in a somewhat different way.
Will EAIFL help eradicate illiteracy in the UAE?
I come from the country of Shakespeare, and yet there are thousands of young people there who don’t read because they simply can’t be bothered. It’s hugely worrying: illiteracy in a developed country is a scandal. It’s nothing to do with poverty or lack of resources; it’s to do with indifference and a certain hostility towards the idea of reading. What literary festivals can do is promote the idea that reading is fun.
How will Arabic writing be represented at EAIFL?
The festival is very much an exchange of ideas – that’s why it’s important to have local authors and people who write in Arabic to talk, rather than hearing the foreigners rabbit on about it. I think it’s much more important that you get a good input of local talent
Any recommended reads?
I read right across the board. I like a lot of modern novelists – I thought What Was Lost by Caroline O’Flynn was quite brilliant – and I read quite a lot of social history. I’ve got piles of books by my bedside nine miles high.
Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature, Feb 26-Mar1, 2009. Confirmed authors include Margaret Atwood, Wilbur Smith, Ranulph Fiennes & Paulo Coelho. See www.eaifl.com.