Spectacular is the first word that comes to mind thinking of my week in Dubai with the Emirates Festival of Literature. World-class is the second thought - a breathtaking location, some of the best writers in the entire world, and an event run with a staggering degree of professionalism and charm. Think desert camps, with poetry under the stars, graced by a visit from HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum:
Then, cruising leisurely along the creek in Abras, a flotilla of writers:
Kate and Greg Mosse, Anthony Beevor
Then there were the events. I may have been spoiled for life - my first panel ever was with award winning writers Chris Cleave and Tan Twan Eng, and it was an honour that 'The Perfume Garden' had been chosen for the Festival reading group along with their remarkable books. It was, as you can see, also great fun:
Photos: Emirates Festival of Literature
I had the privilege to spend a three hour car journey to Abu Dhabi with Tony Buzan, the genius who invented mind maps - that was some conversation. Then, at an American Academy I spoke to five schools, a full auditorium of kids who posed some of the smartest questions I've ever heard about writing:
Every time you walked into the Green Room, it was like a 'who's who' of authors. At the dinners and events I found myself looking around the tables simply blown away by the talent that the Festival had gathered. When I wasn't working, I crammed in as many sessions as possible - heard Anthony Beevor, Artemis Cooper, Deborah Moggach, Simon Sebag Montefiore. It will take some weeks for all the new ideas to process but to say the week was inspiring is an understatement.
Lynda la Plante and Liz Fenwick
Photo: Liz Fenwick
The most heartening thing of all was to see people of all ages there, and loads of children. This was the book store at the beginning of the week - I have no idea how many thousands of books were sold but the Festival was buzzing with energy and huge crowds. People were queuing round the block for the signings, (for some writers like Jeffrey Archer they were signing for three hours - as an 'emerging writer' there's nothing like signing on the same table with literary stars such as Ben Okri, Kate Mosse and William Dalrymple to keep your ego in check:)
And then, in a suitably dramatic ending, the Festival ended with a bang when dhows moored opposite caught fire. Hopefully no casualties but it was a strangely poignant end to the week watching the charred carcasses of the old boats engulfed by flames ...
As I said, spectacular. I am immensely grateful to Emirates Airline, and to Isobel Abulhoul and her remarkable team. It's been a week of new contacts, friends, ideas - and as a writer/mother the sheer novelty of being able to leave papers on your hotel desk and discover them in exactly the same place when you return to writing can't be understated. If you get the chance to attend or participate in the Festival next year - jump at it. It truly is an oasis of creativity in the Middle East and the world. What a week. And then, to be greeted in Doha arrivals by a great whoop of delight and two small people racing through the barrier to throw themselves at me for a hug was a great end to Mother's Day. Happy writing to you all - and Happy Mother's Day x