Monday, 13 March 2017

UAE Reflections

I was keen to take part in the Emirates Literature Festival for several reasons. One of them was the chance to meet several leading authors whom I'd never encountered in person before. It was a great pleasure to have several conversations with Kathy Reichs, and her husband Paul, and with another British crime writer and cricket lover, Vaseem Khan, and his wife Nirupama. But quite apart from people working in my genre, there was an eclectic mix of leading writers, from sci-fi superstar Peter F. Hamilton to well-known faces from the TV such as Jim Naughtie, Frank Gardner, and Alan Titchmarsh. And it was equally good to talk to a variety of readers, including a long time supporter of this blog, Golden Age collector Clint Stacey, and the daughter of someone I'd met in Madrid, of all places, the previous week; it's a very small world.

Several trips were laid on for us, and one special treat was an evening walking party of ten led by Paul Blezard. Paul took us round the spice and gold souqs, and after a boat trip across the creek, we finished up snacking in a waterside restaurant. If you'd told me  that one day I'd go on a jaunt in the company of Stephen Hawking's daughter Lucy, Hemingway's grandson John, Kathy Reichs and Jim Naughtie's wife, I wouldn't have believed you. For me, it was all rather surreal, but these celebrities were very good company. The walk was followed by dinner in the festival hotel, though by that stage I really should have resisted the urge to carry on eating...

There was a night-time desert feast, watching the flamingoes on the bank during a trip on the impressive new canal, a visit to the amazing opera house, with a talk given by the building's architect, and an ascent to the (almost) the top of the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. At an event where the UAE was celebrated with a series of talks from leading local people, I chatted with Peter, who told me that detective elements play a part in his fiction. I'm now really keen to read his The Great North Road, despite his warning me that it's a very long novel!

Listening to those local people talk, I sympathised with their frustration at media stereotypes of Dubai. As a leading local film-maker said, it's not really soulless, and to see it only as a place of shopping malls and retail therapy for lovers of bling is unfair. Thanks to oil, Dubai has come a long way in a short time, but people realise that the oil won't last forever, and they are making huge efforts to develop their cultural life. Education is a key priority, as the festival director emphasised, and many authors made a contribution to this by visiting schools in the area. It's not a perfect society, but then, I've yet to encounter a perfect society.Events such as the Festival help to foster understanding between people from very different backgrounds and cultures, and that has to be a good thing.

Sharjah, where I spent half a day along with Rob Davies, was different but equally interesting. In the course of a week, one cannot get a full picture of a place, but I felt that I learned something about the UAE's brand of Islam,and I'm sure that the coming years will see more progress. I found it all rather inspirational. And yes, that did include the inspiration for a new story. I plan to call it "The Repentance Wood", and in case you're wondering, here is a photo of the original Repentance Wood in Sharjah...

1 comment:

Fiona said...

What a wonderful week Martin! Very interesting reading and lovely photos - thank you for sharing.