Saturday, 27 February 2016

Back to Skool - Let The LitFest Fun Commence

I love school visits. They're sort of part of being at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. You don't have to do them but there's a lot of effort put into integrating the Festival with local schools and authors are asked if they will drop by a school or two and give a talk to students.

I always jump at the chance. I get to behave like I'm a real author and everything. The faculty usually gets a bit twitchy, because I don't do 'PC' so well, but it normally comes right in the end. I try and use the opportunities as something of a sales pitch to get students thinking about writing their own stories. It's not just about thinking you've got a book in you: narrative is a powerful tool in communications and story-telling permeates pretty much everything we get up to in the nasty, commercial world we're bringing up our kids to inhabit.

Which is sort of funny, given our mums always told us that telling stories was a bad thing to do.

Tomorrow I'm off to Al Ain, where two groups of students from Brighton College are going to spend an hour or two with a strange, shouty man bawling incoherently at them. Next week it's English College and Pristine Private School. I'll be testing the surfaces for dust at that last one.

It's hard to believe, but we're only two sleeps from the LitFest - that fine bonanza of all things narrative, bookish and even literary. 140 writers from 25 countries are set to workshop, panel session, chat, sign books and generally delight something like 37,000 visitors. This year's Festival theme is 'time' and there's a huge programme planned which will take place across two weeks, both over at Shindaga and at the Intercon Festival City where the main programme takes place.

The Festival has grown like a mad thing over the few years it's been running. It's created new writers and seen people getting publishing contracts, start writing for themselves and expand into writing for others.

People have been self-publishing books, forming writers' groups, book clubs and generally enjoying books all the more. The Festival has, in short, triggered all sorts of growth in the literary scene in the UAE and even beyond in the wider Arab world.

The increasing focus on the Arabic programme has created a new opportunity to expand readership and contemporary literature in a language that has seen all too little focus on literature in recent years.

We've seen UAE-based writers clinching publishing contracts, new writers emerging and a vibrancy in the literary scene here which simply didn't exist before the Festival started taking place.

And all because a lady with a bookshop in Dubai woke up one day and thought 'Wouldn't it be lovely to have a literature festival?'

It's staggering, really...

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