SIBF 2015

The Sharjah Book Fair 2015, held in November every year, was an event I always looked forward to. Back then I lived in Sharjah and could enjoy browsing the book stalls for hours and could attend author interactive sessions for several days. But now that am based in Dubai driving through the crazy traffic to Sharjah is the major drawback. After last year’s bitter experience of waiting in a packed room for hours and finally being unable to meet Dan Brown and Manju Warrier, I decided to take it easy this year.

I managed to go for a day. But there were no interesting author sessions on that day. Add to that the huge crowd, elbowing along at the halls, made it impossible to spend time leafing through the books with ease and at leisure. Unfortunately while the fair has grown leaps and bounds, the exhibition space remains the same. Hope the event organisers along with the aggressive promotions will also look into increasing the space for the exhibition to accommodate the burgeoning number of book lovers.

Here is a shot from the DC books, an Indian publishing house, stall. There were piles and piles of all kinds of books laid out on tables. You gotta be lucky to get standing space and manage to pull out books that you would want to buy, then brave a long queue at the cash counter to finally go home with your prized possessions.

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Meeting author Sophie Hannah

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This post was long overdue as I met author Sophie Hannah at the Emirates Lit Fest in March 2015. Being a huge Agatha Christie fan it was an unmissable event as she is the only writer to have brought back the indomitable Hercule Poirot back in action since Agatha Christie’s death. In her latest book The Monogram Murders Sophie gives Christie fans yet another chance to discover the eccentricities of one of the world’s most loved detectives.

At the Lit Fest Sophie shared several interesting aspects of writing this novel. She spoke about creating a Scotland Yard detective called Edward Catchpool who assists Poirot in solving the triple murders at the Bloxham Hotel in London. Catchpool is also the narrator in the book and appears loosely based on Captain Hastings, who featured as an associate of Poirot in Christie’s books. To write this novel she read and re-read the entire Agatha Christie book collection and relied on Catchpool as the narrator because she did not want to write in the voice of Agatha.

Authors often take inspiration from their own lives while creating characters and situations. In The Monogram Murders Poirot is living in a lodge a few yards away from his own home because he wants to enjoy a month of “restful inactivity” but he does not like the idea of being far away from home. Sophie recalled that her own father detested travel and in summer holidays when the family was excitedly making plans to visit new destinations he would suggest staying at the hotel in the next lane. “We can walk across and come back whenever we want to said Dad.”

She is also the author of several other bestselling crime fictions such as  The Carrier, which won the Crime Thriller of the Year Award at the Specsavers National Book Awards. Two of her crime novels — The Point of Rescue and The Other Half Lives have been adapted for television. She started her career as a secretary and was later offered a writing fellowship at Wolfson College, Oxford. Sophie told the audience that she always has a rough plan of the book she is writing and aims at finishing at least thousand words in a day. She also puts in a lot of research and counts on a few policemen as her friends.

Thumbs down to SIBF 2014

I have been a regular at the annual Sharjah International Book Fair since 2009. The fair provided an opportunity to not only buy an assortment of books but was also a forum to interact with celebrated authors. Through the fair I have been able to meet a number of authors and a few Indian celebrities.

The event has grown leaps and bounds over the years with an increasing number of exhibitors and visitors thanks to an extensive advertising campaign. But this is precisely where it has taken a beating. For the last few weeks all newspapers, news websites ran stories on the book fair, there were frequent radio advertisements and Sharjah was entirely full of billboards announcing the celebrities scheduled to arrive at the fair. While this excessive advertisement would have translated into a grand success for the organisers for me it meant driving in rush hour traffic for more than two hours from Dubai to stand in a huge crowd outside closed doors of the conference room where Dan Brown and later Indian actress Manju Warrier were speaking.

It was terribly frustrating and sickening to see people pushing and shoving in that crowd to get a chance to enter the room. On top of it the volunteers who stood outside the closed doors did nothing to either inform the people about their chances of making inside that room nor disperse the crowd. Everyone just stood there hoping that those doors would finally open. Some in the crowd were not even informed about the events inside, they just waited to see stars (I have been told there are famous people inside, whispered a few). I hope to attend the fair in future as it was one of my favourite events hope by then it would be better managed.

Meeting Joanne Harris at Emirates Lit Fest’14

It’s the season of Lent and I am off meat and desperately trying (but failing miserably) to cure my sweet tooth. Rich, silky, nutty, soft and flavoured — chocolate is a passion. A decade ago French actress Juliette Binoche brought alive the dark delights of chocolate in the movie Chocolat. It was again during lent that her character Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk move to a French village and open a chocolaterie tempting the fasting residents. I had loved that movie that also starred Johnny Depp but never got around to reading the book it’s based on by Joanne Harris. So, when the Emirates Lit Fest 2014 featured Joanne as one of the guest speakers I did not waste time to book a place.
Looking cheery in a pastel skirt and top Joanne Harris looked just the sort of person who would pop in chocolates while writing from her desk (but I read later that she prefers cheese and chillies over chocolates).

During the talk Joanne spoke about her writing schedule, views on publishers and her inspirations. A widely loved author since Chocolat became a famous movie she has written several notable books.

Writing from a shed in her garden Joanne’s books have a fair share of witchcraft and food as integral parts. A typical writing day for her starts with a big breakfast and reading aloud portions she had written a day earlier. She also prefers to write in chunks. Her 15 year old association with the close knit academic community greatly inspired her books initially. After she quit her job as a teacher she admits travelling to book fairs, meeting people and listening stimulate her creativity. She also got a hypnotherapist friend teach her to remember her dreams. Not one to listen to audio books and bow to pressure from publishers she says, “Publishers want to make money. I want to write because I want to.” A charming and friendly author she made me break my vow of not buying more books until I finish the ones on my bookshelf. Here she is posing with my signed copy of her latest short stories collection titled A cat, a hat and a piece of string.
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‘When the home is happy the world is happy’, says Dr Kalam

On Nov 7th it seemed all roads in Sharjah led to the Expo Centre. We braved traffic enroute and outside the centre only to find a sea of people at each information counters. Two words were clearly audible everywhere ‘Kalam and hall no 5’. And when we finally managed to locate the hall we found a large crowd who had left not a single seat empty. Within minutes in walked the eminent scientist and India’s former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam with an entourage of dignitaries. Post a standing ovation and a thunderous applause Dr Kalam took to the stage. Clearly his style of engaging with the audience gets him top points for being a great orator. Everyone was in rapt attention as he made the crowd repeat “When home is happy society is happy, when society is happy nation is happy, when nation is happy world is happy.”

A noted author with several books to his credit Dr Kalam urged all parents in the audience to create a home library with at least 10 books. Watch less television and discuss books at the dining table, he said.

The other important message from Dr Kalam to his little admirers was to have a little prayer room in their house where they can thank God for all the blessings in their lives. The key to your success it to make your mother happy, he told every child and made them chant “I will make my mother happy. If my mother is happy, then my home is happy, if my home is happy, then society is happy.”

When it came to the turn of the audience to ask questions Dr Kalam’s young fans could not have enough of him. Finally Kalam told them to email their questions and he promised to answer them in 24 hours.

Book fair, Air Show and Motors

The sun is no longer blazing hot. With the November air getting cooler it heralds the beginning of the short winter in UAE. A time when we all head to the many parks with picnic hampers and barbecue sets. It is also the time when several annual cultural events take place across the emirates. Beginning tomorrow is the Sharjah Book Fair. From November 6 to the 16th it brings celebrated authors, activities, talks and of course books. Jeffrey Archer is one of the many authors visiting the fair. In the past I enjoyed meeting some of my favourite writers at this event. Here is a link to my old posts about the book fair compiled by fellow blogger Richa from Clouds-Rain-And-Sunshine Blog.

For Dubai residents and car lovers the Dubai International Motor Show starts from today till 9th November. Expect more than 600 cars, 14 never before seen concept cars,an RTA number plate auction and a grand parade.

In mid November Dubai skies will host some of the spectacular display aircrafts from around the world in the Dubai Air Show. The show held every two years will take place at a new venue — the Dubai World Central site. Along with the 50 business jets on display the Dubai Airshow will see the return of the UAE’s Al Fursan aerobatics squad and the Red Arrows from the UK.

Crazy about Christie

I am a huge Agatha Christie fan. I have read all her detective titles including her biography Come Tell Me How You Live. So, imagine my luck when I chanced upon these at the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2013.

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These books took me back to my school days when I would get obsessed reading her novels. If I had issued an Agatha Christie from the library (and this happened quite often) I could think nothing else but how fast I could reach the last page. This meant I would be found reading at the dining table, in the quilt, quietly at night, through holidays foregoing homework. In short I would be possessed unless I finished it.

Although these titles that she wrote under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott are not crime thrillers I went through the same obsession. Besides of course the igneous plots what I like about her books are that they are peppered with insights into the many shades of the human mind. Her close observations of human nature and life in general are weaved together in the stories and into her characters.

It seems she wrote anonymously as Mary Westmacott because she wanted to prove to herself that her books could sell on merit rather than on her fame alone. For me whatever name she may choose her books remain compelling reads forcing me to turn one page after another. Looking forward to laying my hands on the rest of the four titles in this series. And when I do deadlines and household chores can take a break 🙂

‘The best thing about you is YOU,’ says Anupam Kher

Bollywood star, acting school teacher, theatre artist and now writer — in real life too Anupam Kher essays several roles with ease. It comes as no surprise then that his literary debut ‘The best thing about you is YOU’ is in its tenth edition in 10 months. “I never knew I could write. I rarely scored more than 38 per cent in my school exams,” Anupam made a candid confession during a talk at the Sharjah Book Fair.

He credits his early years in a lower middle class home for having taught him some valuable lessons on life. An eternal optimist Anupam hopes to inspire and motivate people to develop a positive outlook through his book. “It’s very tiring to be someone else. The world today seems to make you feel that there is someone better than you, someone who has a bigger car, better looks or more money. But the truth is that you don’t need the world to tell you that you are happening. Everyone has a special quality.”

Witty and down-to-earth Anupam had the audience in splits with his jokes on baldness. “There are only two kinds of men in this world — baldies and future baldies,” he announced to a hall reverberating with loud guffaws. It was difficult to imagine that this is a man with 450 films and 100 plays to his credit. Bollywood needs a lesson in humility from this bald character artist.

Arundhati Roy at Sharjah Book Fair

Fifteen years after she wrote the award winning God of Small Things Arundhati Roy continues to enchant book lovers. The hall, chock-a-block with her fans waiting to hear her talk at the Sharjah Book Fair, on November 9 was a huge evidence of her popularity. She did not disappoint. From Ayemenem to Obama Arundhati talked about many issues close to her heart.

About her book she said, “My grandmom actually had a pickle factory in Ayemenen and my first job was at the factory. I would wear a blue apron and stick labels of curry powder on bottles.” It was to describe the scenic Meenachil river in Ayemenem that Arundhati first started writing God of Small Things.

Vellutha, the untouchable who falls in love with the higher caste Ammu paid a heavy price for his passion in God of Small Things. Arundhati said the issue of caste system that she wrote about in her book still exists in India. In 1998, a year after her book was published the Bharatiya Janta Party came to power in India and conducted nuclear tests. Arundhati’s advocacy of political issues really began with this. “I had just won the Booker. I was a fairy queen. But I felt if I do not raise my voice now I will never be able to write honestly.” She has since then been vocal about an independent Kashmir, the Sardar Sarovar Project, foreign policies of the US and the Indian government’s actions against Naxalites.

Since her first book she has written several essays on contemporary issues but never another work of fiction. But that’s going to change very soon because she is currently in the process of writing her second novel. “It took me four and a half years to write God of Small Things. I felt I was in a jail, possessed with writing the book.”

She admitted that she is not ambitious and never intended to write to win any prizes. “Do things that make you happy, those that really engage you,” was her parting note.

Authors, Chefs and Book lovers mingle at Sharjah Book Fair

In its 31st year Sharjah International Book Fair has become better and bigger. Strong marketing and an increased presence of the event through social media has made the fair reach the masses. The crowds are larger than before complementing the increase in the number of books on display. There are book releases, book signing, reading sessions, live cookery shows and a host of children’s activities.

Egypt and Pakistan are the focus countries this year. In the India section DC Books continues to be the most active by being in the forefront organising author meets. Authors Ruskin Bond and Chetan Bhagat are the most popular and get prominent displays at the Indian book stalls.

Day 2 saw novelist Pankaj Mishra reading from his latest book From the Ruins of Empire. Some interesting quotes that came out of the discussion were — “There is no substitute for personal experience and travel.” On why Tagore is largely relegated to Bengal and is not remembered in India today “Writers are destined to be forgotten.”

Food lovers got a taste of well-known Malayali chef Naushad’s lip-smacking recipes at the live cooking demo. His first recipe book was released at the event by Malayalam movie stars Mukesh, Reema Kallingal, director Ranjith and Aashiq Abu.

 

Today Man Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy talks about God of Small Things at 8 :30 pm.

Be there for like the poster here says ‘Reading brings us unknown friends’

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