Being in Dubai for a literary festival is surreal enough. Being here during a torrential downpour is insane. The heavens opened just after we stepped off the plane in shorts, T-shirt and optimistic sunglasses.
The United Arab Emirates is not a place that’s used to rain and you’d have thought that there had been a massive earthquake if you listened to the local news. Abu Dhabi airport was shut down, all schools were closed, and people announced that they weren’t going outside because of the danger. Architects had not factored rain into any design. Houses began to leak, lack of adequate drainage on the roads led to enormous ponds that submerged cars. If somebody had opened a pop-up umbrella store they would have been rich enough to be able to eat in my hotel steak house. After a day and half, however, the sun came out to play to the soundtrack of a thousand water extractors turned up to 11.
The emirate’s literary festival has managed to pull in an impressive selection of top international authors… and me, so the people-spotting has been excellent. Normally around a hotel pool you check to see what people are reading. Around this one you can check out the authors.
“There’s Ian Rankin, oh look! Antony Beevor in fetching trunks. Oi! A C Grayling wants a pina colada!” It’s all rather fun until you have to go up against these book-world behemoths.
I not only have my own talk to plug my new book (Here Comes the Clown) but the festival likes to put you on discussion panels. Predictably, they struggled with what to do with me: “Should we get him to discuss Herodotus? How about he airs his views on Armenian poetry?” In the end, they chucked me into a discussion on “How to survive a post-career world”; something I have rather magnificently failed at. I think I ended up urging a lot of young people to quit their jobs, while their parents watched in horror.
After the session there was a book signing. I wandered over to the long table in the foyer where authors meet their fans. A staggeringly long queue awaited me. I tried to look relaxed, to give my media handler the impression that this was normal for someone of my literary largeness. I picked up a water and a couple of Sharpies. This was going to be a long afternoon but hey – that’s showbiz… I mean literarybiz. I sat down and looked up in a friendly yet intellectual manner. “Right, who’s up first!”
“Mr Joly, could you move one place up please,” whispered my minder. I looked puzzled but did as I was asked. Seconds later there was much excitement from the long line as a gentleman sat in my vacated seat. It was Anthony Horowitz, and I realised that the line was for him. I nodded to him politely then pretended to be busy with my phone as I awaited somebody, anybody to wander up and speak to me. After five minutes or so, I slipped away to lick my wounded pride. All this and I was left off the Man Booker longlist.
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