It started off as a quiet week. I had a session with Rama on Sunday morning, yoga on Monday morning, a cardio session on my own on Tuesday, and was home the rest of the time.
I had another session with Rama on Wednesday. That afternoon I went to the Fairmont to get my hair done – I wanted it coloured and blow-dried. From the time I got to the salon to the time I left an hour and a half later, I was asked six times whether I wanted a manicure and pedicure. By six different women. They asked me: when I got there, when I sat down, when I had the colour in my hair, when my hair was being washed, when my hair was being dried, and when I was paying my bill. Jesus, if I wanted it I’d ask for it.
After that, I met my cousin for a coffee in the lobby. It was my first coffee in almost a week!
On Wednesday evening I went to the Intercontinental Hotel at Festival City – the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature was on and there was a talk by David Nicholls (author of One Day, Starter for Ten and The Understudy). I’d booked my ticket back in January and had been looking forward to it since then. The venue for the evening was the new Heritage Centre on the waterfront. It was a chilly evening and I’m glad I had my shawl.
I got there early enough to get a good seat.
He was ‘in conversation’ with Rosie Goldsmith.
He talked about his acting ‘career’ – how every time his friends saw him in a play they’d say ‘Well done! Have you thought about being a writer?’ He talked about how he *almost* went on stage as the understudy in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and that it took him ten years to realise he wasn’t a very good actor.
When discussing One Day, he said he’s often asked whether he’s more like Dexter or Emma but he feels he’s more like Ian, the failed stand-up comedian. Why do writers always suffer from intense self-loathing and the feeling they’re never good enough? He’s thinking about a fourth novel, but worries that it will always be compared to One Day and won’t be as good and it’ll be all downhill from there. What I didn’t know is that the date used in the book (15th July) is St Swithin’s Day – if it rains on St Swithin’s Day it’ll be a wet summer, if it’s sunny it’ll be a warm summer. You learn something new every day.
The one piece of writing advice he did give away is that whenever he’s editing/re-writing a finished novel, he prints the whole novel and re-types it. It’s easy to gloss over things when you’re on-screen editing and re-typing it adds more weight to the words. He said One Day took him two years to finish (well, no wonder if he was constantly re-typing it).
There were a few questions at the end, and then he signed copies of his book for people who had brought their own copies. Unfortunately the two books of his I do have are both on my Kindle. If I bought books on the offchance I’d meet their authors, I would need another 6 x 6 foot bookcase. At least.
After my yoga class on Thursday I went back to the Intercontinental – I had a ticket for a session called ‘Who Am I? Who Are You? A Panel Discussion on Identity’. In the cab on the way there I started thinking about identity – my identity. Who was I? I had images of Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club – sitting at a desk, chewing on a pen, asking himself ‘Who am I? Who am I?’ Born in London, to Indian parents, childhood in Nigeria, moved back to London, now living in Dubai. Where is home? The place of my birth? My country of origin? The city I currently live in? Who even lives in the same city they were born in these days? Well, actually I used to until last year.
I wanted to go to the session on identity as one of my favourite authors was on the panel of writers. The first time I’d heard of Romesh Gunesekera was in 2004 – I was doing a creative writing course at Birkbeck and he talked to us about writing on a cold Saturday afternoon in November. I found him fascinating and loved listening to him talk about writing (I should really find those notes – I’m sure they’re around somewhere). I ended up buying one of his books (of course) and he signed it for me. After that I bought another of his books (but admittedly haven’t read it yet) – I took the book with me, hoping he’d sign it. I got there about half an hour early, bought a coffee, and browsed the books. And I ended up buying The Prisoner of Paradise, Gunesekera’s latest novel. So much for not buying any more books. I found a seat in the second row and sat down.
The rest of the panel consisted of Daljit Nagra (a British Asian poet), John O’Sullivan (an Irish poet who now lives in Bali), and Yang Lian (a Chinese poet who now lives in London). Gunesekera is a Sri Lankan who also lives in London. The panel was chaired by Suzanne Radford.
It started with each of the writers reading a passage of their work or a poem and then talking about how that passage/poem contributed to the Festival’s theme of identity. Gunesekera read a short passage from his novel The Match. I’m not a huge fan of cricket but listening to him read made me want to go and buy the book. Lian then read a poem in Chinese, and Daljit Nagra read the English translation. John O’Sullivan read a poem about Cambodia. It reminded me that I need to read The Killing Fields. Daljit Nagra read a poem about shopping. Well, it was a poem about Sikh Panjabis in Britain who buy all their wedding clothes in Jalandar and then head back to the UK.
I took copious notes (which I won’t reproduce here) and one thing I found interesting was Suzanne asking the writers how their parents figured in their writing. O’Sullivan read a poem about his late mother. Lian said his mother died in the 1970s and never read anything he’d written, yet she breathes in every line he writes (now if that isn’t poetry, I don’t know what is). Nagra said his parents barely spoke English so he could write absolutely anything he wanted about anyone – and he knew they’d never know! Gunesekera said it worked both ways, and that he wondered what his children would think of his writing. He then added that writers worry needlessly about things like this and most people won’t read what you write anyway. I would love to sit down with him for an hour and just talk about writing.
It was an interesting talk – and I’m glad I went. When it was over, the writers had to rush off to somewhere else so I never did get my books signed. I also found out that Gunesekera was giving another talk the following day about his latest novel (the one I’d just bought). Unfortunately it wasn’t in the programme when I bought my tickets – and I’d booked a couple of seminars at Gulf Photo Plus at the other end of town. Dammit.
I stayed in on Thursday night as I had be up and out early on Friday morning.
I left home before 9am and made my way towards Knowledge Village where Gulf Photo Plus was being held. I’d booked two seminars for that morning. The first one was ‘Turning your photos to Profits’ – not that I’m anywhere near good enough for that, but I was just curious. The panel consisted of Chris Hurtt (travel photography), Louis Pang (a Malaysian-based wedding and portrait photographer) and Sascha Weis (business development manager at a stock agency). There were lots of interesting tips and tricks of the trade – and things I’d never have considered. For example, if you took a photo of a building (the building is the main focal point of the image) and you wanted to sell that image for commercial use, you would need a property release for that photo. Who knew??
The second talk was by a photographer called Joe McNally. He’s been in the business for over 30 years and has worked for National Geographic, Time magazine, and many others. He took the audience through several photos in his portfolio, the stories behind them, what he had to do to get certain shots (hanging from helicopters, and so on), and the people he’s met along the way.
It was a shame that the literature festival and Gulf Photo Plus were on in the same week – I’d have liked to spend more time at each one!
I had lunch on Friday with my dad and my cousin and her family. We went back to Sakura for the sushi/teppanyaki offer and ate way too much.
That evening I met up with a friend for a couple of drinks at Trader Vic’s at the Madinat Jumeirah. I had two glasses of wine – my first drinks in just over three weeks! I was home by 10pm as he had a flight to catch that night.
Saturday was a lazy day – I would have been happy to lump around the flat all day but by the late afternoon Dad was getting a little restless. We ended up going to see ‘John Carter’ at the Dubai Mall. I only agreed to go if we could go a bit earlier and have a coffee at Gloria Jean’s. Just as well, really – because I might have fallen asleep in the first ten minutes of the movie. I had no idea what was going on. What I figured out was this: man in 1890s gets transported to a different planet, captured by aliens, and falls in love with a princess (rolls eyes). It was far too long – just over 2 hours. After that we went to the food court for an Iranian dinner and we were home by 9.30pm.
So what started off as a quiet week actually became quite busy – and the time just flew by… Soon I’ll have been here three months!
For more updates, click here.