Sharjah is one of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – it’s right next door to Dubai, but despite the multitude of skyscrapers, it seems quite a different place from that Middle-Eastern party town and shopping haven.
Sharjah prides itself on being a cultural capital: the 800,000-strong population has 18 lavish museums to enjoy, as well as the annual event that is the Sharjah International Book Fair, now in it’s 30th year.
I’ve been invited along as a guest of the Book Fair, with the support of the Ministry of Culture, and I’m excited to be able to explore the literary landscape of a part of the globe I’ve never visited before. I’m especially curious about:
Audiences – how will they differ from the UK audiences?
Logistics – with trade, rights, bookselling and events, how does the Fair operate?
Social media – what impact does this communication have on discussion and debate?
Arabic literature – I want to meet writers and buy books I would never have stumbled across alone.
Sharjah – I want to find out more about this growing cultural place.
The Adventure Begins
I flew out from Glasgow, heading to Dubai and onwards to neigbouring Sharjah. I was met off the plane and whisked through immigration, to be greeted by representatives of the Ministry of Culture and ushered sleepily towards my Sharjah taxi. I arrived at the same time as the Cape Town flight, bringing with it a Book Fair-bound passenger: UK crime writer Peter James and I spent quarter of an hour chatting about social media and the writing circuit on the short drive to our respective hotels.
By 3am, I had met 4 more writers appearing at the Fair, and bumped into Liv Stones of London agents Aitken Alexander. More importantly, I got hold of my room key and headed off to bed for much needed sleep – the forthcoming programme looked pretty packed, so sleep is required. I didn’t see the gorgeous welcoming flowers until I woke up, which was also when I noticed that I have my very own balcony.
My plan for the day was to get the lay of the land, check out the Rights Fair at the ExpoCentre and set about finding the people I knew here: writer Sophie Cooke and Melbourne’s Emerging Festival Director Lisa Dempster.
More on that, and more about Sharjah, in my next post. I still have a touch of jet lag to work off first…
Note: I will also sort out picture uploads. They are proving a little slow today.