The last time I attended the Emirates Literature Festival, it was 2010. I was a happy singleton, sashaying from one session to the next, drinking in the wit and wisdom of some very talented and accomplished authors.
Since that event, I acquired a husband, a baby, a home and a whole new to-do list that made attending the annual lit fest impossible. But this year, I decided I would carve out time for myself and attend a few sessions. It was tough choosing from among some very good authors and sessions, but I zeroed in on four sessions over three days. Sessions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Alexander McCall Smith topped the list. There was a session called ‘Extreme Adventures’ about authors who’ve been on thrilling expeditions and lived to write the tale. I also signed up for a session called ‘Illustrating Wonderland’ which featured children’s books illustrators, because of my new interest in kids’ books.
Here are some of the highlights from those sessions:
· The theme of the Emirates Lit Fest this year was ‘Wonderland’. I have no idea how it translated across sessions, but it seemed to have a pretty good link to children’s books. The three authors – Grahame Baker-Smith, Satoshi Kitamura and David Tazzyman – were all well-known authors that I hadn’t yet encountered in my toddler's bedtime reading, and I was keen to know more about them and also browse through their books.
· * There was a muted murmur of approval when Baker-Smith announced in a voice tinged with awe, ‘This is wonderland. Dubai is wonderland. I’ve never been to this part before, but I’m very impressed.’
· * There’s something subversive about putting three illustrators in a podium and asking them which is more important, words or images. Tazzyman denounced words in favor of images. Zen-like Kitamura appeared to think for a bit before shrugging and saying that he preferred images. The best answer came from Baker-Smith, who said, “I love words, the way they do same and different things.” He also insisted that there was no need to choose between the two, and that both had their own place and purpose.
On hearing his eloquent answer, Tazzyman shot out, “I’d like to change my reply. I think words are important in that they allow a reader to create their own world, a wonderland of sorts, in their mind, whereas images offer the artist’s view of the world.”
Previously, Tazzyman had railed against writers who couldn’t ‘visualise’ the page, who only thought in terms of words and expected the illustrator to create around the words.
· * ‘Artists think in terms of images. Writers think in terms of words. Poets think in terms of sound.” A beautiful insight from Kitamura, when sharing about how the creative process works for different people.
· * When asked about their journey towards becoming illustrators, both Tazzyman and Baker-Smith shared that they were thoroughly dissuaded by teachers and authority figures from pursuing their art. “There’s no money in it,” was a common refrain they heard.
· * On being asked what advice they would give struggling artists, their advice was an unequivocal, “Never, never, never, never give up.”
|From the book, 'Eleanor's Eyebrows' by Tazzyman|
· * Mid-way through the session, the moderator thrust a marker at Baker-Smith and asked him to do an illustration on an easel propped on the podium. Although he was taken aback at first, and attempted to joke his way out of the task, he gamely took the marker and made some hesitant strokes. ‘Do a camel,’ said the unabashed moderator. Baker-Smith did a horse instead. A horse leaping over the skyline of Dubai.
He’d illustrated wonderland, after all.