EAIFL Day 2 – Of Crime Writers, Biographers and Poets

Posted on March 13, 2010


I had much to look forward to from Day 2 of the Lit Fest. The possibility of rubbing shoulders with many more of the great Litteratis and the agenda of sessions I had scheduled for the day had me rushing out of the office half way though the day.

Being a Thursday evening and the start of the Dubai weekend, the venue was filling up with both bookworms and curious passers by alike.

When put in a room where three crime writers have taken the stage,  the last thing one would expect is for the conversation to be anything but serious. But when RJ Ellory, Mark Billingham and Jeffery Deaver were up for grabs on Day 2 of the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature, the atmosphere was far from humourless; the session proving instead to be an extremely insightful and animated session.

Moderated by Rosie Goldsmith of the BBC, the Crime Writer’s Panel of the EAIFL provided the audience with unique exposure into the minds of 3 renowned contemporary crime writers, each of whom shared  how it was that their individual experiences and the people they’ve met contributed to shaping their many novels.

The smooth-flowing discourse ranged in topic from the influence of muses to creating plot tension, to preferred locations for crime scenes, and finally to the relevance of social media in the writing world.

Amidst the light-hearted banter between the trio, each one had both similar and differenct perspective to offer with regards to their craft.

RJ Ellory of City of Lies, and Candlemoth fame confessed that in spite of all crime novels having to revolve around a carefully planned out plot, “The advantage of a crime novel, is that it can cross genres (eg. Crimes of history, passion, etc.) while still retaining it’s structure, which gives us so much more leeway to experiment with our writing.”

Jeffery Deaver, responsible for the penmanship behind The Bone Collector and The Cold Moon shared what he said was what he really wanted to achieve through his stories: “I want to have you captivated from start to finish. Our job is to drag you across the novel as quickly as we possibly can.”

All agreed that the secret to maintaining plot tension, is to garner enough interest in a character so much for the reader to actually ‘care’ about what happens to her/him.

Conversation flowed easily, opinions duly noted, and personal experiences lightheartedly shared . An hour well spent.

Next up was a fascinating session with two very renowned biographers, DJ Taylor and Francis Wheen.

This discourse was titled You Can’t Libel the Dead: The Art and Craft of Biography, and as the title indicates, revolved around the many challenges faced by modern biographers in having to chronicle the entire lives of famous (and sometimes notorious) personalities.

Francis Wheen has dedicated a few good years of his life researching and finally compiling an award winning biography on historian and revolutionary, Karl Marx in Karl Marx: A Life; whereas DJ Taylor is the man behind the biography on revered English novelist and journalist George Orwell, a chronicle titled Orwell: The Life.

Both extensive personalities to have to do justice to, and years of research, numerous dead ends and suspicious witnesses to confirm before finally hitting ‘biographical gold,’ makes the art of biography no easy feat.

Yet both authors denied the journey being anything but a pleasure, “You choose to write about a personality, you yourself would like to read about,” defended Wheen. “You play to your strengths and find connections with particular aspects of the person you are detailing,” backed Taylor.

And what about the chore of debunking the many myths and scandals revolving around your characters? “You have to expose the myth and develop it in such a way that the truth is impregnanble,” explains Wheen.

And with regards to the cumbersome chore of catching legit ‘witnesses,’ both have found that documented papers recorded at the time when their subjects were alive are far more accurate than aged testifiers who’ve lived long enough to tell a story or two.

I found this session in particular quite the eye-opener, for I feel not enough credit is given to the great men and women who dedicate a good portion of their lives for the sole purpose of clarifying history in this way.

Emirati poet Mohammed Bin Hadher was next on the agenda for my last session of the evening. Bin Hadher, a renowned classical poet born here in the Emirates read a selection of his work to a clearly engaged audience in a session entitled Remedies: Poetry as a Cure for the Ailments of Modern Day Society.

Most of his odes were a reflection of his patriotism, praising the leaders who shaped the country with many revolving around his life and life of others in the Emirates. In a piece titled Our Country, Hadher very beautifully referred to Dubai as the “fruits of tribes intermingled.”

Stating that another major influence in his life was his grandmother (a former poet herself), Hadher also shared with us a passionate composition dedicated to her.

At the end of that very alluring hearing, I realized that I like many others had taken for granted that Arabic to English (and vice versa) translation have been made so easily available for the mono-lingual attendees of all sessions. Real time translation is most definitely no easy chore, and I’d just like to point out that the interpreters of the festival are doing a sterling job of it.