Qu: What is the Emirates Literature Foundation and what does it do?
The Foundation is home of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. It's a not-for-profit non-governmental organisation that supports and nurtures a love of literature in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and across the region through a programme of varied cultural initiatives. The Foundation focuses on introducing and cultivating a spirit of reading whilst acting as a catalyst for writing and cultural exchange as we recognise the distinctive contribution that literature makes to children's lives.
The Festival is the UAE's premier literary festival and was held from the 4-9th February 2020. We hold a wide range of year-round events to keep the flame of literature burning brightly, day in, day out and aims to foster a life long love for all literature.
Qu: How did you become CEO of the Foundation?
The Foundation was founded in 2013 following a life long dream of mine. It was established by Royal Decree by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. I was appointed as a Trustee and then the Board of Trustees appointed me to take on the role of CEO.
Qu: The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is the Arab world's largest celebration of the written and spoken word and has won a number of awards, what type of events are promoted there?
The Festival has grown significantly since 2009. The diverse programme covers a wide range of genres and topics, to ensure that no matter where you come from, or your age, or interests, you will find something of interest. In 2020, the Festival welcomed more than 200 writers from around the world, held a large number of sessions and welcomed 43,000 visitors. Volunteers are a very important part of our organisation and we could not run the Festival without them.
Qu: What's been your proudest moment?
I think I am most fortunate to have so many proud moments in my life: co-founding Magrudy's Bookshop chain and providing a haven for children since 1975, with the magic mix of books and toys, seeing my five children graduate from university and follow their passions, receiving the OBE for services to education and literature in the UAE are just a few highlights.
Qu: Why do you think it's important for children to develop a love books?
I believe that giving children the priceless gift of reading for pleasure endows them with huge benefits over their lifetimes. From becoming a lifelong learner, to achieving better results at school and university, being more empathetic, having a greater understanding of the world around them are just a few. Perhaps the most important is that you are never lonely if you have a book to read.
Qu: What was your favourite book as a child?
The first book I have abiding memories of reading to myself was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodson Burnett. I was caught up in the adventure of an unlikable orphan called Mary, who over the course of the story, was transformed, becoming a heroine by the end. I could not put the book down, words disappeared and images were burned on my brain. I still remember that summer vividly.
Qu: If you could be any fictional character who would it be and why?
I would have loved to have been Heidi up in the Swiss Alps, living in the small cabin with her grandfather and meeting Peter, the goatherd. When I first read Heidi by Johanna Spyri, I could envisage how the mountains looked, the surroundings and the goats. I think I was attracted to Heidi because of her strength of character and ability to always be optimistic, despite many challenges in her life. Strong female characters in novels are so important.
Qu: If you were marooned on a desert island what 3 books would you take with you and why?
That is such a difficult question - only three? I would take For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway, King Lear by William Shakespeare and The Other Hand by Chris Cleave.
Qu: When you're not working what do you like to do in your spare time?
I don't have too much spare time, but I love swimming most days. I've recently taken up biking again, and I relish spare time to be able to read new books.
Qu: what advice would you give to any young writer?
To read as much as they can, and then perhaps, keep a diary and get into the habit of writing on a daily basis. Make notes of interesting people you meet, landscapes you see and particular ways people speak. It may come in useful when you begin to write.
For more information about the Emirates Literature Foundation go to https://www.elfdubai.org/en/home