Sunday, March 8, 2015

Dubai Lit Fest- and what I gleaned from it

The Written Chakra
A blog for readers and writers and all who come between

If you are a reader or writer, or have a literary leaning, a Lit Fest is a Must-Go-To event. And Dubai boasts its own Lit Fest, the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature. For those of you not in the know, this festival is held annually in the lovely month of March. (And yes, let me shout this out loud n clear, Dubai is not just about gold and petro-dollars; there’s a thriving community of readers and writers and thinking people out here). So let me give you a round-up of some of the events I attended and what I gleaned from them.

 The first, enticingly titled Shortening the Odds: Inside Secrets of a Literary Agent, had me all excited. I mean, which writer wouldn’t like to know how to make his or her novel stick out from the crowd? Caroline Sheldon, the literary agent who gave the talk, was both enlightening and encouraging. Her talk often went back to the basics- and it’s always good to be reminded of them- that a writer has to be a great story-teller and engage the reader emotionally. It seems the kind of books that really sell these days are the ones sold in SUPERMARKETS!  I mean, how many people actually read hoity-toity literary fiction, the Bookers and the Pulitzers and the what-have-yous? No, this is by no means looking down on popular writing. Ever since I decided to don the writer’s cap, I’ve become humble, and know that writing something that sells in supermarkets is not exactly easy to do and needs hard work and dedication and an understanding of current trends.
There were a few other gems for writers in this talk: give a three-line synopsis of your novel in your introductory email as this will travel with your book all the time when the agent/publisher takes it around and waves it temptingly before people with power. And after your manuscript has been rejected by the first set of agents, take a good hard look at it and change what you think is not working!
It’s not about mere luck, getting your book published. It’s about hard work and perseverance. Or so she says!

The other workshop I attended was for those who want to get their stuff on to newspapers, and was titled Writing a Weekly Column, and conducted by a famous British columnist, Heather McGregor. Here are some of the “rules” for writing these columns.
·      The column should be between 700-1000 words long
·      It should be a mix of facts and opinion
·      You must relate what you write to a personal experience
OK, Heather, you’ve really inspired me to write something on a weekly basis, whether it is publishable or not!

But the most interesting event was the authors’ talk. There were two authors, Ashwin Sanghi and PG Bhaskar, discussing whether there is such a thing as an Indian novel. (Is There Such a Thing as an Indian Novel?)
What is an “Indian” novel? A novel written by Indians? A novel written in English with many words from the vernacular thrown in? Is the novel as a form an import from the West? How are Indian readers different from Western ones?
The talk was highly entertaining, and very often the audience was in splits. Some interesting things I learnt: in this day of the Internet, the human brain has only an 8 second attention span, while a goldfish has a 9 second one; most readers stop reading a book on pg 17! Interesting facts to know, especially if you’re a writer.
Ashwin Sanghi, who has written three bestsellers to date, says he sent his first book to no less than THIRTY-SEVEN publishers, and NOT ONE of them accepted it because they said the Indian audiences were not yet ready for thrillers! He eventually self-published it and aggressively went about marketing it. All his hard work paid off, because now his books are all on the bestsellers’ lists!
PG Bhaskar is not quite a bestseller, but he too has a message for writers.  He wrote his first book during the Global Financial Crisis as an escapism. He’s gone on to write a second book after this. Why? Not for name and fame but just out of the sheer pleasure of writing!  So you don’t have to exactly aspire for fame and fortune when you write, but it can be for the sheer joy of writing.

So I come to the end of this years Lit Fest.
Dear Readers and Writers, my next blog is going to be a book review, so watch out! Oh, and do get back to me with your own personal experiences of attending book fests. Or anything else that shakes the literary world. Until then, goodbye.


  1. Hi Padmini, I love the name of your new blog! I wish I could have joined you at Lit Fest. I'll never forget the workshop I did on plot and character development there a few years ago. Always great quality workshops and speakers. I also managed to have my copy of Three Cups of Tea signed by Greg Mortenson. I can't wait to read your next book! Let me know if I can be of any assistance :)

  2. Hi Anne, yes indeed, there's so much you can learn from the excellent speakers who come to this festival, buth the author talks and the workshops! A couple of years ago, I got a book signed by the inimitable Mark Tully of BBC. This time, the sign-up fir Alexander McCall Smith was never-ending so I didn't have the patience to wait! Thanks for your offer and I'll definitely keep that in mind. The next book is still in its last stages!