A Whirlwind Trip to the Sharjah Book Fair!

A world in my bookNicola here! Today I’m musing on book fairs and literary festivals. Ten days ago I had the huge honour and pleasure of being invited to speak at the Sharjah Book Fair in the UAE. Despite the fact that this is the third biggest book fair in the world and has been running for 35 years, I hadn’t heard of it before (my bad) and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Those who had experienced it told me it was a fascinating mixture of a book fair and a literary festival, but I’m so glad I had the chance to see it for myself. It was an amazing experience.

We arrived in Dubai late on a Wednesday evening. As the time difference between the UK and Hotel at night the UAE is 4 hours it was already dark. Seeing Dubai lit up at night had a wow factor though. It reminded me of Las Vegas in terms of the bright lights and sense of excitement. The other thing we quickly learned was that the traffic was appalling. We were stuck in a traffic jam for two hours and apparently it’s always bad except on a Friday morning which most people have as time off work.

That night there was only really time to settle into our lovely hotel, but in the morning we were due to take a cultural tour to the Al-Noor mosque and the central souk. The first thing that struck me about the day was that it was sunny. And hot! It was a wonderful change from the grey late-autumn skies of the UK.

Al Noor MosqueThe Al-Noor Mosque is one of only three that are open to the public in Sharjah and it is of a stunning Turkish Ottoman design. Inside the soaring pillars and glorious architecture made it so imposing and awe-inspiring. Quite simply it was one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen. Our guide told us some of the history of the building and the worship, and also gave us a talk on traditional dress for both men and women. It was fascinating to learn about the dress codes and to be able to try on the different styles of clothing. Our visit finished with a cup of delicious coffee flavoured with cardamom. I’m not a coffee-drinker but I’m so glad I tried it as it was fantastic. One of my companions on the visit was a food vlogger from Canada, the lovely Pailin Chongchitnant, was a joy to be with as she was so interested in learning about the local food and drink, and was so knowledgeable.

From the mosque we drove to the central souk. There is a lot of water in Sharjah City, both the Gold sea front and various lagoons, which give the whole place a lovely, open air feeling. The souk wasn’t quite what I was expecting – I had hoped for an ancient marketplace but it was actually a modern shopping centre. However it was packed with traditional clothing and jewellery. There was gold. Lots of gold!

That afternoon it was time to head over to the Sharjah Expo centre to experience the book fair and first hand. Frankly it was quite overwhelming – five enormous halls packed full of booksellers covering all subjects from historical fiction to biography, science and religion. There were jugglers, circus acts, dancers and live shows including Pailin cooking delicious Thai food in the live kitchen demonstrations. However my panel talk was taking place that evening and I was too nervous to eat anything!

Sharjah PanelI needn’t have worried. My fellow panel members were an absolute delight and the discussion we had on “why writers are drawn to writing about historical people and places” was lively and interesting. We covered lots of ground, from the idea of using history as a way to root ourselves in “the big picture” to studying history in order to learn from past experience. As a writer of genre fiction I said that I felt it was important to make history accessible to people and entertain them as well as portray a historically accurate tale. The audience asked lots of questions and the whole session had a buzz about it. I discovered that this was where the book fair idea mingled with the literary festival idea as the two programmes, having a literary salon and bookselling opportunities, ran alongside one another.

Once I’d finished the talk my appetite returned so I ate a chocolate pancake and set out to enjoy Me and Shakespeare an evening at the book fair, wandering amongst the stalls, watching the demonstrations, listening to some talks, and visiting various exhibitions. My favourite exhibit was the University of Birmingham’s display of one of the oldest copies of the Qur’an in the world but my absolute favourite thing about the book fair itself was that it was packed with people who were so excited about reading, books and writing, and that there were so many children there and they were all engaged in reading and learning. It was fabulous and the festival's tagline of"The World in my Book" seemed exactly right for such a big celebration of the joys of reading!

The following day we had hoped to visit the old fort and one of the museums in the heritage quarter before flying back to the UK in the afternoon, but as everything is closed on a Friday morning so we made do with a walk on the beach and a paddle in the glorious blue waters! It was a flying visit but full of amazing experiences and I’ll never forget it!

Have you visited a book fair or a literary festival? What do you enjoy when you go to an event like that? And why do you think people enjoy reading – and writing – about the past? I’m offering a copy of The Phantom Tree to one commenter between now and midnight Thursday.

70 thoughts on “A Whirlwind Trip to the Sharjah Book Fair!”

  1. Nicola, what a WONDERFUL window into another world–one that is full of books! I’ve been to book fairs and literary gatherings, but none quite so spectacular.
    As for the souk being a modern mall–that makes so much sense. The concept of a souk hasn’t changed, it’s just glitzier and has air conditioning. *G*

    Reply
  2. Nicola, what a WONDERFUL window into another world–one that is full of books! I’ve been to book fairs and literary gatherings, but none quite so spectacular.
    As for the souk being a modern mall–that makes so much sense. The concept of a souk hasn’t changed, it’s just glitzier and has air conditioning. *G*

    Reply
  3. Nicola, what a WONDERFUL window into another world–one that is full of books! I’ve been to book fairs and literary gatherings, but none quite so spectacular.
    As for the souk being a modern mall–that makes so much sense. The concept of a souk hasn’t changed, it’s just glitzier and has air conditioning. *G*

    Reply
  4. Nicola, what a WONDERFUL window into another world–one that is full of books! I’ve been to book fairs and literary gatherings, but none quite so spectacular.
    As for the souk being a modern mall–that makes so much sense. The concept of a souk hasn’t changed, it’s just glitzier and has air conditioning. *G*

    Reply
  5. Nicola, what a WONDERFUL window into another world–one that is full of books! I’ve been to book fairs and literary gatherings, but none quite so spectacular.
    As for the souk being a modern mall–that makes so much sense. The concept of a souk hasn’t changed, it’s just glitzier and has air conditioning. *G*

    Reply
  6. What a fabulous visit!
    i guess the closest I have come to a book fair/literary festival is the various SF conventions over the years. They always have a “huckster room” (dealer’s room) where books are sold, as well as costume jewelry, tarot cards, models, weapons, pagan items (and what ever else a dealer may decide to try). And of course the conventions have panels where fans and authors intermix.
    But what you described is far and away above that.
    Thank you for the visit!

    Reply
  7. What a fabulous visit!
    i guess the closest I have come to a book fair/literary festival is the various SF conventions over the years. They always have a “huckster room” (dealer’s room) where books are sold, as well as costume jewelry, tarot cards, models, weapons, pagan items (and what ever else a dealer may decide to try). And of course the conventions have panels where fans and authors intermix.
    But what you described is far and away above that.
    Thank you for the visit!

    Reply
  8. What a fabulous visit!
    i guess the closest I have come to a book fair/literary festival is the various SF conventions over the years. They always have a “huckster room” (dealer’s room) where books are sold, as well as costume jewelry, tarot cards, models, weapons, pagan items (and what ever else a dealer may decide to try). And of course the conventions have panels where fans and authors intermix.
    But what you described is far and away above that.
    Thank you for the visit!

    Reply
  9. What a fabulous visit!
    i guess the closest I have come to a book fair/literary festival is the various SF conventions over the years. They always have a “huckster room” (dealer’s room) where books are sold, as well as costume jewelry, tarot cards, models, weapons, pagan items (and what ever else a dealer may decide to try). And of course the conventions have panels where fans and authors intermix.
    But what you described is far and away above that.
    Thank you for the visit!

    Reply
  10. What a fabulous visit!
    i guess the closest I have come to a book fair/literary festival is the various SF conventions over the years. They always have a “huckster room” (dealer’s room) where books are sold, as well as costume jewelry, tarot cards, models, weapons, pagan items (and what ever else a dealer may decide to try). And of course the conventions have panels where fans and authors intermix.
    But what you described is far and away above that.
    Thank you for the visit!

    Reply
  11. Thanks so much, Terri. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yes, it’s not much mentioned over here although I think it has a higher profile on the continent. The London Book Fair and Frankfurt were both represented there.

    Reply
  12. Thanks so much, Terri. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yes, it’s not much mentioned over here although I think it has a higher profile on the continent. The London Book Fair and Frankfurt were both represented there.

    Reply
  13. Thanks so much, Terri. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yes, it’s not much mentioned over here although I think it has a higher profile on the continent. The London Book Fair and Frankfurt were both represented there.

    Reply
  14. Thanks so much, Terri. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yes, it’s not much mentioned over here although I think it has a higher profile on the continent. The London Book Fair and Frankfurt were both represented there.

    Reply
  15. Thanks so much, Terri. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yes, it’s not much mentioned over here although I think it has a higher profile on the continent. The London Book Fair and Frankfurt were both represented there.

    Reply
  16. What an amazing experience, Nicola! When I was in Morocco, I had a chance to visit one of the historic places with a very knowledgeable guide, and loved learning about Muslim culture.So I understand your excitement about visiting the mosque.
    The festival itself sounds wonderful. Wish we had more cross-genre celebrations like that here. I think the energy would appeal to all readers and expose them to a wider range of books. It’s alwaysexciting to discover authors and titles outside our normal go-tos.
    Now, I hope you come home with with some of that golden bling!

    Reply
  17. What an amazing experience, Nicola! When I was in Morocco, I had a chance to visit one of the historic places with a very knowledgeable guide, and loved learning about Muslim culture.So I understand your excitement about visiting the mosque.
    The festival itself sounds wonderful. Wish we had more cross-genre celebrations like that here. I think the energy would appeal to all readers and expose them to a wider range of books. It’s alwaysexciting to discover authors and titles outside our normal go-tos.
    Now, I hope you come home with with some of that golden bling!

    Reply
  18. What an amazing experience, Nicola! When I was in Morocco, I had a chance to visit one of the historic places with a very knowledgeable guide, and loved learning about Muslim culture.So I understand your excitement about visiting the mosque.
    The festival itself sounds wonderful. Wish we had more cross-genre celebrations like that here. I think the energy would appeal to all readers and expose them to a wider range of books. It’s alwaysexciting to discover authors and titles outside our normal go-tos.
    Now, I hope you come home with with some of that golden bling!

    Reply
  19. What an amazing experience, Nicola! When I was in Morocco, I had a chance to visit one of the historic places with a very knowledgeable guide, and loved learning about Muslim culture.So I understand your excitement about visiting the mosque.
    The festival itself sounds wonderful. Wish we had more cross-genre celebrations like that here. I think the energy would appeal to all readers and expose them to a wider range of books. It’s alwaysexciting to discover authors and titles outside our normal go-tos.
    Now, I hope you come home with with some of that golden bling!

    Reply
  20. What an amazing experience, Nicola! When I was in Morocco, I had a chance to visit one of the historic places with a very knowledgeable guide, and loved learning about Muslim culture.So I understand your excitement about visiting the mosque.
    The festival itself sounds wonderful. Wish we had more cross-genre celebrations like that here. I think the energy would appeal to all readers and expose them to a wider range of books. It’s alwaysexciting to discover authors and titles outside our normal go-tos.
    Now, I hope you come home with with some of that golden bling!

    Reply
  21. I attended the Virginia or Northern Virginia Book Festival several years ago, mainly because your Joanna Bourne, was a panelist. I am now in the UK, and I find myself so busy touring that I’m reading less and less, and a book fair would be terrible right now–lots of books I want to read with too little time to read them.

    Reply
  22. I attended the Virginia or Northern Virginia Book Festival several years ago, mainly because your Joanna Bourne, was a panelist. I am now in the UK, and I find myself so busy touring that I’m reading less and less, and a book fair would be terrible right now–lots of books I want to read with too little time to read them.

    Reply
  23. I attended the Virginia or Northern Virginia Book Festival several years ago, mainly because your Joanna Bourne, was a panelist. I am now in the UK, and I find myself so busy touring that I’m reading less and less, and a book fair would be terrible right now–lots of books I want to read with too little time to read them.

    Reply
  24. I attended the Virginia or Northern Virginia Book Festival several years ago, mainly because your Joanna Bourne, was a panelist. I am now in the UK, and I find myself so busy touring that I’m reading less and less, and a book fair would be terrible right now–lots of books I want to read with too little time to read them.

    Reply
  25. I attended the Virginia or Northern Virginia Book Festival several years ago, mainly because your Joanna Bourne, was a panelist. I am now in the UK, and I find myself so busy touring that I’m reading less and less, and a book fair would be terrible right now–lots of books I want to read with too little time to read them.

    Reply
  26. Nicola, I had never heard of the Sharjah book festival before. The only things I had heard about Sharjah are the cricket matches. Dubai is a place I have transited through before–love Emirates Airlines–but have never visited. Some day, I hope to, and perhaps, I should time my visit with the book festival.

    Reply
  27. Nicola, I had never heard of the Sharjah book festival before. The only things I had heard about Sharjah are the cricket matches. Dubai is a place I have transited through before–love Emirates Airlines–but have never visited. Some day, I hope to, and perhaps, I should time my visit with the book festival.

    Reply
  28. Nicola, I had never heard of the Sharjah book festival before. The only things I had heard about Sharjah are the cricket matches. Dubai is a place I have transited through before–love Emirates Airlines–but have never visited. Some day, I hope to, and perhaps, I should time my visit with the book festival.

    Reply
  29. Nicola, I had never heard of the Sharjah book festival before. The only things I had heard about Sharjah are the cricket matches. Dubai is a place I have transited through before–love Emirates Airlines–but have never visited. Some day, I hope to, and perhaps, I should time my visit with the book festival.

    Reply
  30. Nicola, I had never heard of the Sharjah book festival before. The only things I had heard about Sharjah are the cricket matches. Dubai is a place I have transited through before–love Emirates Airlines–but have never visited. Some day, I hope to, and perhaps, I should time my visit with the book festival.

    Reply
  31. Hi Keira! Yes, Sharjah is a big centre for cricket, which I didn’t know until we visited and met a huge crowd of fans out to see legendary cricketer Wasim Akram! He was also talking at the book far – something for all interests!

    Reply
  32. Hi Keira! Yes, Sharjah is a big centre for cricket, which I didn’t know until we visited and met a huge crowd of fans out to see legendary cricketer Wasim Akram! He was also talking at the book far – something for all interests!

    Reply
  33. Hi Keira! Yes, Sharjah is a big centre for cricket, which I didn’t know until we visited and met a huge crowd of fans out to see legendary cricketer Wasim Akram! He was also talking at the book far – something for all interests!

    Reply
  34. Hi Keira! Yes, Sharjah is a big centre for cricket, which I didn’t know until we visited and met a huge crowd of fans out to see legendary cricketer Wasim Akram! He was also talking at the book far – something for all interests!

    Reply
  35. Hi Keira! Yes, Sharjah is a big centre for cricket, which I didn’t know until we visited and met a huge crowd of fans out to see legendary cricketer Wasim Akram! He was also talking at the book far – something for all interests!

    Reply

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