The sixth annual Emirates Airline Festival of Literature took a very special look at 50% of the population, with a series of events that had a Female Focus.
Sponsored by Hindawi, the Female Focus morning began with a workshop with romantic novelist Rachel Hore on Writing Historical Fiction before moving on to a seminar on Creative Writing in Arabic with Mariam Al Saedi. For 'Re-shaping Your Life', locally-based authors Liz Fenwick, Anita Papas and Samineh Shaheem were joined by Project Runway contestant Buffi Jashanmal and radio presenter Suzanne Radford for a lively debate on changing your life – which fitted in nicely with the festival's over-arching theme of metamorphosis.
Festival Director Isobel Abulhoul explained that the EAFOL made a conscious decision to make the Female Focus morning as issue-based as possible, saying “We are very pleased with how the morning has progressed; our panellists have dispensed invaluable advice and a lot of people will have gone home much wiser.” Hence events such as ‘The Marriage Game’ with journalist and writer Kyra Dupont Troubetzkoy, Dr Hala Kazim and author Moni Mohsin; ‘Under the Knife!’ with author Mélanie Chappuis, fashion journalist Mimi Raad & Dr Buthainah Al-Shunnar and - bearing in mind the high percentage of families in the Middle East that have domestic staff – ‘The Nanny Factor’, where youth-coach Linda Chaccour, motivational speaker Sarah Al Mheiri, educational director Sarah Rogers and Dr Hayat Shams debated the sometimes controversial issue of having a nanny.
In a seminar called ‘Reaching the Top’ with a panel made up of authors Prue Leith and Jojo Moyes and explorer and businesswoman Julie Lewis, it was time to tackle the glass ceiling. Jojo Moyes and Prue Leith, two bestselling novelists, put in their two cents on how women could reach the top of their careers with some fantastic advice…
I have always been greedy for everything; enthusiasm is the most important thing you can have. Failure is excellent. The business of failure is good for you; it is not a bad thing. But if you fail, you have to remember not to look backwards. Most women want to get to the top, but aren’t prepared to take the risks they need to, to be at the top. But, for me, it should not be about getting to the top but about wanting to do something as well as possible.
Be professional. Being a journalist has given me a sense of professionalism for punctuality and a respect for deadlines that I think some authors, who have always been authors, do not necessarily have. Women’s biggest problem is telling themselves they can’t do something. Women shouldn’t judge each other. You have to be persistent; I’ve just had my first number one 14 years after I started writing, you need to have persistence.
In light of Moyes number one position the panel soon moved on to the categorisation of books written by women as “women’s fiction.” “If women write about families and emotions they are seen as romantic novels, but if a man does the same and writes about emotions and family affairs or love then critics talk about their great insight and understanding, it pisses me off,” said Prue Leith. But, used to the “just a romantic novelist” dismissal, Moyes quipped that, “it did used to annoy me, but if I’m honest, I find that huge sales have helped me deal with it.”
Felicity Wood is deputy features and supplements editor at The Bookseller. This is the second of two pieces on the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.