25 to hear: magpie’s picks from LitFest

This year the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature provides an unmissable chance to see and hear from more than 175 writers across a variety of genres and a variety of subjects.

Many (but not all) have a book to promote; others are taking part in panel discussions on hot topics of life and literature; some are running how-to workshops, an invaluable and unmissable opportunity to learn from someone who’s been there and done that.

175 names represents a literary feast, so magpie’s been cherry-picking. Here are the 25 authors that we are most looking forward to – and why. We’ve included the details of their sessions with links; most have a website of their own, and you’ll find that by clicking on their name. 


1 Allison K Williams

Allison K Williams is a Dubai-based American “guerrilla memoirist, essay writer and travel journalist” (plus editor, podcaster, teacher, webinar maker, playwright, social media editor, storyteller, and probably more – indeed, she’s a former aerialist, apparently) who has written for the New York Times, National Public Radio and dozens of smaller though no less distinguished publications.

Her writing is warm and personal, which of course works well when she’s doing personal bylined articles or her fiction; but it’s especially good in her authoritative advisory and coaching pieces about how to write, how to get published, and generally what matters in your writing. Her experience, her tone, and her practical, pragmatic approach is illustrated in this remark from an interview recently: “Take a playwriting class – everyone gets better at structure when writing scripts, and you can really hear what’s not working when you hear it out loud”. That’s so true, and applies to any kind of writing from press releases to novels.

She’s doing one reading and a couple of Publishing Programme sessions. Well worth checking out both of these.

Her sessions:

Sun 3 Mar 12pm-1pm Publishing Programme – The value-add of editorial with Abdulwahab Alsayed Al-Rifaee, Nabiha Mheidly Session no 127 AED 75 book here

Fri 8 Mar 6pm-7pm Author Reading: Discovery with Hananah Zaheer, Leo Carew, Malachy Tallack, Murzban F. Shroff, Sandhya Menon Session no 132 AED 75 book here

Sat 9 Mar 12pm-1pm Publishing Programme – The gravity of brevity with Hananah Zaheer, Murzban F. Shroff Session no 115 AED 75 book here


2 Annabel Kantaria

Annabel Kantaria is a Dubai-based British journalist (former editor at Emirates Woman, columnist for Style Arabia, blogger for the Daily Telegraph). More pertinently, she’s a successful author – and she secured a three-book contract with a Harper Collins imprint after winning the Montegrappa Writing Prize at the 2013 LitFest.

She describes her style of fiction as ‘domestic noir’, dark family sagas with a commendable degree of psychological subtlety along with the frequently twisted and usually chilling plots. Because of that, it’s a bit of a shame her ‘how to write a novel’ masterclass is sold out – well, not so much of a shame if you had the foresight to book a ticket for it – but her other two sessions sound interesting.

The social-media evening on 7 March seems particularly apposite, given the premise of her fourth novel – I Know You is about a woman who’s a tad careless about what she posts. We’ve all been there, or somewhere near it …

Her sessions:

Sat 2 Mar 12pm-1pm Workshop: The 2019 Montegrappa Prize with Luigi Bonomi (agent), Karen Osman (winner 2016)
Session no 25 AED 75 book here

Sat 9 Mar 4pm-5.30pm How to Write a Novel – a Masterclass in 30 Tips with Annabel Kantaria
Session no 839 AED 200 but SOLD OUT (sorry)

Thu 7 Mar 7.30pm-8.30pm Is the future social? with Ty Tashiro, Katherine Ormerod
Session no 129 AED 75 book here


3 Chris Brookmyre

Chris Brookmyre is a Scottish novelist whose 20+ novels typically mix crime, comedy, politics and social comment under what has been called the ‘tartan noir’ genre.

Eight of them, including his debut Quite Ugly One Morning, centre on Jack Parlabane, an investigative journalist who simply doesn’t do things by the book. Fascinating characters, beautifully constructed suspense, plot twists and an overlay of very black humour have produced a rain of good reviews and awards – Brookmyre’s recent story of cyber-abuse, sexism and murder Black Widow won him both the Theakston’s Old Peculiar crime novel of the year and the McIlvanney prize.

He’s also done a couple of SF novels (basically crime stories in space), one of which – Bedlam – was turned into a video game that was also written by Brookmyre. with his wife, anaesthetist Marisa Haetzman, he also writes under the pseudonym Ambrose Parry; in that guise the two co-wrote The Way of All Flesh, the first in a proposed series of thrillers set in and around the medical world of 19th-century Edinburgh. “A treat,” said the Times review; “the historical setting is fascinating, and all of Brookmyre’s wit and storytelling verve are evident in this tale of scalpels and secrets”.

This is the subject of one of his appearances at LitFest, the other being a panel session with two other crime novelists on how they should handle real and fictional thrills of the future.

His sessions:

Fri 8 Mar 6pm-7pm Stranger Than (Crime) Fiction with Charles Cumming, Jasper Fforde
Session no 87 AED 75 book here

Sat 9 Mar 4pm-5pm Ambrose Parry: The Way of All Flesh
Session no 117 AED 75 book here


4 Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland is one of the star names at this year’s LitFest. Coupland’s zeitgeisty first novel, General X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, appeared in 1991; it featured a number of terms and concepts that have become mainstream, such as ‘Generation X’ and ‘McJob’. Since then he has published a dozen novels and a number of short stories, non-fiction books, dramatic works and screenplays for film and TV. He’s a columnist for the Financial Times and a contributor to the New York Times, E-flux, DIS and Vice, too.

He’s also a recognised artist, with a series of museum shows and commissions culminating in a major exhibition addressing themes of modern Canadian life that opened Summer 2014 at the Vancouver Art Gallery and last year’s ‘Vortex’ for the Vancouver Aquarium, an immersive piece that highlights plastic pollution in the oceans.

He has an exhibit in this year’s Sharjah Biennial too. At LitFest he’ll be discussing insights into the world of 2019 in an up-to-the-minute conversation with his friend and Age of Earthquakes co-author Shumon Basar, best known locally as the long-time curator of Art Dubai’s Global Art Forum.

His session:

Fri 8 Mar 7.30pm-8.30pm Douglas Coupland in conversation with Shumon Basar
Session no 62 AED 75 book here


5 Gerd Leonhard

Named as one of the top 100 most influential people in Europe by Wired Magazine in 2015, Gerd Leonhard is a futurist, author of Technology vs Humanity (“a convincing and heartfelt call for the reinstatement of people and purpose into the technology program” said Douglas Rushkoff), and CEO of his own Zurich-based consultancy The Futures Agency.

He is in great demand as a speaker and has done more than 1,700 events in 60+ countries since 2004 (that’s about one every three days, by our count); his client list includes some blue-chip names – Google, Sony, MasterCard, Nokia, WWF, the Guardian, VISA and more. We can also recommend his YouTube channel, a library of video content based on his keynotes.

So Gerd Leonhard is a humanist futurist, provocative and inspiring, good at questioning the opportunities and identifying the challenges that will inevitably accompany the rise of IoT, AI and big data. Who’s in charge, and how?

His session:

Sat 2 Mar 6pm-7pm Gerd Leonhard: Technology Versus Humanity
Session no 37 – AED 75 book here


6 Giles Yeo

Dr Giles Yeo is a geneticist with over 20 years’ experience dedicated to researching obesity; he is director of Genomics at the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit at Cambridge, where he also teaches when not presenting popular food-science programmes for the BBC (Horizon: Clean Eating – The Dirty Truth, Trust Me I’m a Doctor, Britain’s Fat Fight with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall).

His current research focuses on understanding how the key pathways in the brain’s control of food intake differ from person to person, and the influence of genetics in our relationship with food and eating habits.

His new book Gene Eating: The Science of Obesity and the Truth About Diets obviously draws on that, seeking to unravel the hugely complex issue of the obesity epidemic and the rise of the diet industry: “the commercialisation of clean eating on social media channels means we’re not always driven to eat clean because we want to live longer with less disease, but because we want to buy in to what looks like a youthful and slim and beautifully lit reality where our curated plates will provide access to an Insta-glamorous life”. Good sense, powerfully presented by someone who knows what he’s talking about.

His session:

Sat 2 Mar 10am-11am Giles Yeo: Gene Eating
Session no 23 AED 75 book here


7 Gillian Cross

Gillian Cross is a British author of children’s books, with over 40 of them to her credit since The Runaway was published in 1979. They have won a number of awards including the 1990 Carnegie Medal for Wolf and the 1992 Whitbread Children’s Book Award and Smarties Prize (for The Great Elephant Chase). One of her best for older kids, After Tomorrow, has been widely praised for its depiction of a dystopian Britain ruined by financial crisis: a primer for Brexit perhaps …

Cross is probably best known for The Demon Headmaster series, novels about the scary manipulator with the powers of hypnosis and an evil desire to take over the world (because he believes it will be better under his ordered rule). The first couple of books were subsequently adapted into a successful BBC TV series, then Gillian Cross outlined further shows and used those treatments to produce more books. The Demon Headmaster books are widely regarded as modern classics, well written and with a good plot and excellent characters – three desiderata that don’t always figure in children’s literature. The added bonus is the palpable air of menace in the stories. She really is a very good writer.

Gillian Cross is doing two sessions – one giving out the prizes for this year’s Oxford University Press Story Competition, the other expanding on the ideas behind the Demon Headmaster. And since The Power of the Demon Headmaster would make a decent title for a book, maybe there’s a new one coming in the series …

Her sessions:

Sat 9 Mar 9.30am-10am Oxford University Press Story Competition with Basemah Al-Wazzan
Session no 97 free entry book here

Sat 9 Mar 10am-11am Gillian Cross: The Power of the Demon Headmaster
Session no 98 AED 50 book here


8 Harriet Muncaster

Harriet Muncaster is an author/illustrator of books for young readers – notably the Isadora Moon series about a half vampire, half fairy (dad was one, mum was the other). So Isadora Moon loves the night, bats, and the colour black; but she also loves the outdoors, using her magic wand, and the colour pink. And her magicked-to-life Pink Rabbit toy.

The two-colour pictures are impressive, the celebration of difference (and a mixed family heritage) is essential learning for our times, the chaos and craziness are sheer fun, and why should tutus always be pink rather than black?

Harriet studied illustration at art college and completed a Master’s Degree in Children’s Book Illustration. Her first book was I am a Witch’s Cat (2014); the Isadora Moon series started in 2016 with Isadora Moon Goes to School.

Eight Isadora Moon adventures are available now, with the ninth due to be published in March 2019. There are versions of some or all in 29 languages. And if you’re interested in the creative process that produced Isadora, take a look at Harriet’s blog post about it.

Her sessions:

Fri 8 Mar 2pm-3pm Harriet Muncaster: Isadora Moon
Session no 84 AED 50 book here

Sat 9 Mar 10am-11am Let’s Get Creative with Isadora! Workshop with Harriet Muncaster
Session no 843 AED 100 book here

Fri 8 Mar 8pm-9pm Making a Monster with Ian Rankin, Keith Stuart
Session no 95 AED 75 book here


9 Ian Rankin

A genuine literary superstar, but also by all accounts a really nice bloke, Ian Rankin is best known for his police-procedural Inspector Rebus novels. Since the first appeared in 1987 (Knots and Crosses) he has sold 28 million copies of his books worldwide; he’s a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has won numerous awards, including the Theakston’s Old Peculiar crime novel of the year award and the CWA lifetime achievement award.

Then there’s the four Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Awards (including the prestigious Diamond Dagger) plus similar prizes from Denmark, France, Germany and elsewhere – not to mention his OBE for services to literature. He’s also taught on the creative writing course at the University of East Anglia. A genuine superstar, as I said.

He has also written many non-Rebus novels including the excellent art heist yarn Doors Open, many short stories, and a graphic novel (Dark Entries). He also co-wrote the play Dark Road with Mark Thomson.

His solo session centres on the 22nd and most recent Rebus novel, In a House of Lies, published in 2018. This has the now-retired Rebus helping out with some detecting; the story-telling, characterisation and atmosphere are as good as ever, but equally impressive is the way Ian Rankin has been able to age his characters over the years – they’re recognisably the same people, but time is changing them. Rebus is in his late 60s now and has a slight air of bafflement about the speed of change around him.

This makes for a meaty story. Rankin put it like this: “[Rebus] is at a certain age now where he’s looking around at the world and wondering if he still makes a difference. Does he still have a role to play? And getting involved with the police, trying to solve mysteries – that’s his way of answering that question”.

Ian Rankin is also taking part in a couple of interesting panels – sharing letters from a variety of authors to someone that left a lasting impression on them; and discussing what makes a compelling villain in fiction and in gaming with the Isadora Moon author Harriet Muncaster and writer Keith Stuart.

His sessions:

Fri 8 Mar 10am-11am Ian Rankin: In a House of Lies
Session no 63 AED 75 book here

Fri 8 Mar 8pm-9pm Making a Monster with Harriet Muncaster, Keith Stuart
Session no
95 AED 75 book here

Sat 9 Mar 2pm-3pm Letters on Letters with Zelda la Grange, Malachy Tallack, Hananah Zaheer
Session no
133 AED 75 book here


10 James J Owens

James Owens is a professor of communication at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. He is also a writer, a corporate leadership coach, a motivational speaker – and founder and CEO of the children’s literacy charity The World is Just a Book Away.

The charity is based on an anthology of the same name that Owens edited. Recognising the life-changing nature of reading, Owens started in 2002 to compile contributions from 60 people, among them Nobel Prize laureates, actors, royalty, world leaders, scientists, humanitarians, and more. Most of whom would seem to have little in common, yet all of whom share a love of books and reading.

Profits from the book go to WIJABA, which aims to build libraries around the world to give children access to education that they wouldn’t otherwise have – and hopefully end the perpetual cycle of poverty. WIJABA currently works with disadvantaged communities that have suffered through great adversity in Indonesia, Mexico and (recently) Los Angeles. To date, WIJABA has built 90 permanent libraries in schools and orphanages and funded two mobile libraries as well.

We can expect a passionate exposition from Owens’ WIJABA session; more reading is indeed one important (and practical) way to fix some of the evils in the world. His other session, with writer and TV presenter Lucy Siegle, will cover the equally pointed realities of our present environmental plight and what we can do about them.

His sessions:

Fri 1 Mar 4pm-5pm How You Can Change the World with Lucy Siegle
Session no 155 AED 75 book here

Sat 2 Mar 4pm-5pm James Owens: The World is Just a Book Away
Session no 19 AED 75 book here


11 Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde is a British novelist who spent 20 years in the film business before debuting on various bestseller lists with The Eyre Affair in 2001. Since then he has written another 14 novels, including the Thursday Next series and the Last Dragonslayer.

“Fforde’s books are more than just an ingenious idea,” said the Independent. “They are written with buoyant zest and are tautly plotted. They have empathetic heroes and heroines who nearly make terrible mistakes and suitably dastardly villains who do. They also have more twists and turns than Christie, and are embellished with the rich details of Dickens or Pratchett.”

His new novel, Early Riser, is a standalone thriller set in a world where most humans hibernate through the long, cold winter. It has Fforde’s characteristic wry humour, wordplay, world-making and an unashamedly zany plot leavened by social commentary and pop culture references. It’s an entirely credible world, which is what you want from your dystopia; and it’s a fun, fascinating ride.

His sessions:

Fri 8 Mar 2pm-4pm Fforde’s Fantastic Feedback: 15 minute feedback on your work from Jasper Fforde
Session no 857 AED 200 book here

Fri 8 Mar 6pm-7pm Stranger Than (Crime) Fiction with Charles Cumming, Chris Brookmyre
Session no 87 AED 75 book here

Sat 9 Mar 10am-11am Red Queens, Risings, & A Shade of Grey with Victoria Aveyard, Pierce Brown
Session no 100 AED 75 book here

Sat 9 Mar 2pm-3pm Jasper Fforde: Early Riser
Session no 156 AED 75 book here


12 Jessica Jarlvi

Jessica Jarlvi has a degree in Publishing and Business, worked in publishing in the UK for a few years, edited a magazine for expats in Chicago, and has taught journalism and media at a local university. All of that obviously feeds into the mix, but there’s nothing formulaic about Jessica’s writing: the plots are satisfyingly convoluted, the characters intense, the secrets deep and forbidding …

UAE-based but very definitely Swedish in her tone and style, Jessica writes psychological thrillers that would qualify as Scandi noir if they weren’t so fast-paced. In 2016, she won a Montegrappa Award for a couple of chapters that grew into When I Wake Up; Magrudy’s selected that as the best fiction book of 2018, and her second book, What Did I Do? was published in the same year.

Her sessions:

Fri 1 Mar 12pm-1pm Psychological Thrillers and Our Love of Dark Puzzles with Karen Osman, Divyata Rajaram
Session no 6 AED 75 book here

Sat 9 Mar 4pm-5pm Writing Outside the Comfort Zone with Taleb Alrefai
Session no 120 AED 75 book here


13 Jon Burgerman

Jon Burgerman is an English-born, New York based artist. He studied Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University and got a First; but he turned out to be a compulsive doodler and a master illustrator, and has displayed his vibrant, spontaneous artwork on social media, posters, textiles, and apparel, as well as in videos, murals, and children’s books.

Since Penguin Random House published Splat in 2017 he’s produced a series of successful picture books – It’s Great to Create, Rhyme Crime, Daily Doodle and a colouring book, Burgerworld.

His kids session (ages 4+) is an interactive hour based on a world of talking food; his latest picture book How To Eat Pizza is the somewhat silly story of a slice of pizza that doesn’t want to be eaten (Kirkus Reviews had a lot of fun with their description: “young readers [will be] drooling as they digest a good book. A slice-of-life tale that delivers. Kids will eat it up …”) It’s funny and imaginative; and as Jon puts it, “the main point of all of this stuff – and by ‘stuff’ I mean ‘life’ – is to have fun”.

His session:

Sat 9 Mar 10am-11am Jon Burgerman: How To Eat Pizza
Session no 139 AED 50 book here


14 Katherine Ormerod

Katherine Ormerod has a Master’s in Fashion History Theory from the London College of Fashion but worked as a journalist for over a decade; she started as a fashion assistant at Sunday Times Style, moved to Grazia as News & Features Editor, then on to Glamour where she was Fashion Features Editor at Large. Katherine has also written for the Financial Times, the Daily TelegraphHarper’s Bazaar and the Mail on Sunday.

In 2014 she set up her own consultancy to enable fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands to deliver marketing messages across social platforms. Recently she launched Work Work Work, an online platform described as “an anti-perfectionism project which aims to reveal and explore the non-edited challenges that women face behind the fantasy of social media … a platform where women employed across a broad range of aspirational industries including fashion, beauty, design, art, fitness and beyond can discuss the roadblocks they’ve encountered at different stages of their lives. The intention is to offer advice and experience across personal and professional development—both in and out of the office”.

In practice it’s an online style mag with a difference, and the difference is the reality that comes from personal experience; “I just personally feel like I need a dose of reality to balance out the fantasy and that I need to share a little more of the depth of my own life to not feel like a total sham”.

She is also the author of Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life, an investigation into how our relationship with social media has rewired our behavioural patterns, destroyed our confidence and shattered our attention spans. It’s been described as a “vital manual” that “will help you navigate social media and turn it not into a weapon, but a useful tool”.

Katherine is additionally on the panel for LitFest’s International Women’s Day celebration, four speakers discussing the global movement for gender equality; and she’s taking part in the equally interesting session on social media – can it really be a force for good?

Her sessions:

Thu 7 Mar 7.30pm-8.30pm Is the future social? with Ty Tashiro, Annabel Kantaria
Session no 129 AED 75 book here

Fri 8 Mar 7.30pm-8.30pm International Women’s Day – #BALANCEFORBETTER with Dubai AbulhoulJennifer Palmieri, Zelda la Grange
Session no 94 AED 75 book here

Sat 9 Mar 6pm-7pm Katherine Ormerod: Why Social Media is Ruining Your Life
Session no 122 AED 75 book here


15 Keith Stuart

Keith Stuart is an author and journalist who has written in particular about video games, technology and digital culture for more than 20 years – until recently he was the games editor of the Guardian and has also contributed to several publications including Empire, Red and Esquire. He is responsible for SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works, the ultimate retrospective of the game console and reviewed as “the best coffee table book about videogames of all time … packed with art, design documents and schematics of SEGA’s most famous console”.

But it’s his fiction that warrants his place at LitFest (and in this list). His debut novel, A Boy Made of Blocks, was a 2016 bestseller; it was inspired by Keith’s real-life relationship with his autistic son and combines a rare sense of honesty and insight with a great plot (the eight-year-old Sam and his 30-something father bond over the game Minecraft).

His second novel, Days of Wonder, is a story about family, love and finding magic in everyday life. The Heat reviewer called it “the most emotionally powerful book we’ve read all year” and the Daily Mail said it “tugs at your heart”; Keith Stuart is an emotive writer with a compellingly direct style and a real sense of the power of parent-child relationships.

He’s currently working on his third novel.

Keith Stuart’s Friday afternoon session with Sandhya Menon and Ty Tashiro looks at happy endings in fiction: what makes them feel real rather than contrived? And with Ian Rankin and Harriet Muncaster he wears his other hat, discussing what makes a compelling villain in crime novels and games.

His sessions:

Fri 8 Mar 2pm-3pm Happy Ever After with Sandhya Menon, Ty Tashiro
Session no 76 AED 75 book here

Fri 8 Mar 8pm-9pm Making a Monster with Ian Rankin, Harriet Muncaster
Session no 95 AED 75 book here


16 Leon McCarron

Leon McCarron is a genuine adventurer. In recent years he has cycled 14,000 miles around the world from New York to Hong Kong (The Road Headed West, the story of his journey across North America by bicycle, was his first book); he’s walked 3,000 miles across China (which made a four-part TV series for National Geographic, Walking Home from Mongolia); and he has ridden across Patagonia on horseback. He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, does a lot of motivational speaking, and is a compelling storyteller; he has produced three independent feature films and written three books; and his written work has featured in publications such as National Geographic, New Scientist, BBC, Guardian, Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph.

He also completed a thousand-mile journey through the Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert on the planet. The trek, with Alastair Humphreys, was inspired by the travels of Wilfred Thesiger; but their trip was hastily-planned and low budget – unable to afford camels they opted to drag a homemade steel cart filled with 300kg of supplies through the desert. There’s a film of the journey, Into The Empty Quarter: 1000 Miles in the Footsteps of a Hero.

His latest book (and film) is The Land Beyond: A Thousand Miles on Foot Through the Heart of the Middle East. “There are many reasons why it might seem unwise to walk, mostly alone, through the Middle East,” says the blurb; “that, in part, is exactly why Leon McCarron did it”. Starting from Jerusalem, Leon followed a series of wild hiking trails that follow ancient trading and pilgrimage routes through some of the most complicated landscapes in the world –through the West Bank along the Masar Ibrahim, then across the rocky spine of Jordan and finally through the Sinai desert to a finish at the top of Mount Sinai.

That’s the subject of his solo session. He also has a two-hander with fellow traveller Malachy Tallack about what makes a journey into an adventure.

His sessions:

Thu 7 Mar 8pm-9pm Leon McCarron: The Land Beyond
Session no 121 AED 75 book here

Fri 8 Mar 12pm-1pm Unconventional Journeys with Malachy Tallack
Session no 71 AED 75 book here


17 Lewis Dartnell

Lewis Dartnell is an author, presenter and Professor of Science Communication at the University of Westminster where his research focus is in the field of astrobiology and the search for microbial life on Mars.

He’s an excellent communicator and populariser of science, active in events at schools and science festivals, working as a scientific consultant for the media, and appearing on TV and radio shows.

Lewis has published four books, with The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch (2014) making the bestseller lists at the New York Times and Sunday Times (it was also a Sunday Times Book of the Year).

His new book, Origins: How the Earth Made Us, was published at the start of this year. It looks at the human story from the perspective of the planetary forces that shaped our biology and history; and it seems certain to be another bestseller, if the reviews are anything to go by.

The Times had one of the most fulsome: “Origins is one of those rare books that dissolves mystery through the steady application of sublime lucidity … Dartnell understands geology, geography, anthropology, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and history. That’s quite an achievement, but what makes him special is the way he communicates the interconnectedness of these disciplines in a clear, logical and entertaining way…Superb.” The Mail on Sunday agreed: “Dartnell has found the perfect blend of science and history. This is a book that will not only challenge our preconceptions about the past, but should make us think very carefully about humanity’s future”.

And here’s Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads (and another LitFest speaker in our list): “’a sweeping, brilliant overview of the history not only of our species but of the world”.

His session:

Fri 8 Mar 10am-11am Lewis Dartnell: Origins
Session no 61 AED 75 book here


18 Lucy Siegle

Lucy Siegle is a writer and TV presenter, a long serving reporter on BBC’s early evening magazine programme The ONE Show and a regular contributor to the likes of the Guardian, Observer, Marie Claire, Grazia, New Statesman and Elle. She’s probably best known as a specialist in environmental issues, particularly ethical shopping and lifestyles, and she became the de facto authority on the environmental and social footprint of the global fashion industry through her 2011 book To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing out the World (essential reading for anyone associated with the business, particularly as a consumer

A year ago she began hosting a weekly segment on The One Show about our obsession with plastic and that has become her latest book, Turning the Tide on Plastic: How Humanity (and you) Can Make Our Globe Clean Again. The facts are painful – enough plastic is thrown away every year to circle the world four times, more than eight million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans each year, 300 million tonnes of new plastic is produced every year … We can’t afford to go on like this. At the current rate, pieces of plastic will outnumber fish in the ocean by 2050.

Lucy Siegle’s book provides a powerful summons to end the plastic pandemic. More important, it’s an authoritative and accessible guide to help us to take decisive and effective action on the personal level. Her solo session could be one of the most powerful sessions at LitFest, and her two-hander with James Owens should also make for an important call to arms.

Her sessions:

Fri 1 Mar 4pm-5pm How You Can Change the World with James Owens
Session no 155 AED 75 book here

Sat 2 Mar 4pm-5pm Lucy Siegle: Turning the Tide on Plastic
Session no 140 AED 75 book here


19 Martin Puchner

Martin Puchner is a literary critic and philosopher, currently holding down the Byron and Anita Wien Chair of Drama and English Comparative Literature at Harvard. His writings include a dozen books and anthologies and more than 60 articles and essays; he’s also the general editor of the Norton Anthology of World Literature and is responsible for the excellent HarvardX MOOC on Masterpieces of World Literature.

Puchner’s most recent book is The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization. It has been widely praised as a sweeping account of literature from the invention of writing to the internet, a history of writing, the printed word and storytelling that surveys both the ideas that shaped civilisation and the technology that transmitted and preserved those ideas. “A wonderfully rich tour through the places and texts that have shaped our lives and history,” said the Guardian review.

That should make for a sparkling session. His other appearance is with Peter Frankopan (also in this list) with the subject ‘Who writes history’, and that too should be fascinating: if history informs the present and helps determine the future, it’s important that whatever version of history we’re using is fit for purpose. Yet (to conflate a couple of quotes) history is a set of lies agreed upon by the winners. Is that good enough? Maybe this remark from The Written World is a decent starting point: “the history of literature is a history of book burnings – a testament to the power of written stories”.

His sessions:

Fri 1 Mar 6pm-7pm Who Writes History? with Peter Frankopan
Session no 34 AED 75 book here

Sat 2 Mar 7.30pm-8.30pm Martin Puchner: The Written World
Session no 41 AED 75 book here


20 Nadifa Mohamed

Nadifa Mohamed – born in Somalia, exiled to Britain, educated at Oxford University – was selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013 and the following year was listed as one of Africa 39’s Best of Young African Novelists. Her first novel, Black Mamba Boy, was short-listed for several awards and won the Betty Trask Prize.

Her second novel, The Orchard of Lost Souls, intertwines the fates of three women in the 1988 civil war in Somalia; published in 2013, it was praised for showing how “the echo of war reverberates down the generations”. It won a Somerset Maugham Prize and the Prix Albert Bernard.

Her solo session centres on that book, and her own experience will certainly make her an informed contributor to the panel on Conflict Resolution – how can we learn to live together in the shadow of bitterness?

Nadifa Mohamed writes regularly for the Guardian and the New York Times, and last year was named a 2018 recipient of an Arts and Literary Arts Fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Her sessions:

Sat 2 Mar 2pm-3pm Conflict Resolution with Ashis Ray, Lalage Snow
Session no 58 AED 75 book here

Sat 2 Mar 6pm-7pm Nadifa Mohamed: The Orchard of Lost Souls
Session no 36 AED 75 book here


21 Nicola Tallis

Nicola Tallis’s first book, Crown of Blood: The Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey, was published in 2016 after five years of research. There are many books on the Tudors, but this has to be one of the best – readable, authoritative, and blessed with the inestimable advantage of a fascinating subject: the short and tragic life of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen (as Tallis points out, she was actually Queen for 13 days) who was executed at just 17.

Nicola Tallis followed that with another story of Tudor England, and again it’s a rich seam to be mined. Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Tale of Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester is the first ever biography of one of the great Elizabethan women. As a complete contrast to Jane’s painfully short time, Lettice Knollys lived into her 90s; her life was packed with love, loss, intrigue and betrayal, and through it we’re able to observe the wider stories and life of the age – not least the relationship between Elizabeth I (Lettice’s cousin) and Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Lettice’s husband).

As well as her solo session on Lettice Knollys, Nicola Tallis is doing a panel on women who helped shape the world and a workshop on writing about history – bound to be good, since Tallis is so good at combining researched facts with compelling storytelling.

After getting a first class BA in History from Bath Spa University, Nicola Tallis has worked as a curator, lecturer and writer. She says historical research is her passion, especially the Tudors (her MA dissertation was actually a Tudor mobile phone app, Tudor London Hotspots, which you can still download for free for Android and iOS).

Her sessions:

Fri 1 Mar 10am-11am Women in History with Sue Nelson, Kate Pankhurst
Session no 9 AED 75 book here

Sat 2 Mar 5pm-6.30pm Writing Non-Fiction History: Workshop with Nicola Tallis
Session no 822 AED 300 book here

Sun 3 Mar 6.30pm-7.30pm Nicola Tallis: Elizabeth’s Rival
Session no 43 AED 75 book here


22 Peter Frankopan

Peter Frankopan is a British historian and professor of Global History at Oxford University, where he is the founding director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research. Peter Frankopan often writes for the New York Times, Financial Times, Evening Standard and the Guardian; he has contributed to a book on cricket, chairs the Frankopan Fund (which awards scholarships to outstanding students from Croatia), and with his wife established a boutique hotel company.

For Penguin Classics he has translated The Alexiad (2009), the chronicles of the 11th century Byzantine emperor Alexios I, and later he expanded the story into The First Crusade: The Call from the East, a vibrant history that shows how Constantinople divided Europe’s Crusaders.

But it was The Silk Roads: A New History of the World that made his name in popular terms. It was the Daily Telegraph History Book of the Year in 2015 and stayed on bestseller lists for several months; an illustrated edition was published late last year. It has an attractive premise – “the Silk Roads do not start or have an end point, because they are not actually real roads at all. They are a web of networks that allowed goods, people and ideas, but also disease and violence, to flow east to west and west to east, from the Pacific coasts of China and Russia to the Atlantic coasts of Europe and Africa … You might think of the Silk Roads as the world’s central nervous system”.

His new book, The New Silk Roads – The Present and Future of the World, examines life in 2018 and the changes that will have an impact on government, business and more. It’s a slightly more contentious but no less insightful argument, suggesting that a new world is forming across the spine of Asia to link Russia, China Central and Southern Asia, Iran and the Middle East. “While Europe and the West go through an age of crisis, the rest of the world is on the move, offering opportunities and challenges that will shape – and are already shaping the 21st century for all of us”.

His sessions:

Fri 1 Mar 6pm-7pm Who Writes History? with Martin Puchner
Session no 34 AED 75 book here

Sat 2 Mar 4pm-5pm Peter Frankopan: The New Silk Roads
Session no 11 AED 75 book here


23 Rachel Hamilton

Rachel Hamilton, a longstanding friend of and participant at LitFest, says she likes to make people laugh. In the past she’s been part of the Funny Girls stand up team, and the title of her debut novel says a lot about her humour: The Case of the Exploding Loo was runner up in the 2013 Montegrappa First Fiction Competition. That was followed by The Case of the Exploding Brains and the Unicorn in New York series for 7-9 year olds – all clever, all funny.

Rachel says she developed a passion for storytelling during her time as an English teacher (one of several jobs on her CV). Without being too analytical, she has a thoughtful approach to her craft – there’s a good blog post about how storytelling is being reclaimed for the masses and her website includes some good (free) materials for teachers and readers.

She divides her time between Dubai and the UK, writing stories for 5-15 year olds. Sadly her session on how to write humour is sold out, but register for the wish list and you might be notified if there’s any availability.

Her session:

Fri 8 Mar 12pm-1pm How To Write Funny! Writing Workshop with Rachel Hamilton
Session no 834 AED 100 but SOLD OUT (sorry)


24 Rowan Hooper

Rowan Hooper has a PhD in evolutionary biology and worked as a biologist in Japan for around five years, but these days he’s a writer and journalist – he’s has been writing about science for over 10 years now and is Managing Editor of New Scientist magazine. His work has also appeared in the Economist, Guardian, Wired, Washington Post, and Japan Times.

In 2018, he published Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of Mental and Physical Ability. Why can some people achieve greatness when others can’t, no matter how hard they try? What are the secrets of long life and happiness? Just how much potential does our species have? Through a series of fascinating interviews and in-depth research into the latest scientific findings on peak performance, the book examines what it feels like to be exceptional — and what it takes to get there.

This is how Hooper put it in a recent interview: “understanding superhumans is to understand human potential. We have this immense potential which isn’t always fulfilled individually, or as a species. I wanted to grab that by the scruff of the neck and write something positive about the best we can be. There’s so much negativity in our world, and perhaps I wanted to counter that- but whatever it is, I wanted to write something positive about humanity at its very best.”

And was it worth it? Philip Pullman’s review was one of many that rated Superhuman very highly: “fascinating, timely and very well put together … The range of human activities and abilities covered in Rowan Hooper’s study is astonishing and inspiring”.

His session:

Fri 8 Mar 4pm-5pm Rowan Hooper: Superhuman
Session no 60 AED 75 book here


25 Samuel I Schwartz

Sam Schwartz is an award-winning American transportation engineer who originally worked as a New York City cabbie in the late 1960s, switched to transportation engineering, eventually served as NYC Traffic Commissioner, and then started his own consultancy. Along the way he popularised the term ‘gridlock’. Today his expertise extends into regional planning and development, urban design and civil engineering.

He is the author of Street Smart: The Rise of Cities and The Fall of Cars and No One at the Wheel: Driverless Cars and the Road of the Future. The latter suggests how the driverless vehicle revolution will transform our cities, revolutionise the job market, and introduce a new wave of ethical dilemmas because of AI.

As well as his solo session on No One at the Wheel He’s talking with Dubai Police Director of Artificial Intelligence Brigadier Khalid Nasser Alrazooqi about AI and the future of cities. Schwartz is also on a panel about the future of the workplace with economics professor Richard Baldwin and executive coach Dawn Metcalfe.

His sessions:

Thu 7 Mar 10.30am-11.15am Let’s Talk About Artificial Intelligence with Khalid Nasser Alrazooqi
Session no
53 AED 75 book here

Fri 8 Mar 12pm-1pm Samuel I. Schwartz: No One At the Wheel
Session no 67 AED 75 book here

Sat 9 Mar 12pm-1pm The Job Machine – Are We Becoming Obsolete? with Richard Baldwin, Dawn Metcalfe
Session no 104 AED 75 book here


The Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature runs 1 to 9 March, mainly at the InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City. Click here for information and tickets.

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