Well, that was a mighty fine way to spend six days! I've just got back from the 10th (and my very 1st) Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Duabi and, well...I'm not sure where to start! Actually, maybe with the flight...
Nope, I'd never flown business class before, and now I'm not sure I'll be able to get on a cramped EasyJet flight without having a quiet sob to myself. It was VERY nice. Being a Fairly Small Human (I'm 5ft 4) I had so much room, and turned my seat area (what's the correct word for that?) into a happy little drawing nook. I also watched films and drank champagne because I'm quite sure it would have been rude not to. Philip Ardagh - all 6ft 7 of him - fitted in surprisingly well, and I didn't have to use a shoe horn to wedge him out after landing, which I've had to do a few times before. (To witness him trying to squeeze himself out of a seat on an EasyJet or RyanAir plane is to witness a daddy longlegs trying not to plummet down the plug hole.. Quite a sight.)
As illustrators and authors, it's quite common that we spend most of our time on our own (or in my case, with my studio buddy, Sarah McIntyre) so to get out and visit schools or perform at festivals makes a very welcome change for me. We were all (and by "all" I mean authors, illustrators, musicians, poets, festival staff and volunteers) staying in the hotel the festival was held (it was HUGE). Unusually for a lit festival, we were there for a whole six days, so there was plenty of time to chat and get to know other authors and illustrators, some of whom I've only ever previously had a chance to say a quick hello to in a fleeting moment in the green room of other festivals, before being whisked off to have a mic fitted or jump on a train back to London, or babble words at on Twitter. I think that was one of my favourite parts of Emirates Lit Fest.
Cue an onslaught of photos of just some of the awesome people I met:
For anyone who has seen one of Philip Ardagh's events, you'll know that he's one giant ball of hilarious energy, and trying to keep up with that on stage is quite a feet, though mostly just a lot of fun. Although we have a rough script for all of our events that we rehearse, I never quite know what he's going to do or say. He let me off fairly easily this time though, with only one incident that left me wondering if he actually might need medical attention; he lay down on the ground and put his feet in the air, sending me off into the audience with the mic. I had no idea why either of these things were happening, but I figured he'd yelp if he actually needed assistance....Ardagh, you do keep me on my toes!
Not only that, but I got the chance to do a Story Jam on stage with Maitha Al Khayat, who is one of the UAE's most prolific Emirates children illustrators and writers. The premise of our event? Create two new characters and a new story with the audience....in an hour! As you can imagine, there was a lot of speed drawing going on! With the help of the children in the audience, we came up with a T-Rex called Sam, and a camel called Lily. There were sand tornados, flying carpets, scorpions...and Google Maps even came into it somewhere (though that didn't quite make it into the story!)
I'm so used to doing events either on my own, or with my children's book collaborator, Philip Ardagh, and in both cases, I'm the only one drawing on stage, so I loved getting to draw along with someone else, and, since I'm writing this the day after International Woman's Day, I'll admit that it did feel pretty amazing to be one of two women standing on the stage, in a career we've worked really hard to get into, doing a job we adore. (Cue some kind of Spice Girls 'Girl Power' pose)
We may have left the snow in London, but there wasn't much time for lounging around by the pool side. I did steal ten minutes to crash out (and maybe fell asleep) in the sun after two events. It was a busy six days!
Luckily for me, my partner Martin was able to come along. This was the first lit festival he's accompanied me to, and although I didn't let him watch any of my events (because...nerves), having him waiting for me after was really nice. Sometimes I think that to anyone who doesn't do this amazing and bizarre job, it can seem like a strange world. A lot of people I've spoken to don't fully understand what it is that I do as a children's illustrator and author - the many hats we have to (or choose to) wear - so it was really nice to show Martin a glimpse of that world in person, beyond the times he comes to my studio for a cuppa, or I come home and debrief him at the end of the day. I hope he comes to more. (Hi Martin!)
The most surprising thing that happened while I was in Dubai, was having to rescue these two Whompodomps. Some of you may have seen these little creatures appear on my Instagram feed over the past year, because although they are usually very shy creatures, they have taken a shine to me (for which I am very honoured). I'd been to see them shortly before I left the UK, to make sure they had stocked up on enough custard to keep them going through the snowy weather that lay ahead, and said a fond farewell. But, unbeknownst to me, they had hopped on the busy tube to London City Airport (how they weren't seen I don't know!), borrowed a plane (well, they said borrowed, the authorities said stolen, but that's a whole other story) and made their way across land and sea to Dubai...only to crash in the desert. Whompodomps don't make great pilots, apparently. They get distracted by pretty cloud formations and thoughts of custard. Ardagh and I set off as soon as I'd realised what had happened, and after many hours of searching under a scorching sun, we finally found them and brought them safely back to London. I stowed them away in my hand luggage and when we were sure the Emirates air hostesses weren't looking, they snook out of my bag and peered out of the window to marvel at the clouds passing by....
There are so many people to thank for my time in Dubai: Isobel Abulhoul, the festival director for inviting me; Yvette, chief operating officer; Mary Ann who arranged the flights and accommodation; Jo, who looked after all our authorial and illustrator (what's the illustrator equivalent to authorial?!) needs; Flora Rees who organised my school visit to GEMS World Academy; Annabelle Corton who provided two all-important sticks for our Stick & Fetch event (one of which ended up painted gold as THE WRONG END OF THE STICK AWARD; Monita for arranging PR and interviews; Ciaran Kelly for introducing our Ardagh & Elwick event and looking after me for my comics workshop; Meredith Clipperton for introducing my Story Jam event with Maitha; and all the other staff, interns and volunteers; not forgetting all the men, women and children who came to our events and made up our audiences. THANK YOU.