Middle East Book Tour Part 2
March 2 - Friday
Friday marks the start of the weekend in the UAE. We met up with friends downtown, hit Dubai Mall, dialled down and relaxed. Over the past few days we had loads of interesting conversations with diverse people about life, politics, and things that matter.
Being part Indian, Middle Eastern, East African Asian and English and with Phoebe and her Prussian, Swiss/German/French, English, Scottish mix, this week alone we chatted to Indians, an Egyptian/Greek man, a Moroccan in an Aleppo restaurant, a Kenyan, a Malaysian, a man with Burmese and Irish blood, an Italian married to a Brazilian, and even Trinidadian Dame Floella Benjamin! I love people and listening to their stories and views – they are so fascinating.
March 3 - Saturday
Stayed with good friends in Silicon Oasis, Dubai. Close to our author visit the following day at world-leading Repton School Dubai. Our friends have a dog called Skyler and their son made a really impressive volcano for his homework. The dad runsthe engineering project to build the impressive Dubai Eye at the Marina. Felt happy and raring to go for tomorrow.
March 4 - Sunday
Very successful author visit at Repton Dubai, arranged with the Dubai LitFest (Emirates Airline Festival of Literature). I presented to and worked with literally hundreds of students from across the year groups. Great honour to be back there after 2 years and meet the Principal of the school. I did a number of dramatic readings from the 5fingers series, an audiovisual presentation and creative writing workshops. Also grateful to have a microphone everywhere we’ve been on this trip. Voice still intact. Last Middle East book tour I couldn’t speak for a few days in the middle!
March 5 – 7 Monday - Wednesday
Three few days off – ate, slept, went to the beach. Staying at Dubai Marina in a lovely apartment in Skyview Tower, over 30 floors up, with an outdoor pool and hot tub. The beach is just ten minutes walk away. Very hot here. This is the life! Incredible views over the city. Discovered Sarouja, a Syrian (Aleppo) restaurant with the best hummus, olives, flat breads and kebabs. Thoroughly recommend it.
March 8 - Thursday
Would also highly recommend Giovanni at Barbers Chaps & Co in Dubai Marina, who gave me a sharp new look - a “fade cut” with beard trim. Looking and feeling like an Emirati now! Ready for my return to the UK tomorrow, to brave the snow. Final appointments at Repton and The Dubai LitFest, then “home“ to pack and fly.
Saw an unforgettable sunset in Dubai. In the background, that jagged spear that is the Burj Khalifa. Flying late at night from DXB. Landing early Friday morning at LHR. The end of a highly memorable trip. Thankful for so many things: people, experiences, health, safe travel and new 5fingers readers.
Read Middle East Book Tour Part 1 here.
February 26 · 2018 - Monday
The start of the Middle East Book Tour! We flew through Sunday night from London Heathrow to Muscat, Oman (where my grandfather was born). Saw some really interesting airport snacks, quite unlike anything a western airport might offer! Then on to Doha, Qatar for an acclimatisation day. Travelling with my publisher wife Phoebe.
Arrived in sunny Doha on Monday morning. Our generous hosts at Qatar International School (QIS) put us up in the sumptuous Fraser Suites, a gleaming luxury hotel minutes walk from the school. There was a huge gym and outdoor pool – with very few people around! Went in search of a barbers. Found a French cheese shop and a huge mall instead – called Doha City Centre. Jetlagged and tired, I prepped for the first day of author work on Tuesday. Loving life!
February 27 - Tuesday
Up at 5am. Takeaway breakfast. Then a second breakfast with the very supportive English team at QIS: croissants and pastries. In other news, I hear my kids back home are having a snow day! The English Teachers at QIS were brilliant. Such fun presenting to the Year 10s as a whole then moving between 6 classrooms. Ingenious Carousel concept: teachers stay put, pupils move every 25mins & learn aspects of dystopian lit, punctuation, ‘show not tell’, ‘zooming in’, pace and style. So cool!
February 28 - Wednesday
Has this happened to anyone else? Hotel staff member knocked at 4.58am and asked if we wanted our room cleaned. I said “no, maybe later.” He said “9 or.10am?” I said, “what time is it?” He looked at his watch and said 5am. I said “okay. We have to be up anyways so time for a coffee!” Fortunately, we had a Nespresso Pixie machine in our hotel suite. (We subsequently bought a Nespresso Expert with Milk machine to celebrate our return to England and the end of the tour).
Second day at QIS – working with hundreds of Yr5s and 6s – full year presentations and smaller creative group-work. Journalism workshops with Yr11s. Ran a live press room and talked journalistic styles. Smart, lively bunch of students. Then a fab lunch with school staff at The W Doha – a swanky hotel and restaurant - then onto the airport for a late night flight to Dubai via Muscat. Muscat airport: dusty, spicy aromas, Arabic sounds and sights...
March 1 - Thursday
Flew all night - arrived at the final destination 5.30am! Raced to the Dubai Lit literary Festival Fest opening ceremony having slept for 3 hours then showered & changed. It was a private show downtown for the 180 authors working with the Emirates LitFest. Felt unbelievably honoured to be a part of it, and thrilled to be in a room with some of the world’s leading writers including Anthony Horowitz, Charlie Higson, Eoin Colfer, Jacqueline Wilson, Peter James, Kate Mosse, Alexander McCall Smith and Carol Ann Duffy. Woah.
We also met some amazing couples - Dame Floella Benjamin and her husband Keith, married 48yrs, still travelling & working together on diversity with the Football Association (FA) and other international bodies. We sat in the back row next to Richard & Judy, a humble & serving couple who were quite jetlagged.
It was a stunning opening ceremony with stunning visuals using silhouettes, performance poetry, engaging readings. Very exciting. The ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and his entourage arrived by helicopter 15mins before it started. That’s like the Queen arriving. Naturally, everybody stood when he entered the auditorium. Quite the honour.
Read Middle East Book Tour Part 2 here
As advent begins, and the Christmas season looms, it's an ideal time to carry out a self-audit and check you're doing okay. I recently took the family out to dinner at a local restaurant. While we waited for the food, I handed out five sheets of paper. They had four gauges on them: simple circles that look a bit like a car’s petrol gauge and have an ‘empty’ marker on the left and a ‘full’ one on the right, with a line to mark the middle.
The four gauges were titled: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. I gave my wife and three children a coloured highlighter each, and asked them to think about how full or empty they felt in these different areas. The ensuing conversation was fantastic: we all got to talk and be listened to, and even came up with some solutions.
I think it’s important to ask these questions of ourselves from time to time. And if you’re a writer, it can help your characterisation. Above all, I believe it will help us with our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. So how are you doing in the following areas today?
Are you getting enough sleep or rest? How about nutrition? Are you happy with your level of exercise? Do you experience aches and pains? Headaches? Is your gauge high or low and is there anything you can do to improve it?
How are you doing emotionally? Are you relating to people or do you feel you need to get away? Is there anything you can do to improve the situation: diet and exercise? Are you doing enough of the things you enjoy? Anyone you need to forgive? Anything you should let go of? Do you need to ‘count your blessings’ or maybe do something selfless or generous? Is it time for a Facebook/Instagram vacation?
How is your mental health? How could it be better? What are you putting into your brain through TV, YouTube or reading? Is it helping, or making you unhappy or anxious? Are you getting enough sleep, exercise and time outdoors? Do you have good people around you that you can talk to? Are you taking enough rest? Could relaxing music be of help? Is it time for a change of job? Maybe put the mobile phone aside for a day?
Is this an area that you need to improve or explore? Do you pray or meditate? Do you have any spiritual disciplines - things like: solitude, worship, simplicity, service, joy or fasting? How are you doing in terms of your selflessness, generosity, encouragement, peace? Is there anything on YouTube or Ted that can help improve your spiritual side? Go for it!
Tell me how it goes!
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In May I got new eyes. Here is the diary I kept on my Facebook Author Page.
Today my eyes get fixed. Elation. The left one first, the right next week. Cataract extraction plus trifocal implants. I'll be bionic. 45 years of terrible vision, corrected in an instant by the surgeon's laser. Unreal. At night my mind ticked over. Not anxious, just active, trying to see the future. Mostly I'm calm. And excited. I'm looking forward to the colours, you see, the stars, seeing underwater and the dust in the sunlight. That and being a cyborg, of course.
The adventure begins. A lovely room to wait in at The McIndoe Centre, kind and caring staff, and a dot above my eye so they laser the correct one. It's the left eye, right?!
It all went really well - looking forward to 20/20 vision this time next week! Loving my new bionic left eye. Colours are brighter, and everything is crisp blue-white. My cataracts gave the world a dull yellow hue. My far and middle distance sight is sharp, and close up improving by the hour (it carries on getting sharper day by day). Resting up today. No pain, just tired after surgery.
I have an eye drop regime for the next 28 days. Then from next Friday -the same for the right eye. No heavy lifting or exercise for three weeks (total). No swimming for five weeks (total). Then I'm free.
Been relaxing and healing. My first full day at the desk today. Still loving the bright colours, the quality of the light, sharp edges. I live thankful. Good distance vision; mid-and near vision not completely sharp yet. Eye healing slowly, takes time... The right eye operation is this Friday.
Top 3 annoying things about having one good eye and one bad one (until this Friday!)
1. Screen work and reading take forever
2. I keep squinting
3. People are both blurry and clear at the same time, which is kind of trippy
Top 3 fantastic things about having one good eye and one bad one (until this Friday!)
1. I can see through my left eye again
2. I can see through my left eye again
3. I can see through my left eye again
Cued up for my right eye operation: dilation drops and anaesthetic in... not long now! And incredibly, such a blessing, I now have 20/20 vision in my corrected left eye. So grateful. I have the family with me today and we are enjoying ourselves way too much!
Just out of surgery. An amazing experience again. The bright lights of the operating theatre became like the sun at the beach after twenty minutes of staring into them. I could see the surgeon's fine tools and hear the laser talking after it did its work. The world became clear as the trifocal lens descended. Ravenous now, slight headache, but lunch has arrived! Oh, and I can see clearly with BOTH eyes now. Overjoyed.
Incredible to be able to see again, and 20/20 is more than wonderful. It's transformational - here's to being able to do readings, videos, and actually read books again!!!
So, still on the subject of eyes - and I promise, I will stop soon, this is for the more technical of you who might be interested. Two pieces of acrylic are now part of my two eyeballs - Carl Zeiss 'AT Lisa' trifocal intraocular lenses. They will probably last longer than my eyes will and have concentric circles with differing magnification strengths.
The eye automatically finds the best one to read: long, middle and short distance, with the brain getting better over time at working it all out. So, theoretically, the vision continues to improve over the months! Clever design, the human body. Me? I'm just ecstatic I can see.
5 things I'm enjoying today with my new bionic eyes
1. 20/20 vision (particularly first thing, waking up)
2. Being able to see in the shower!
3. Blue/white sunlight and the morning sky (mmm)
4. The ability to read books again (hooray!)
5. Seeing a family of yellow birds in a tree (lovely).
Friday, my latest eye check at The McIndoe Centre: healing well and better than 20/20 vision- I didn't even know there was such a thing!
I have a new reading pile now I can see clearly again!
First time back at the gym for a month (after healing from the eye op). Man, it was SO great being able to run without glasses, and see in the shower... Trying to up my mileage bit by bit.
Final thoughts. I am still enjoying excellent vision. My new eyes have enabled me to finish writing the fifth 5fingers book with ease, which is out in spring 2018 . With a Middle Eastern book tour due next spring, and a full schedule of author visits, I will be able to read confidently in public, wear sunglasses and go in the sea. Thank you Damian Lake and the team at The McIndoe Centre!
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Qatar, Middle East
Qatar was something else altogether from Abu Dhabi – I’ll tell you another time about the falcons on the plane heading for the Falcon souk!
We landed at night amidst luminescent city lights, Christmas-tree bright. However, by day, Doha city is dusty and under construction with building sites and diggers everywhere.
We had the incredible pleasure of being hosted by good friends from our village who had moved out with work. Our kids and their kids are friends. They live in a jaw-dropping, high-ceilinged house in a secure compound with a gym and a pool.
They also have a beautiful garden, unusual in a desert city, which needs constant watering but yields a haven of tranquillity. I used it to pace around and practise my readings. We ate very un-Qatari food: lasagne, a Filipino stew and a chicken coconut curry that I cooked. Visiting other friends for an evening, we ate rice and Kenyan tilapia, baked in cream and mustard.
We had three school author visits in all, to Sherborne Qatar, Qatar International School Primary and QIS Secondary: working with a total of around 1600 pupils. Again, I’ll tell you about those another time, but just to say I had a warm welcome with bright-eyed and intelligent students in all three places.
We were told that Qatar is behind Dubai in terms of its economic development and cosmopolitan culture; perhaps by 15 years. Native Qataris are favoured by the government, supported with housing and jobs for life. The expat adventurers forge their way alongside them, less secure in their jobs but enjoying life in Doha.
It’s very attractive, with the souks (markets) and the Corniche, a waterfront promenade that runs along Doha Bay. While I worked, the kids went exploring and spotted camels and trinkets. Meanwhile, our driver took us on multiple trips across town where we saw palatial government buildings for ministries of transport, education and housing; and arrived at a tranche of skyscrapers. One of the teachers told me several had been empty for years, despite the country being oil-rich.
In general, I really enjoyed my experience of Qatar. I loved the heat, and exploring our friends’ compound. The teachers and pupils were so welcoming, and Qatari culture is rich and fascinating. Many wealthy families own big cats: such as panthers and cheetahs!
All too soon, it was time to fly to Dubai and onto Al Ain in the desert for the next part of the adventure.
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
I love travelling. I enjoy seeing the cultural differences. In the Middle East, Coke cans have Arabic writing on them and you frequently see elegant Arab couples contrastingly dressed: the men in white robes and the women in black.
Abu Dhabi is hot and dusty; the city centre being a broad block of skyscrapers lining the coast, with towering hotel apartments everywhere. In Abu Dhabi they drive on the right, fast, overtaking each other on both sides. Driving between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the hot sun sank into the sand and the mosques started to glow green. We traversed Yas and Saadiyat Islands to get to the hotel apartment, Bin Majid Tower, our home for the week, with a pool on the 18th floor and views across the Arabian Gulf.
The first week was about acclimatising and setting up author visits. We enjoyed two relaxing days visiting my aunt at a five-star hotel, the St Regis Saadiyat Island. I walked along the beach picking up shells while Phoebe played 18 holes of golf. The kids swam and read and we buried my youngest son in the sand. We also got painfully sunburned. Well, me and the boys. The girls were more sensible.
We visited Cranleigh School on the beautiful Saadiyat Island: the two-year-old sister to Cranleigh in England which is 150 years old! Unlike its English counterpart, Abu Dhabi’s Cranleigh is a huge white box, gorgeously interior-designed in bright colours. Inside, the pupils wear school uniforms that would place them comfortably in England. Sadly, the education authority didn’t grant me permission to speak at Cranleigh (we found out towards the end of the book tour). But that’s also part of cultural life in Abu Dhabi: living with the unexpected.
As in much of the UAE, migrant workers tend to be Indians, Pakistanis, Africans and Filipinos. Consequently, supermarkets and restaurants emit the aromas of these cultures. Wandering around downtown Abu Dhabi, we found hidden barber shops, Indian cafes and cheap launderettes. An SFC Plus (like KFC) became a firm favourite with the kids because of its butter rice and super-spicy deep-fried chicken.
Too soon, it was time to move on to Qatar for our next adventure. But more of that next time.
1. How are you feeling today?
I'm aching a little – I went for a half-hour run yesterday and am feeling it now. BUT the sun is shining, the birds are singing outside my window and I am doing what I was born to do – write fiction!
2. What are you wearing?
Khaki combat trousers and a red t-shirt. And black glasses.
3. Where did you grow up?
In the south west of England, in a town not far from Gatwick Airport and the hills of the South Downs. It was less developed than today so I often explored on my bike and hung out with friends in the fields or on building sites!
4. Where are you at this exact moment?
At my desk in my home-office, on a mezzanine level that overlooks fields and forest , sipping tea and staring at my big flat screen.
5. What song is your guilty pleasure?
Anything by Alice in Chains or Queens of the Stoneage.
6. Where have you never been but want to go?
7. Favourite book from school?
Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris.
8. What’s your go-to drink at the bar?
Pineapple and cranberry with crushed ice.
9. Do you like flying?
I recently did a couple of long flights to California and back. I travel well. I love people-watching at airports, making friends on the plane, reading books and watching the latest movies. So yes, I like flying.
10. Poolside or beachside?
Beachside. Definitely beachside. I love the sound of the waves. I set 5fingers in Griffton which is by the sea. Check out the books if you haven't yet... JRx
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I am dog tired at the end of the week. But it’s been a good one. One thing’s for sure: the life of a writer is never dull. Monday started off quiet, with time to write a chapter of 5fingers: rescue (despite feeling lousy with a stomach bug). I got to 10,500 words - a bit behind schedule but I’ll catch up.
Tuesday was spent preparing for the big author visit to a school in Kingston, which was running a Writing Week. (They even featured me in their comic/magazine, Kapow! - a first for me!) I put the final touches on my funny presentation about my life as a writer.
I also had a series of briefing calls for copywriting clients and wrote a blog post. This week I find myself working on eight different client writing jobs. Some span weeks and require thousands of words to be written. Others carry tight deadlines and need shorter bursts of writing.
On Wednesday I had the best author visit ever. Great school! The head and his teachers were really supportive. The 210 young people were keen and impressively creative, writing mini-stories in 6 and 10 words. I am grateful to have gained many new readers for my three published 5fingers books. I am always humbled and thankful to introduce the series to new people.
After that, I had to return back south to work on copy in the afternoon. I was then committed to go out in the evening, still fighting this horrible stomach bug.
On Thursday I did a series of client phone interviews, a string of copywriting edits and cooked a tasty curry!
Today, Friday, still feeling unwell, I travelled to London for a client debrief (the trip to Germany I was spared). The great news is I was commissioned to write 8000 words, and caught up with three other clients.
So, now you know what I do with my days. I’m dog tired. But happy. This was a typical week for Joshua Raven. Goodbye and good night.
Joshua Raven x
Joshua Raven, novelist. Read about my writing and my life here. And have you discovered 5fingers yet?