What are you most looking forward to at the 2016 Festival?
I am really looking forward to seeing how Dubai has changed after living there for three years from 1996-99 in the Umm Suqeim area. Back then, that was considered quite a long way out from the centre, but I gather now it’s considered very central! I wrote guidebooks about the UAE and Dubai for Thomas Cook, so knew every nook and cranny very well in those days.
When did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
I started writing as a hobby after returning from a holiday in Turkey. In the evenings after my day job with Racal Electronics I would love being transported into another world, and couldn’t wait to get home and stuck into it. I was like a dog separated from its bone!
What book do you find yourself re-reading most often?
The book I find myself re-reading most often is The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe, a Swedish doctor who bought a ruined chapel on the island of Capri and restored it painstakingly himself with the help of local people. In a way it was a model for me when I bought my house in Damascus, and like him I became absorbed into the local culture and philosophy.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
If I wasn’t a writer I would have stayed an Arabic linguist, working as a freelance translator in the field of electronics and bilingual computing.
And finally, we have a number of aspiring writers attending the Festival. What one piece of advice would you give them?
My advice to aspiring writers would be: Never give up. Writing is something you have to feel driven to do, and when you have put a lot of emotional energy into something, it can be very hard when you inevitably get the first rejections. Many give up at that stage, but if you persist, you will be rewarded.