Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


In this third and final segment of my blog about Anne O’Connell’s and my experiences at The Emirate Airlines Festival of Literature you get to meet one hysterically funny lady.

Our final session is with Marina Lewycka – say that three times with marbles in your mouth!  Marina is the author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Two Caravans and We are All Made of Glue. Anne and I prudently share the purchase of these three books with promises to share as soon as we have finished reading.  
Marina is conducting a Masters Class entitled, “Narrative Voice, Character & Point of View.” We both eagerly await her words of wisdom that will quickly turn Anne’s book manuscript and my “idea” for a short story into best sellers!
OOOppss!! Seems she is a bit disoriented from her flight and has her times confused so she will be a bit late as she is still in the shower!
Oh well, have been there and done that – Have I mentioned Roger’s flight home in February when I got the date screwed up? In the UAE they write dates with the day first and the month second; add the “military time” calculations I had to make and perhaps you can see how I really wreaked havoc on his travel plans.
With a whizz-bang burst, Marina enters the room on the run, hair still wet from the shower, laughing and apologizing in a breathless torrent of words. She instantly opens her session with a hysterical lesson on how to pronounce her name.
Marina, born of Ukrainian parents in a refugee camp in Kiel, Germany at the end of World War II, grew up in England. As a result, her decidedly English accent is sprinkled with “gushings” of Ukrainian words. I have just begun the Tractors in Ukrainian but I can see Marina’s personality on every engaging page.
With 36 rejections on her first book,  A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, it went on to be translated into 27 languages, was shortlisted for the prestigious Orange Prize, long listed for the Booker Prize  and won the 2005 SAGA Award for Wit ,  Marina knows something about telling a story.
Today, she instructs this gathering of wanabee authors,” “Once you have an idea for a story and its structure, then, decide who is going to tell it.  Choose a voice that you easily maintain for 100,000 words or more. . . . Being consistent in voice will build trust with your readers and get them to buy into the story . . . Be convincing in choosing language and details you observe. Think about the language they would use based on the time the story is in. Be consistent with details and always generously describe all senses.”
Here is the opening of “Tractors in Ukrainian . . .
“Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcee. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade, churning up the murky water, bringing to the surface a sludge of sloughed off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside.
It all started with a phone call.”
OK, wouldn’t you be interested in reading more???  I am on Chapter Four and still laughing on every page!”
Postscripts . . .
Would have loved to see but missed  . . .

. . . Marguerite van Gelderalsen, Married to a Bedouin, whose son, Rami, I met on our trip through Petra. Reading her book about living in Petra after we had visited left me with a yearning to see more of this endearing place.  We hope to make a second trip to Petra and stay for a number of days to explore the more remote areas of this unique UNESCO World Heritage site. I was just told yesterday that you can book a tour of Petra with Marguerite. Anyone interested??

. . . Jane Bristol, Rhys, Emirati Women: Generations of Change in Conversation,  that “weaves together eight years of conversation and interviews with three generations of Emirati women.”   How incredibly fortunate is Jane to been able to really talk with three generations of these remarkable women. Can you just image the stories they must have? The UAE culture has undergone formidable changes in the last 40 years. I think the most dramatic changes must have been on the lives of the women.  I want to learn more!

Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2012 . . . I hope to see included in the 2010 Festival Pulani, A memoir of a young woman in apartheid South Africa  written by my good friend Ruchel Louis Coetzee. Published in 2011, it is a beautiful love story of Ruchel’s life growing up in South Africa, finding the love of her life and their daring escape. An absolute must read! I am knocking on the festival organizers doors as we speak hoping I can get them to include this exciting work. Wish me luck!  
If you have a chance to read any of the books I have recommended please let me know what you think in the comments below.


  1. Dear Katie,

    I am a writing instructor at the American University of Sharjah, and last spring, the university offered all faculty at AUS an opportunity to create and propose new interdisciplinary courses, and mine is titled "Designing Stories of Our Lives: A Visual and Textual Exploration."

    In this course, students analyze questions related to identity as expressed in both textual and visual form. They read and critique foundational works by authors, analyze visual art, and create visual representations of how they view their own identity. This includes, for example, writing and designing stories about their life in an autobiographical booklet and designing a visual self-portrait combined with an essay on identity.

    I was hoping you could help me with some contact information regarding some of the writers you have worked with at the festival. We would like to invite them as a guest to present their work in person. The lecture series we are currently arranging will take place on Tuesday evenings from 6 to 8 pm.

    Thank you for your help and feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions.

    I look forward to hearing from you.


    Lelania Sperrazza (

  2. Lelania . . I would be delighted to help but I am not associated with the Dubai Literary Festival. I would suggest that you contact the organizers. I can put you in touch with other authors who live in Dubai if that helps.