Emirati recounts game-changing trip to Nigeria - GulfToday

Emirati recounts game-changing trip to Nigeria


The panel discussion under way.

Gulf Today, Staff Reporter

Travel writers should ‘live the now’ and ‘expose their five senses to everything’ which will help them to notice things differently, advised Emirati poet Talal Salem at a panel discussion titled ‘The Peculiarity of Travel Literature’, held at the ongoing Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) 2021.

Moderated by Dr Lamya Tawfik, the panel also featured author and comedian Tony Hawks, who asked aspiring writers to search for and determine their own voice.

Hawks, whose Round Ireland with a Fridge (2001) had become a Sunday Times Bestseller and sold over 800,000 copies worldwide, reminisced how he once saw a man hitchhiking with a full-sized fridge in Ireland. “I thought Ireland is an incredible place if someone hitching with a fridge isn’t even a topic of conversation. I became interested in how eccentric the country was.”

He recalled that he wasn’t planning to but took up “the daft challenge” when a friend said he couldn’t do it. “I got a small fridge because I didn’t want lifts from lorry drivers alone and wanted to meet as many people as I could.”

He recorded conversations, kept notes, took photocopies and mailed it all home. 

His second book Playing the Moldovans at Tennis was serialised on BBC Radio 4.

Talal Salem described his trip to Nigeria as “a journey to my soul”. “The trip changed my perspective on safety and also the things that we take for granted here.” He stayed there for six months travelling between Lagos and Abuja. “The Nigerians are great people, hardworking and educated – things that you don’t normally hear about them.”

He went on to write a second travel book on his trip to Japan. Of his nine books, the rest are on poetry.

Talal said he prefers a thematic way of writing a book as he has an engineering background. He uses a mindmap and uses software like Freemind to “put down whatever pops up in my mind”. Hawks on the other hand prefers a chronological style.

While writing, Hawks preferred not to listen to the inner critic but just tell the story. The Emirati writer likes to go with the flow and asked writers to “stop judging themselves.”

The final piece of advice they offered aspiring writers as they concluded the session was to find their voice. “Ignore what you have heard about a place and see for yourself,” Talal opened.

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