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INTERVIEW on Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature

Who are you most looking forward to seeing at the 2017 Festival?
Out of the nearly 150 authors attending, there are less than a handful whose names or work I know. What makes me so excited to be participating in the festival is that I will be in the company of so many writers, and readers, and lovers of books, whom I would otherwise have never met. So the person I am most looking forward to seeing is someone I don't know yet - a new friend to share thoughts and words and hopes with. The most exhilarating aspect of my recent experience at the Sharjah International Book Fair was interacting with the people there - the fair organizers, the authors, the publishers, the guests. I know the Emirates festival will be equally exciting.

Which book has inspired you the most?
This is such a difficult question to answer. Over the years, as both editor and reader, there of course have been a multitude of books that I have loved and admired. But to be inspired by a book is a whole other animal...out of the four that come immediately to mind, I'm afraid I cannot pick the one that inspired me most, so...the first was Dorothy Dunnett's two amazing historical series: the House of Niccolo, and the Lymond Chronicles. I read them before I wrote my first book, Hidden, and was inspired to create my two heroes by the way she created hers. A second was The Way the Crow Flies, by Ann-Marie McDonald, which, years later, became the unconscious inspiration for my third book, Approaching the Speed of Light, about the tragic effects of abuse. The other two, Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, and Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, are simply two of the most compelling books I've ever read, in their intelligence, bravery, scope, originality, language. They continue to inspire me to keep writing, and to try always to become a better writer.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
This is an easy one! I tend to wake up a bit anxious and depressed most mornings - just a dirty trick of my metabolism I think - so the first thing I do is comfort myself with the knowledge that no matter my worries, fears, sadnesses, I can get up and make myself a fabulous CUP OF COFFEE!!! And then I get up and make that fabulous cup of coffee, and soon I am feeling oh so much better! Not only because I love coffee, but also because I find the ritual of its preparation to be grounding… it brings me back to my normal confident self, and reminds me that life does not have to be as complicated as the thoughts that loop through my brain as I wake. On most mornings of good weather, however, the first thing I do is leap out of bed and go for a walk on the beach - the earlier the better - and THEN have my coffee!

What is your life's motto?
Having reached the venerable age of 69, I recognize that we are all different people at each of the various stages of our lives, and undoubtedly I would have answered this differently in the past. But now I am settled in who I am -- the amalgam of all that's come before -- and my motto is: “Be kind to yourself.” And, in retrospect, I think it's a good motto for all the stages of our lives, since most people I know have always judged themselves way too harshly, much more harshly than they judge others.

Our theme for the 2017 Festival is Journeys. Can you tell us which journeys in your life have been most memorable?
My husband and I are fortunate to have traveled a lot over the years, and the most memorable trips have been the ones that have taken us wholly out of our own culture and experiences. Our two trips to East Africa; one to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Singapore; and this past November's trip to Sharjah and Dubai, stand out as among the most enriching and moving experiences of our lives. And in all cases, along with the astonishing animals, landscapes, historical or modern structures etc. that we got to see, it was the people we met in all of those places that we will never forget.



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