I caught a glimpse of the sun as it set in the horizon, right before it sank into the sea behind Dubai's skyscrapers, as I drove my car back home to Abu Dhabi on the final day of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. My second day at the festival was over and I was feeling slightly downcast that it had all come and gone so quickly and in an hour's time real life would have to be resumed from where I had exited it two days ago. I couldn't believe I had attended nearly 20 sessions, listened to over 30 speakers and bought a total of 10 books. I was exhausted, I was hungry (missed most meals), I was cranky (stayed up late the night before engrossed in one of my new books), I could feel the throbbing of an oncoming headache (too much caffeine) and my feet hurt from tottering on high heels all day. And yet, I have rarely felt better. Thank you @EmiratesLitFest!
The day had kicked off with a session entitled 'R&J: The Power of the Book Group'. Judging by the massive queue waiting at the doors there was no mystery or confusion as to who R&J might be. Two letters of the alphabet combined in one sentence with the words 'book' and 'group' can only ever mean one thing: the golden couple of British television and the two people behind one of the most powerful and influential Book Clubs in the world, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan must be in the house.
For those who don't know who they are, understandable if you haven't lived in the UK, they were the first couple to host an American-style daytime morning chat show,'This Morning', broadcast on British television from 1988 until 2001 and subsequently moved on to present a daily chat show, 'Richard & Judy', from 2001 until 2009. They still carry on with the Richard and Judy Book Club, online, in association with booksellers WHSmith (click on HERE).
According to Richard, the secret to their success is down to 'the fact that they were a genuine couple who were married, had their ups and downs, had had previous marriages and came with loads of baggage etc, all of which endeared them to the public that could relate to them and connect with them. A public that could spot the sincerity of the relationship that the couple shared both on screen and off'.
That aside, their impact on the book and publishing industry has been phenomenal. Who could have predicted that a 12-minute slot in a morning program, presented once a week would be so influential on an industry that is one of the hardest to crack? The couple were unaware of the impact they were causing when recommending a read on national TV until, according to Richard, one publishing house called them to request that they give them ample warning before reviewing their titles. The reason? the book Richard and Judy had discussed the morning before had completely flown off the shelves by the next leaving none in print. To this day, every 1 in 4 books sold in the UK is dependant on the approval of this enigmatic duo.
Richard and Judy have been responsible for the fortunes of many authors. Simon Kernick and Rachel Hore, who shared the panel with the couple in Saturday's session, are two such cases. Although at the time their books were reviewed by R&J, they were already established authors with not too shabby sale margins. However, the sales figures of their books ('Relentless' in the case of Simon Kernick and 'A Place of Secrets' in Rachel's case) skyrocketed beyond their wildest dreams right after the couple had chosen to talk about their book on their morning show. Rachel's book that followed after such success, went in straight into the Sunday Times bestseller list and she has never looked back since. Not only that, but Richard and Judy have managed to resurrect writing careers (simply ask author Jojo Moyes), cementing their status as Gods of the book industry.
Only two years ago, in a giant leap of faith, they joined the ranks of authors by releasing their own debut novels. Judy Finnigan's novel, 'Eloise' was the fastest selling hardback cover in 2012 and Richard Madeley's book 'One Day I'll Find You' was the fastest selling in 2013! They both share the opinion that the success of their books was first and foremost due to the public who have grown to love them and support them in their ventures and that their Book Club readings came a close second. It taught them to recognise style, pace and rhythm and to recognise what did and didn't work. It ultimately allowed them to develop an insight into the types of books that they would, one day, enjoy writing themselves. Although, Richard did candidly confess, that it was almost because of the bookclub that he almost didn't write his novel fearing that if the novel 'bombed' it would somehow jeopardise the credibility of the Richard and Judy brand.
And what ingredients make for a good book? Well, the panel unanimously agreed that it was definitely readability and a captivating start; although Rachel Hore did go on to explain that her genre of writing required an essentially more detailed description of mood and setting to allow the reader to properly visualise the scene the novel was being set in. But she was also aware that novels these days were required to be quicker paced in response to the demands of a readership that expected to 'get stuck in and cracking' from page one.
Of course there were many other sessions to visit during the course of the day that I am dying to tell you about. I even managed a chat with Saudi author Abdo Khal about his book 'Throwing Sparks' which is a real cracker. However, for the purpose of keeping posts short, sweet and less boring (I do want you to come back you know) I will stop and sign off with a list of the books that were chosen by the panel when asked by a member of the audience what they would take to read whilst stranded on a desert island.
Simon Kernick: Lord of the Rings by Tolkien
Rachel Hore: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Judy Finnigan: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Richard Madeley: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke