Booklovers John and Julie Buck at the Desert Stanzas, the signature event marking the opening of the Emirates Airline Literature Festival 2023, in Dubai on Wednesday. Image Credit: Sharmila Dhal/Gulf News

Dubai: A book-loving British couple, who have never missed a single edition of the Emirates Airline Literature Festival since 2011, have specially flown into Dubai from Portugal this year too, for what they said is a “literary pilgrimage”.

“Indeed, this is a pilgrimage – a literary pilgrimage if you will – that we undertake every year,” said John Buck, a tech entrepreneur, settled in Cascais near Lisbon in Portugal.

He was speaking to Gulf News at the Desert Stanzas, the official opening event of the Litfest in Dubai on Wednesday.

Echoing his words, his wife Julie Buck, also an entrepreneur, said: “It is that one unmissable event in our diary every year, no maatter where in the world we are.”

That, evidently, is no exaggeration.

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A file picture of the Emirates Airline Literature Festival in Dubai in 2011, which was in its third edition. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

The pilgrims’ journey first began in the summer of 2011 when John, then based in Doha, Qatar, saw a promo and decided to fly down to Dubai for the event, which was in its third edition.

“I knew nothing about the Litfest back then, but as a booklover, I felt it was the perfect excuse for a weekend getaway.”

No going back

The experience, he said, left him so impressed that by the time his wife Julie joined him in Doha from native England the next year, they booked their flights and the Litfest tickets well in advance.

“We had the most amazing time and it went without saying that we would come back every year. This went on till 2015 when we relocated to Dubai itself,” said Julie, adding that they did not miss the festival’s “wonderfully managed” sessions even during the pandemic.

John said, “We’ve always liked the diversity and variety of the Litfest. My wife and I independently book ourselves for different talks and workshops and make the most of what is on offer.

“I remember attending a session once on how dolphins communicate. It was fascinating. Just as other sessions with some authors and poets were. Ben Miller, Simon Armitage, Harry Baker --- many names come to mind…”

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The Bucks say they have always liked the diversity and variety of the Emirates Litfest over the years. Above is a file shot of the 2017 edition. Image Credit: Gulf News

He said he and his wife were both “scientists by degree” with a penchant for Math and Physics, and they enjoyed both fiction and non-fiction.

“When I was a child, my father told me you can pick up a book and within minutes, be in another world. That just stuck with me and I became a keen reader,” he said.

Luckily for him, his wife is also an avid reader. “Books just allow you to see things completely differently. They are incredibly powerful because they can shift perceptions and make the world a better place,” he added.

Julie said between John and her, they were once the proud owners of over 2,500 books. “But we’ve also donated many books to others, especially when we’ve had to relocate, the last time being our move to Cascais from Dubai in 2022,” she said.

A section of the free community library that Julie Buck set up on Palm Jumeirah. Image Credit: Supplied

Living on the Palm Jumeirah while in Dubai, Julie even did her bit to spread the culture of reading by informally opening a free community library on the island before COVID-19 hit in January 2020.

The Bucks, who incidentally celebrated their 61st birthdays four days apart in Dubai this past week, vouch for the ultimate joy of books. They are also proud of the fact that they were able to imbibe the love of reading in their two daughters. And as a family, they have much to thank the Emirates Airline Litfest for.

Besides the exposure to books and the authors they have met or bumped into at the festival over the years, John said the festival had also motivated him to become a writer.

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John Buck (centre) in a Short + Sweet theatre production in 2019. He says the Emirates Litfest brought out the writer in him. Image Credit: Supplied

“I attended a couple of workshops on writing and tried writing for a couple of plays,” said John, who has taken in Sweet + Short Theatre Festival along with Julie. “I wrote, directed and acted in Final Consultation’ in Short + Sweet 2019.”

He said he is even essaying a fictional novel “on a teen who has lost his mum” and wishes he will one day be invited to speak at the Emirates Litfest in Dubai.

The event, he lets on, has also stirred the entrepreneur in him as he hopes to draw from its many learnings at a possible litfest back in Portugal.

That, now, sounds like a promising pilgrim’s progress.