Sharjah Book Fair space for November's event is already sold out
Visitors at Sharjah International Book Fair. Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: The series of disasters striking the globe since 2019 drove Ian Rankin, said to be the United Kingdom’s most widely read crime novelist, to pen his latest work, A Song For The Dark Times, he told an online session of the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF).

While the title of his latest Inspector Rebus novel may appear ominous in the wake of COVID-19, Rankin said it was conceived before the coronavirus pandemic gripped the world. Speaking on the ‘Sharjah Reads’ virtual platform of SIBF, Rankin said: “It felt to me in the middle of 2019 that the world was struggling — be it with Brexit or the bushfires in Australia and various other unpleasant circumstances. That was the impetus for A Song For The Dark Times.”

These elements have come out in the book released this September, in the form of a fictional internment camp on the north coast of Scotland — the focus of local historians and part of a new mystery that his regular character John Rebus is trying to solve. “Through this, I discuss parallels between the way the world was in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and where we might be heading now.”

‘Writing without whitewashing’

Rankin said it was precisely this “freedom to explore themes and write about real people and real places without whitewashing” that drew him to the crime genre and eventually got him addicted to writing crime novels. “That is the only reason I write my books — I get to discuss about real political issues, explore big moral themes and portray [in my new book] Edinburgh in its true colours — a city that has light and shade, where there is the potential for terrible things to happen just below the surface,” he added.

Is Rebus going to stop fighting crime?

Rankin has more than 43 publications to his credit, of which 23 are Rebus novels. “I have no intention of retiring Rebus, though I did try to pension him off after he turned 60. But now that he is retired officially from the police force, how does he get involved in investigating cases? That is the challenge that keeps me going. I keep writing the books because he is such an intriguing character and I want to know more about him,” Rankin said.

Organised by Sharjah Book Authority (SBA), SIBF 2020 concludes on November 14. Being held under the theme, ‘The World Reads from Sharjah’, the 39th edition has adopted a fully digital format to host its cultural programme of 64 unique events, which are being streamed on SBA’s virtual platform over the 11 days of the fair. People globally can register for upcoming discussions at

Guests on fair grounds

SIBF 2020 has hosted visiting delegations of ambassadors, consuls, diplomats and state representatives of a number of countries to the UAE. Three official delegations representing the countries of Mexico, Canada and Japan were received by SBA chairman Ahmad Al Ameri at Expo Centre Sharjah on Tuesday.

The delegates were taken on a tour of the exhibitor halls that are hosting 1,024 publishers this year from 73 countries. They also visited their country pavilions, which are part of the 11-day event. The officials were offered a first-hand experience of SIBF’s hybrid online-offline events model, developed in response to offer a safe environment for the public to enjoy amid the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

During his meeting with Francisca Elizabeth Mendez Escobar, Ambassador of Mexico to the UAE, Al Ameri highlighted the various strategies designed and implemented by SBA for SIBF 2020, to ensure the continuity of cultural appreciation within the UAE community. The two officials then discussed ways in which more joint Emirati–Mexican cultural events could be organised in the future.

During his visit to the fair, Jean-Philippe Linteau, Consul General of Canada, toured the venue, along with Al Ameri, met the Canadian publishers who have participated in SIBF 2020, and was introduced by Al Ameri to the Sharjah Publishing City Free Zone.

Later in the day, Al Ameri met a Japanese delegation led by Hideki Yabumoto, Vice-Consul of Japan in the UAE, apprising them about SBA’s key annual international fairs and cultural events, including SIBF and the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival.

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‘360-degree’ disinfection

Taking the commitment to public health safety a step further, all exhibition halls at Expo Centre Sharjah are being disinfected daily by special personnel, who are taking medical-grade sterilising trolleys across the fair venue, covering every nook and cranny during a ‘360-degree’ disinfection drive of both surfaces and the air, from midnight to 5am daily. Among other health and safety protocols being observed are pre-registration of visitors in scheduled time slots, thermal scanners and colour-coded bracelets to monitor entry and exit timings of all visitors.