DA WHO? heard of her?
Dubai-based author the next J K Rowling?
She started writing books to read to her children at bedtime, but Linda Davies' novels about a teenage boy battling evil in Dubai have been snapped up by Hollywood to be turned into the next Harry Potter-style blockbuster. Sue Brattle meets her to find out more
When best-selling author Linda Davies finished the fourth in her series of children's books about djinn, or genies, she never guessed that a bit of bad luck would set her on the road to Hollywood.
With three of her books already on sale in bookshops all over the UAE, her latest story about a boy in Dubai and his battle with evil was a sure-fire winner. Then her publisher went out of business and so King of the Djinn was put in a drawer in her Umm Suqeim home for a while. For many people, that would be the end of the story. But Linda, 48, ploughed on, writing the fifth and last of the series, called War of the Djinn, and burying herself in research for her return to writing adult novels.
In a wonderful twist of fate, she is now signed up with a New York literary agent and a Hollywood mover and shaker who is trying to secure a director and screenwriter to turn her djinn quintet into five films.
When I first met Linda five years ago she had just finished her first djinn book and I nicknamed its schoolboy hero, Finn Kennedy, the ‘Harry Potter of Dubai'.
Sitting in the same living room, I look at the author now and wonder whether Dubai is going to get its very own J K Rowling, the famous creator of Harry Potter who rocketed to superstardom.
"That is too much to dream for," Linda says. But just like her hero Finn, she has some powerful allies fighting on her side. First, a chain of coincidences led to a meeting with a well-known agent who will sell her books in the United States.
Linda says, "I was at the stage when I was thinking: What is the point of all this effort if I can't get published?
"I began writing the children's books six or seven years ago so that my own children could see me doing something productive every day. By the time I was writing the fourth, the series was established, but then my publisher went out of business." That is when David Vigliano - who has represented Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and the late Pope John Paul II - entered the scene.
"He was searching for a children's hero to fill the gap left by Harry Potter and the Twilight series both coming to an end," Linda says. "I met him in London and he signed me up. It really did happen like that."
Then Hollywood producer and 3-D film pioneer Sandy Climan head-hunted Linda in order to turn her books into movies. Climan, who has worked with actors Robert de Niro, Robert Redford and Kevin Costner, won the Bafta Best Film award in 2005 for The Aviator, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio.
Linda signed a production deal with him. "Sandy is in talks with producers, and he is looking for a screenwriter, a director and a studio to take on the project," she says. "It would be very exciting to watch my books made into 3D movies. I think the djinn would look wonderful in 3D."
It would also be another chance for Dubai to star in a movie, following on the success of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, which saw Tom Cruise hanging off the Burj Khalifa. "All of my djinn books are set in Dubai, or elsewhere in UAE," Linda says. "There are scenes in the Empty Quarter, the beaches in Jumeirah and the Park 'n' Shop on Al Wasl Road. The huge battle in my fourth book is set at the cement works in Al Quoz. They are all good locations for a film."
So which actor should play her hero, Finn Kennedy? In the latest book, she describes Finn as, "The tanned one with the surf dude hair, broken nose, tallish, broad shoulders, who walks like an athlete."
"I would like someone completely new to acting, a wild surfer boy who finishes school each day and heads for the beach," she says.
Even as we are speaking, we are both aware that talking too much about the movie deal may be tempting fate. "These books have been a labour of love," Linda says. "Financially, I made a pittance from them. But I love having fans that are waiting for the next book to be printed and I take that seriously."
Among these fans are her own children, Hugh, 13, Tom, 11, and Lara, who is now seven. The last time I met Lara she was a toddler who could already pronounce the word ‘djinn'.
Linda uses the children as her sounding board. Her husband Rupert Wise reads each book to the children to get their honest feedback on the draft. "He looks out for their reactions to passages and then tells me."
"The stories began as something for them at bedtime," Linda says. "When we moved to Dubai I was fascinated by the djinn, or genies. I was walking on the beach at the end of Al Manara Street when I had the idea of my hero meeting a good djinn from the sea, and then his parents get kidnapped and taken away by the bad djinn."
Stranger than fiction
Just after she wrote her first story, Linda, her husband and their friend had a frightening experience. The trio was sailing near the island of Abu Musa in the Arabian Gulf on October 28, 2005, when they were intercepted by two Iranian gunboats and taken to Bandar Abbas port for interrogation.
They were held for two weeks before diplomatic negotiations were successful and they were released. It was a harrowing experience that drove Linda to write poems expressing her fear for her sanity and her longing to see her children.
Unlike the dark reality she faced, in her fictional children's books, the Oxford graduate and former banker uses magic to get her hero out of tough situations. "You can't really do that when you are writing for adults," she says. "And we all know you can't do it in real life."
These days, she is back to writing adult thrillers, which she started doing in the 1990s when she left banking and spoke out against the sexism she encountered in the industry. Her first best-selling book, written for adults and set in the world of finance, was called Nest of Vipers. It was followed by Wilderness of Mirrors, Into the Fire, and Something Wild before she turned to children's books.
"Thrillers have story lines, which are complicated so I have to do serious research to make sure all the details are accurate," Linda says.
She is now mapping out a two-part series, set in Wales. This time the central figure is a "very powerful" girl.
But her interest in djinn has not diminished. "When I'm in the desert and see sand flowing down the dunes like fingers, I can understand where the stories of djinn come from," she says.
"I understand why some Emirati houses are surrounded by lights to keep the djinn away and why many will not go to the beach at twilight because that is when they are meant to be most active. I like the contrast between how very modern the city of Dubai is, and the thought there just might be a djinn at the end of your street."
It might not be long before she's looking out for them at the end of red carpets in Hollywood.
What are djinn?
Traditionally, Djinns (pronounced jinn) are defined as supernatural beings, which live in a parallel world. In the Western world they are called genies, like the one who wafts out of Aladdin's lamp in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights. According to folklore, djinns can change their size and shape, which allows them to fit in a tiny hole in the ground, or a huge open space. They can also take on the form of humans or animals.
It is also believed that djinns live in tribes, and although they are invisible, they can see us humans. But occasionally something goes wrong and a human catches a glimpse of them. Djinn can also live to a very old age.
For centuries, djinn have been beloved by storytellers and writers. They are in Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories, the Dr Who TV series, the heart-rending novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, The X-Files and in Disney movies.
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