The Untitled Chapters Team is thrilled to introduce a new seqment called Writers Spotlight in which we seek out Published Female Emirati writers and interview them about their writing experience in hope that it may inspire you into pursuing your publishing dreams. Our first interview with with Mrs. Noura Al Noman, author of two published children’s book; she’s here to tell us about her writing journey which we are very thankful towards her for this ^^
Q1: We would like to start with you telling us about yourself?
I am older than my country, hehe. Married, and have 2 sons and 4 daughters (14 to 23 years). Graduated from UAEU in 1986 with a bachelors in English Literature. Worked as a teacher of English, then “censored” books for the Ministry of Information. Imagine, getting paid to read books all day. Discovered a love for translation, and took the Ministry of Justice test for legal translation, and opened my own legal translation office in 1996. From 1995 till 2001, I volunteered at most of the activities of the Sharjah Ladies Club, organizing social functions, charity events and regional forums and conferences. In 2002 I was appointed the Director of the Executive Office of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher Bint mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of the Ruler of Sharjah – I still hold that position. In 2004, I got my Masters degree in Translation from the American university in Sharjah. I love reading and movies, and have this annoying habit of translating stuff in my head, from English to Arabic and vice versa. I’ve published 2 children books by UAE’s Kalimat Publishers, and was commissioned to translate “Transport Logistics: Past, Present and Future” by Mr. Issa Baluch in 2005.
Q2: How would you describe your writing style?
Well at first I wrote articles for magazines. It’s ironic that I prefer to write in English; but I have always forced myself to only be published in Arabic. I’ve written commentary, film reviews, and informational pieces. Being more versed in English, my Arabic style – while still maintaining my sarcastic tone – tends to be very simple and to the point. Flowery language and similes which Arabic is famous for does not really speak to me, and so I have never adopted it. I am trying to rectify that these days by reading Arabic novels.
Q3: Tell us about the two children’s book that you’ve published already
The first one was quite by accident really. We had 3 cats at the time, and as you know, cats are a peculiar species. They’re both friendly and standoffish at the same time. I remember that my cousin, Ebtisam had a white kitten when we were 7 or 8. It was so white, Ebtisam had instantly dubbed it “gitnah” (cotton). So I combined both of these experiences in a touchy feely book titled “Al Qutta Qitnah” (Cotton the Kitten). Some time after submitting the first book, our gardener and my kids found a hedgehog in our garden; but I told them we couldn’t keep it because it was a wild animal. We all agreed that we would release it into the wild in a few days. Thirty six hours after we placed it in a cat’s carrier, it gave birth to 5 pink squirming hedgehogs. None of us had ever seen baby hedgehogs before! So I decided to write about it to contrast the theme of domestic animal vs wild animal. The book was named after the name my kids gave to our hedgehog (which by the way ate 4 babies and took care of only one. We released both mom and baby into the wild 6 weeks later): “Al Qunfuth Kiwi” Kiwi the Hedgehog). Proceeds of the two books go to my chosen charity, Friends of Cancer Patients.
Q4: Have you always wanted to write to children? What is it about that specific age group that draw you into writing stories for them
Writing for children has never crossed my mind before. Never. Even when I spent 10 mins writing the kitten story, I never imagined Kalimat’s owner Sheikha Bodour Bint Sultan Al Qasimi would like it and publish it. It is not easy to write for children because each year of a child’s age is an entire world of understanding. In the Arab world, children from 0 to 18 are lumped together, and that has probably been the reason why Arabic books for children have not been as popular as they should have been. This is changing nowadays; but we are still a long way from the achievements of the West. Arabs still write for kids to “teach them a moral to the story”. After the two little books, I was not able to come up with something original for similar ages, and that is most probably because my kids have grown now and I have stopped relating to younger children. A successful children’s book must contain the joy of discovery and wonder and it must hold their attention time and time again. Unless I am able to produce such an effect, I will not be publishing anything for younger children I think.
Q5: What are the challenges that you’ve faced as a writer?
As a first time writer for young adults (YA), I had to learn how to make myself sit and write. It is so easy to daydream about the events of the novel while you’re going about your daily life; but unless you sit yourself down and record them, they are gone forever. After a year of slow going, I decided that I would write 800 Arabic words per day. My husband helped me stick a note on the ceiling above my head which said: “Today, I will finish 800 words” so that I see it every morning when I wake up. My kind and supporting friends helped by asking me every time they saw me: “Did you write 800 words today?” And so it went till I finished the 91,000 word novel. Once that was done, it took me 7 more months to translate it into English for a friend. So I now have my novel “Ajwan” in two languages.
Another challenge was that I needed to research some of the material I used in the book. This meant I had to devote some time of the week to reading useful material, which was not always used in the book; but it certainly helped me avoid writing some farfetched events or ideas which would have spoiled the scenes. Even if it is fiction, one has to maintain a certain level of logic.
And of course my biggest challenge was the Arabic language, as it was not my strong suit. Many a time, I had to sms or call my friends (most of whom were weaker in Arabic than I) and ask them: “How do you say (insert action here)?” Simple actions like the folding of arms or the clucking of a tongue were hurdles in the flow of typing the scenes as they unfolded inside my head. I have a close friend who is an expert in Arabic literature and is also a known UAE novelist, and she tried to help; but some of my questions presented a challenge to her as well.
Q6: We understand that you’ve also written a Young Adult Sci-fi novel is Arabic! Can you tell us about how that writing process was for you?
In addition to the challenges listed in the last answer, there was the added burden of figuring out what was “appropriate” for this age group. I was aiming for YA who were 15 to 19 (the ages of my own kids) and I knew what my own children were reading every day in English; but I didn’t know what Arabic-reading kids were used to. As a teen, I read science fiction and fantasy novels, and even though none had explicit sexual content, they were by far more mature than what YA Arabic books contained now. At first, I was censoring myself; but later, my friends advised me to simply write what I had in mind, and to leave the “censoring” to the editing stage.
As I type this, my 14 year old daughter is devouring the Vampire Academy series, one volume after the other. I am certain that there are dozens of Emirati girls doing the same, and their parents would have been horrified to read these books in Arabic. Ironic, isn’t it? Well my novel doesn’t have romance, nor is there any sucking of blood; but there are soldiers who kill for a living. I wonder how parents will receive it? When I spoke to an Egyptian publisher about current English books available to kids these days, this is how the conversation sounded like:
Me: You know when we were kids and vampires were horrible creatures which scared the heck out of us, to the point where we couldn’t sleep with the lights off?
Publisher: Yes, of course!
Me: Well these days, vampires are handsome romantic guys and girls are falling in love with them.
Publisher: But that is ethically wrong!
I rest my case!
Q7: Where do you see yourself going into the future?
Ajwan is Book 1 in the series, and I already have the two other books mapped out in my head (and in notes). I also have a half completed outline of a teen adventure which will take the heroes around the UAE and the Arab world. Like all adventure books, it will have evil and good locked in mortal combat with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. I will continue to write in Arabic, because I think teens already have a lot of good books in English. We just need them to be interested in Arabic again, and this is the only way I know how to contribute to that.
Q8: Do you think that the interest in writing among Emiratis have increased over the last couple of years?
Absolutely. Of course, writing has always been a passion for the young and the older generation in the UAE; but it had limited itself to short stories and prose till now. Writing has matured just like the country and more and more people are turning towards longer pieces of writing like novellas and novels. Furthermore, there is a larger number of emerging writers in English. In the mid 90s, I used to translate short stories from English to Arabic for a local newsletter titled “Ashir’ah” and published by the UAE Women Writers Association. Readers from around the region used to be delighted with the fact that there were translations in the newsletter. And now we have novellas and novels in English written by Emiratis, and that is something to be truly proud of. And let us not forget that writers are increasingly being recognized by cultural entities in the UAE and that is a great incentive for closet writer to come out and show the world what they have been working on all these years. It’s a great time to be a writer, I think.
Q9: Any sort of advice you wish to give Emirati writers? or writers in general?
Being a new writer – despite my age – means I also seek advice from others. But if I had to give it, I would say: find your niche/your passion. Is it children’s books, romance, or science fiction (heaven forbid)? Then go out there and read as much as you can in that genre, because even though you have a kernel of an idea in your head, it really does help to see what the standards are. See a winning formula and try to emulate it. This will help greatly if you want to be published, because a lot of times publishers have a certain standard and it is hard to just tell them: “This is revolutionary work, and I want you to spend money printing and publishing it.” Most of them will refuse your manuscript outright.
Above all else, remember that you need to write, write, write. Books don’t get written if you don’t dedicate time and energy to them every day of the week. If you are a busy person, learn to manage your time. Create a habit of writing at a particular time and maybe in the same place every day. Look for like minded people and brainstorm ideas or techniques. If you don’t have enough friends to support you, this will be your support group. Also, look for writing workshops and go out there and have fun trying out new things.
Follow Noura Al Noman on their twitter page @NouraNoman
Find Noura Al Noman blog here
You can go see Noura in the 2012 Emirates Literature Festival. Tickets go on sale on the 24th of January. Click here