Winners of the 'First Chapter - The ELF Seddiqi Writers’ Fellowship' at the event on Saturday in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Winners of the ‘Oxford University Press (OUP) Story Writing Competition’ and the inaugural recipients of ‘First Chapter, the ELF Seddiqi Writers’ Fellowship’ were announced on Saturday at the ongoing Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai.

This year, OUP Story Writing Competition received entries from more than 3,700 students from across the UAE. The annual competition for the next generation of writers was divided into age-specific categories: 11 and under, 12-14, 15-17 and 18-25 years old.

The competition ran in Arabic and in English. Students were invited to write their stories under this year’s festival theme ‘Here Comes the Sun’.

‘Feel good’ variations

Jennifer Duggan from Oxford University Press said: “Looking forward to a brighter tomorrow was the perfect sentiment for this year’s competition, beautifully encapsulated by the phrase ‘Here Comes the Sun’. “We were uplifted by the many ‘feel good’ variations on the theme, capturing the imaginations of the students who entered. We are proud to give our continued support to young writers through this competition and we hope it leads to many of them continuing to write in the years to come.”

OUP winners - English

11 and under: (1st) Lila Jones from Jebel Ali School, Dubai; (2nd) Siya Menon from Our Own English High School, Dubai; Tied in third place: Hannah Main Garcia from Dubai English Speaking School, Dubai, and Lana Al Khafaji from Dubai English Speaking School, Dubai

12-14 years old: Alula Grace Marsh from South View School, Dubai; Farah Makni from Brighton College Al Ain, Abu Dhabi; Gianne Eva Mathias from Dubai Scholars Private School, Dubai

15-17 years old: Anyka Chakravarty from Gems Wellington International School, Dubai; Dimira Tanna from Ambassador School, Dubai; Chelsie Murielle Manalo Alcantara from Pristine Private School, Dubai

18-25 years old: Bee Blake from Repton School, Dubai; Ishrath Tabassum Jaigirdar from University of Sharjah; Mahrukh S. M. from American University of Sharjah

OUP winners – Arabic

11 and under: Tied in first place: Salim Arif Alsulaiman from AlRashed Alsaleh Private School, Dubai and Hussein Nidal Hasan Awad from Al Shola Private School, Sharjah; (2nd) Sara Owaily from Al Mawakeb Private School Garhoud, Dubai; (3rd) Mohammad Yehya Farooq from Cambridge International School, Dubai

12-14 years old:Jana Omar Harb Alqaryouti from Dubai National School Al Twar, Dubai; Rita Hussein from Al Mawakeb Private School Garhoud, Dubai; Haifa Omar Saado from AlRashed AlSaleh Private School, Dubai

15-17 years old: Rashed Saeed Saaed Alhabsi from Higher Technology College, Ras Al Khaimah; Lara Zaid Qasim from Al Mawakeb Private School Al Barsha, Dubai; Jana Imad from Liwa International School, Abu Dhabi

18-25 years old: Sheikha Hamad Al Rahmani from Sharjah University; Noor Imad Idlbi from Umm Al Emarat High School, Abu Dhabi; Saeed Aswad Anbar Alamri from Higher Technology College, Abu Dhabi

The competition entries in English were judged by Kathleen Butti, April Hardy, Kathy Hoopmann and Rehan Khan; while entries in Arabic were judged by Nadia Al Najjar, Muhannad Al Akouse, Sana Shabbani and Manea Al Maeni.

The young winners received a book containing their original short stories and a winner’s plaque. Festival authors Ali Sparkes and Nadia Al Najjar handed the awards.

Winners of the ‘Oxford University Press (OUP) Story Writing Competition’ Image Credit: Supplied

ELF Seddiqi Writers’ Fellowship

Meanwhile, 10 winners of First Chapter - The ELF Seddiqi Writers’ Fellowship were also announced on Saturday. The winning writers were hand-picked for mentorship programme by internationally published authors, including Mark Billingham, Yrsa Siggurdottir, Patrick Gale, Ali Sparkes, Shobhaa De, Greg Mosse, Annabel Kantaria, Shahad Al Rawi, Taleb Al Refai and Najwa Bin Shatwan.

The winners are (in English) Moxie Anderson chosen by Billingham; Sara Hamdan chosen by Siggurdottir; Yi-Hwa Hanna chosen by Gale; Mustafa Alrawi chosen by Sparkes; Zana Bonafe chosen by De; Reem Hameed chosen by Mosse; Kate Tindle chosen by Kantaria

Winners in Arabic: Huda Al Rawajfa chosen by Al Rawi; Mona Al Ali chosen by Al Refai; and Sara Al Abdullah chosen by Shatwan

'Amazing pool of talent'

Ahlam Bolooki, festival director of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, said: “We knew that there was an amazing pool of talent in the region, but we were really astonished by the extremely high calibre of the submissions.”

She added: “Each winner was hand-picked by their mentor, chosen by them because they could see their potential. It means that some very accomplished writers were not selected, although they are of a publishable standard, and we are intending to put some classes in place to help this group too. For those who have been chosen for the Fellowship, this really is a golden opportunity, a dream come true and we are grateful to Seddiqi for partnering with us in helping us create this unrivalled initiative to enhance the writing scene in the UAE.”

Organisers said the mentorship programme “will be amplified by a regular series of workshops, meet-ups and talks from experts spanning the whole of the industry and encompassing all stages of writing, publishing and promoting a book”.

The programme will also provide introductions to international agents, editors and publishers and access to short writing classes from international partner writing institutions, such as Gotham Writers Workshop and the Faber Academy.

Catch the LitFest
Recognised as one of the world’s leading literary festivals and the largest celebration of the written and spoken word in the Arab World, the Emirates LitFest will run until February 13 at Hilton Dubai and Habtoor Palace Hotel.
The festival is fully compliant with all COVID-19 guidelines from the Dubai health authorities, including social distancing measures and mandatory masks. See full details on the Emirates LitFest website.

‘Emirates LitFest Writing Prize’

The winners of the Emirates LitFest Writing Prize were also announced on Saturday, the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature’s prestigious competition to discover unpublished novelists.

Recognised as one of the most successful writing competitions in the region, the competition has a proven track record in finding new writing talent, producing nine published authors in the last nine years.

This year the process was revamped to include three judges, UK literary agents Luigi Bonomi and Sheila Crowley and UAE based publisher Kira Jean, each choosing their favourite from the entries.

The winners are:

Nicole Asinugo,This Land is Not For Sale chosen by Luigi Bonomi. Nicole Asinugo is currently working on Expo 2020 in Dubai, creating and curating content for the event, and has also written film scripts. Her first novel, This Land is Not For Sale, is an intergenerational story of a mother and daughter fighting to save their home in Nigeria.

Angela Hundal, Honey Tiger chosen by Kira Jean. Originally from South Africa, journalist and editor Angela Hundal has lived in the UAE for 13 years. Honey Tiger is set in Sri Lanka in 2004 and told through the eyes of the protagonist, 11-year-old Mala, but written when grown-up, looking back on a devastating life-changing event.

Zahra Alabandi, Chasing Grasshoppers chosen by Sheila Crowley. A Saudi/American national, who has also lived in the Emirates, Zahra is a health care professional (dentistry), and also an avid reader and writer. Chasing Grasshoppers is the story of a Saudi-born, American raised young woman who is gathering her courage to battle society’s norms and the burden of carrying the family’s honour.

Emirates LitFest 2022 Winners
Winners of the 'Emirates LitFest Writing Prize' 2022 Image Credit: Supplied

“The LitFest Writing Prize has attracted huge interest from aspiring writers in the UAE, so this year we wanted to open it up to give more entries the opportunity to be recognised,” said Ahlam Bolooki.

“The fact that so many finalists have won publishing deals in the past shows how high the standard of writing in the region is. I hope that this year’s crop of talent will go on to find that they are the ones who will join our list of published authors.”

Novelists that have never been published are eligible to enter, providing that they are 21 years or older and resident in the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman or Saudi Arabia. Entrants had to submit a 400-word synopsis of the book in English and the first 2,000 words of their almost completed manuscript.

Although a publishing deal is not guaranteed, the winners of the Prize wins the chance to discuss their manuscript with each of the three judges.