(L to R) Hind Seddiqi, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Seddiqi Holding; Sara Hamdan; Ahlam Bolooki, CEO of ELF Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Applications are now open for the 'First Chapter: ELF Seddiqi Writers’ Fellowship', which aims to highlight new voices from the region and bring them to international attention.

Now entering its third year, the fellowship is already bearing fruit, with first year graduate Sara Hamdan having won a two-book deal with US publisher Holt, the home of literary giants including Hilary Mantel, Toni Morrison and Liane Moriarty. Her debut novel, ‘What Will People Think’, will be published in 2025.

The third cycle was inaugurated with a launch event at In5 Tech, Dubai Internet City. The programme included a panel discussion, a ceremony with Sara Hamdan commemorating her publishing contract with Holt and a free workshop with Annabel Kantaria and Rola Al Banna on drafting the best application for First Chapter.


The 10 fellows selected for the 2023/2024 cohort will have access to six hours of one-to-one coaching from top international authors, who each choose the writer they think they could best inspire and work with.

This year’s mentors are Ali Sparkes, Alwyn Hamilton, Clare Mackintosh, Curtis Sittenfeld, Greg Mosse, Iman Humaydan, Jalal Bargas, Sona Charaipotra and Yrsa Siggurdottir.

Fellows on the programme also improve their skills with monthly workshops and exclusive talks from internationally acclaimed authors and introductions to international agents, editors and publishers. In addition, the fellows benefit by travelling to prestigious creative writing institutions, with the first group taking a trip to New York to the Gotham Writers Centre, and this year’s cohort travelling to London to the Faber Academy.

“Sara was in the first year of the programme and her amazing signing is the proof that this course can give you the key to international publishing success,” said Ahlam Bolooki, CEO of the Emirates Literature Foundation.

“Sara is not the only one, as we expect to be shortly making more announcements of publishing wins from other graduates of year one, and I can already see some global best sellers in the second cohort as well. For anyone serious about their writing, the opportunities presented by this programme are the keys to global success for talented aspiring writers from the UAE.”

Ahlam continued: “Apart from it being the only mentorship programme of its type in the region, the unrivalled opportunities for its participants make it the gold standard internationally. Thanks to the support of our partners, Seddiqi Holding, we are creating a pathway that will help unlock potential, cultivate a reputation for excellence and create an internationally recognised community of writers here in the UAE.

“Without the support of our sponsors, the programme would not be possible for writers in the UAE. We are particularly keen to encourage Emiratis to apply, whether writing in Arabic or English, though we welcome applications from anyone resident in the UAE who fulfils the criteria.”

Hind Seddiqi, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Seddiqi Holding, said: “It has been truly remarkable to witness the journey of our cohorts thus far, further reinforcing our commitment to nurturing talent in the region. The success of Dubai-based author Sara Hamdan’s achievement of securing a two-book deal with Holt Publishing is a testament to the talent in our region and we are honoured to be on this journey with Emirates Literature Foundation. We look forward to our ongoing partnership, one that we hope continues to cultivate local writers and their skillset on a global scale.”

Who is it for?

There are 10 places each year made available. The programme is free for those chosen, but entry is by selection only. Applications are invited from serious writers who are on their way to completing a novel in Arabic or English but want expert advice in crafting it to an international standard. All genres of adult fiction are welcome, including YA (Young Adults), though the Fellowship is not yet available to children’s authors. Mentoring takes place in Arabic or English. Applicants must have a good understanding of English in order to benefit from the workshops and guest author talks.

Anyone over 18 years of age, who calls UAE home and will be resident in the UAE for the duration of the programme may apply.

There will be opportunities to pitch to editors and literary agents at the end of the process but publication or representation cannot be guaranteed. Successful completion of the course will be certified.

As the project grows, a mutually supportive writing community for alumni will develop that continues with ongoing support to nurture the writers after the programme has been completed.

Application process

Application is via the online form, and requires a covering letter, a 400-word synopsis of the book and the first 2,000 words of the almost completed manuscript, if one is in process.

Applications opened on October 11, 2023 and close on December 4, 2023.

Names of successful applicants will be announced at a special event during the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2024.