Abu Dhabi: Ali Al Hosani writes as a hobby. Yet, his first novel rose to become a Kindle bestseller in August 2020. A work of fantasy fiction in English, it also garnered high praise from a UAE minister — Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister for Culture and Youth — who called it “spectacular”.
Now the 29-year-old author says soon, there will likely be many more prominent Emiratis in the world of English prose and fiction.
“Our education sector — including the public system — has evolved so much. The UAE leadership has really prioritised Emirati youth and considers their minds and their ideas to be the real assets. There is tremendous focus on creativity and innovation. Therefore, we should expect to see more and more budding young Emirati authors,” Al Hosani told Gulf News.
Himself a graduate of the UAE’s public school system, Al Hosani loves to read and share his knowledge with others. That is why his novel — The Guardians of Erum and the Children of Socotra — offers a journey into the world of pre-Islamic Arabian folklore and mythology, while also being fast-paced and riveting. Al Hosani first self-published the novel in June 2020, having spent two years getting its 128,000 words on the page.
“Everyone reads to their own taste and I believe writing is best when it echoes a person’s taste. I have always had a passion for ancient stories, like ‘Lord of the Rings’, and I am a voracious reader of Dan Brown’s books,” the author said.
I wrote the story for readers of English fiction and I wanted to educate them about the rich mythology of the region. It really is quite different and often quite unexplored.
“I feel people today have less time for long-drawn narratives, so I’ve opted for a happening story,” he added.
The Guardians of Erum is set in pre-Islamic Oman, at the time of the lost city of lofty pillars, Erum, which is mentioned in the Quran. It follows the quest of a date farmer for his son, who has been kidnapped. A spirit — an anti-hero — is also looking for the baby and the dual chase in Southern Arabia leads to a battle for the fate of the world.
Al Hosani carefully and lovingly builds the world around his protagonists, having researched Arabian folklore traditions to set his elements accurately in the era and the region.
“I wrote the story for readers of English fiction and I wanted to educate them about the rich mythology of the region. It really is quite different and often quite unexplored. Of course, the audience I had chosen influenced much of the writing: I had to explain Arabic words that I included in the narrative. For example, it was essential to explain that an ‘areesh’ is a hut made of palm fronds. This is common knowledge for Arab readers, but can be unknown to English readers,” the author explained.
Al Hosani had penned the first version of his novel in high school. But the final edition was quite a departure from that initial work: As he rewrote it, he changed character journeys and infused Arabian authenticity.
Choice of English
Asked why he chose to write in English, Al Hosani said it is simply the language in which he reads for leisure. “I must also add that it was a high school teacher. Mr James Potter, who inspired me to write. Back then, I had written a story about animal characters in a jungle and Mr Potter commended my creativity and my story-weaving skills,” he added.
Al Hosani’s family has also been a huge supporter of his works. The young author credits his mother with helping him develop a love for reading.
“We lived abroad for a year when I was in middle school and she insisted we borrow new books every week from the library, or there would be consequences. She has always been an avid reader, but primarily of non-fiction. Apart from her, my younger brother, Eissa, was the first person to read the initial version of my book in high school and he inspired my characterisation of the hero. My wife Shammah lent her endless support during the writing process,” Al Hosani said.
The novel was a self-published work on Amazon because Al Hosani wanted to get it out there quickly and without having to tailor his work for publishing agents to believe it would sell. Interested readers can also order printed copies through online book-seller Book Depository. The novelist has also requested reviews from international authors for his debut work. He felt very encouraged when one reviewer said American authors should learn from Al Hosani’s “style of using background and history to make the work his own”.
It went on to win the 2020 Foreword Reviews award for Indie writers, announced in June 2021. So far, 532 e-books have been bought, as well as 131 in paperback. Another 250 paperbacks have been distributed by friends and family to others. Al Hosani has already spent quite a bit promoting his work, but said he may try finding an agent to get his work to a publishing house.
“It can be difficult for new writers to find an agent and a publishing house that likes their style and their story. I hope I can find someone who likes the novel for what it is,” he said.
Beyond this, the writer is studying Babylon and Mesopotamia for his next work, which will also be a fantasy novel. “I love connecting modernity with history, so this will be reflected in my next work too. But I have a full-time day job that I enjoy in Abu Dhabi, so this next novel will probably take another two years,” Al Hosani said.