Sci-fi author Noura Al Noman: ‘We need to work together. Nobody, male or female, can make it alone’

As author Noura Al Noman nears the completion of her third science fiction novel, we ask her why so few books by Arab writers in the genre are published in Arabic.

Ajwan by Noura Al Noman is published by Nahdet Misr. Courtesy Nahdet Misr.
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Author Noura Al Noman is adding the final touches to the third instalment of her series of sci-fi novels, as well as establishing her recently launched publishing house, Manuscript 5229. Through its work, she aims to ensure that young readers are thrilled by fantastical stories written in Arabic.

You initially started your career writing Arabic children’s books. What was the reaction to your sci-fi novels, Ajwan and Mandan?

Nobody was surprised that I chose the genre because people knew I was a sci-fi “geek”. I started reading sci-fi when I was 13 or 14 but most of what I read was in English.

Everyone I know was gobsmacked when I published my novel Ajwan in Arabic. But their greatest surprise was that I'd created a whole world [in Ajwan] that was not Earth-bound and had its own peoples, rules, and even language. Creating a complete world in Arabic has many difficulties such as locating the terminology. I had no reference because none existed. I relied on the help of many friends and writers using them to test out my [linguistic] creations. This terminology can serve as a reference to other writers ... With time we can hopefully create Arabic sci-fi terminology which becomes mainstream.

Only a handful of Arab sci-fi writers have chosen to publish their work in Arabic, and most are men. Why is that?

Arabic publishing houses are generally reluctant to publish sci-fi – whether the writer is male or female. Also, in this region, more men choose to write in the genre. It is as simple as that.

Women in the UAE are very fortunate that they do not have to fight to be, for a lack of a better word, equal. However, I’m also aware of women who still need support. But I also believe that men need support. I am a mother to boys as well as girls. Our society pushes girls to achieve and is less inclined to do so for boys in the mistaken belief that society privileges them, and that is a disservice to young men. As such we are seeing more girls succeeding and getting opportunities than the boys. We need to work together. Nobody, male or female, can make it alone.

Is that why you established Manuscript 5229?

I launched it to create quality sci-fi fiction in Arabic by establishing a community of sci-fi writers and supporting it. Every submitted manuscript will be fleshed out to its full potential. We publish sci-fi, fantasy, supernatural and horror in Arabic. There is a lot of sci-fi written in English. What we lack is literature in Arabic particularly the type aimed at young adult readers. This section of readers is so under represented that all efforts must be targeted towards it. Besides, I love a challenge.

Rana Asfour is a freelance writer based in Abu Dhabi.