Two female authors took part in the talk at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

Syrian author Lina Huyan ElHassan, a finalist for the 2015 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. Delores Johnson / The National
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ABU DHABI // Female Arab novelists say that through writing they have liberated themselves and broken taboos, a talk at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair heard on Friday.

The authors shared their thoughts about the writing process, the challenges they faced in society and other topics.

In the talk entitled Arab Women and the Novel: Walking on Tiptoes, Syrian author Lina Huyan ElHassan argued that women “walk with confidence and in their high heels”.

She said that by creating novels she was breaking the cultural and societal barriers that constrained many women in the Arab world.

“With the first word we write, we break the barriers. The society we live in does not easily accept what a woman writes. Actually, my main challenge was with women’s acceptance in society,” she said.

“I have to break the silence within my community, and I do that by convincing people and defending my arguments through breaking the forbidden norms in my books.”

ElHassan said that when Arab women first began to receive an education about 60 years ago, it allowed them to get beyond the first obstacles in society, a topic she highlighted through her books.

“A woman, with little education in the 1950s and 1960s was able to turn men into victims. My stories always include bold women who have changed the societal norms, especially tribalism issues,” she said.

ElHassan has written nine texts in Arabic, including novels, poetry and studies. She is also on the shortlist of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for her novel Diamonds and Women.

Lebanese writer Jana Al Hassan said that by writing she practised “freedom”.

“I am a rebellious person and when my rebellion came to me through my freedom, through writing, it was wrongly translated,” she said. “A woman must always prove to society who she is.

“My writing is my freedom; I don’t think about anyone when I write. There is a watching eye, of course, someone who monitors what is published, but it is not and shouldn’t be me.”

Al Hassan said the circumstances characters in her books found themselves drew attention to how women can overcome tragedy in their lives.

The author has been shortlisted twice for the International Prize for Fiction for her novels Me, She and the Other Women, in 2013, and for this year’s Floor 99.

ElHassan added: “Many women consider many threats when writing but morals don’t exist in literature. I find a woman persistent and that is how we battle against other women who bring us down.”

ElHassan said she only edited or deleted parts of her work if it was to do with religion, if she felt it could be misunderstood.

Al Hassan said she only felt limited when she reread her text and found certain parts that are unnecessary or could be better.

“I am my own critic, so I must be sure to be pleased with my own writing first, before others,” she said.

The book fair continues to run at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre until Wednesday.

aalkhoori@thenational.ae