Portrait of a Nation: The author on an intergalactic mission to expand Arab readers’ minds

Noura Al Noman is about to publish the third in her series of pioneering Arabic sci-fi books and has just set up the first Emirati publishing house with a focus on the genre in a bid to improve the offering available.
Noura Al Noman first published two picture books for children in 2009. Her first novel won the Etisalat Book Award. Satish Kumar / The National
Noura Al Noman first published two picture books for children in 2009. Her first novel won the Etisalat Book Award. Satish Kumar / The National

For Sharjah author Noura Al Noman, her journey did not end with her getting two books published. She also set up her own publishing house to help spread Arabic science fiction and fantasy books to wider audiences.

SHARJAH // Noura Al Noman is on a mission to enrich the Arab world with science fiction novels. The author has two acclaimed books under her belt and a third about to be published.

The Emirati launched her own publishing house, Manuscript 5229, to help spread Arabic sci-fi and fantasy books to wider audiences.

The self-proclaimed geek fell in love with books at the age of 11, when she used to spend a lot of her time in her grandfather’s library.

“He had a big library, and I used to spend a great deal of time there, which helped me fall in love with the written word,” says the mother of six. “Reading made me live in new worlds and explore personalities that were really amazing.”

She received a Bachelor’s degree in English literature from UAE University in 1986 and her master’s degree in translation from American University of Sharjah in 2004.

Al Noman then embarked on a teaching career while raising the two children she had at the time.

In 2009, she made her first foray into writing, publishing two picture books for children – Kotton the Kitten and Kiwi the Hedgehog.

These prompted bigger plans and, in 2011, she decided to write her first sci-fi novel in Arabic.

“My husband kept pushing me to start writing. He kept telling me I’m a good storyteller because I used to tell him the story of a book that I read and loved with all the details and twists,” says the Sharjah native.

After her six children were old enough to be independent, she took on writing.

“I have six children – two boys, the eldest 28, and four daughters, the youngest 18. Once the youngest enrolled in college, I had more time to myself that I used for reading and writing.”

She decided to write sci-fi because of a lack of good Arabic novels in that genre.

“There were many Arabic sci-fi books, but they were boring and there was no character development and the endings were not satisfying, or entailed valuable lessons, so I took the challenge to write one.”

The books that influenced her most in the sci-fi and fantasy genre was J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings stories.

“The books introduced me to creating worlds, and every time you read it, you discover more details in it, and it’s something we lack in the Arab world.”

Her first novel, Ajwan, published in 2012, won the Etisalat Book Award in 2013.

“It took me nine months to write Ajwan and it required a lot of dedication to write 800 words a day to complete it. It was also challenging to find the appropriate Arabic words to describe sci-fi lingo.”

Ajwan is about a 19-year-old girl who witnesses the destruction of her planet and has to escape and find shelter in other worlds, where violent events take place that force her to go against the principles of her race and culture.

Al Noman went on creating different worlds, people and rules and, two years later, in 2014, she released a sequel, Manadan.

“A lot of readers have been asking about the next instalment of the series, and I am currently finalising it, and I hope that it gets published during Sharjah International Book Fair in November.”

Al Noman thinks it is important to engage with fans of her work so she takes time from her day to respond to comments and questions on social media platforms.

“Everyone who took the time to read my books and give a comment or ask a question deserves that I respond. I love reading good or bad reviews of my books, as long as they are constructive.”

Last month, she launched Manuscript 5229, the first Emirati sci-fi and fantasy publishing house, and, with it, Al Noman aims to introduce young adults in the Arab world to high-quality writing.


Published: September 22, 2016 04:00 AM


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