Budding wordsmiths responded with enthusiasm to the 2012 short story competition, organised by the Abu Dhabi Book Fair and The National. Participants living in the UAE and over the age of 18 had two weeks to send in 1,000 to 1,500 either on "The Others" or on "2012: End of Days".
The Dubai author Kathy Shalhoub was chosen as the winner of the competition for her entry entitled 2012: End of Days.
Finishing from runner-up to fifth place respectively were the Dubai authors Maryjane Nolan, Heidi Frost, Helen Spearman and Abu Dhabi's Paul Freeman.
Shalhoub won an iPad, while Nolan will receive an iPod Touch. Frost, Spearman and Freeman will receive book vouchers, valued at Dh500 each, from Jashanmal Bookstores.
Since its announcement on March 5, the competition received more than 80 submissions spanning genres from literary to the gothic and fantasy (kudos to the author who submitted their entry one minute before deadline). The majority of the literary eclecticism channelled this year's competition theme "2012: End Of Days".
The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair spokesperson Irum Fawad praised the calibre of the entrants. "We were pleased by the quality of the content," she said. "It is great to see such local talent and be able to offer them a platform for expression."
The National compiled a longlist of 10 entries that were then sent on to the Abu Dhabi Book Fair, which created a shortlist of five entries. The shortlist was sent to Sahar El Mougy, a storyteller, a gender and creative writing trainer, an assistant professor in the English department at Cairo University and host of a radio writing workshop in Egypt. El Mougy has published two collections of short stories as well as two award-winning novels.
Speaking before the five authors collected their prize yesterday, Shalhoub said the epic End of Days theme proved to be a writing challenge.
"Yes, it was a little bit difficult at first," she said. "Immediately, I thought of [the film] Independence Day, catastrophe and disasters ... a lot of movie influences. But once I thought about it a little bit more, I was more interested in the human aspects and reactions of people. I tried to imagine what would people do and what would their thoughts be." Her winning entry continues Shalhoub's literary streak. She launched her first novel, the coming-of-age Life as a Leb-neh Lover, at last year's book fair.
Nolan found comfort in the competition's assigned theme. The Dubai-based Biotechnology University College teacher came in second place with her entry The Others.
"It was a challenge in a good way," she said. "I think writing within confines can lead you to places you normally wouldn't go."
The Dubai writer Frost would agree; the End of Days theme allowed her a chance to add more of a literary flourish to #2012, a tale of an impending storm wreaking havoc on the world's computers.
If it wasn't for the constraints of the short story, Frost said, she would have stuck to writing in her favourite genre: fantasy.
"This is probably the least fantastic of everything I've written," she said. "This had a very short word count. Everything I write is long."
For Spearman, the award encouraged her to dedicate more time to writing. She explained she wrote her untitled entry with no structure in mind and instead "explored thoughts through the theme".
"It was a great confidence boost for me," she said. "I've been wanting to sit down and do some creative writing. I really did it as a writing exercise for myself and I didn't notice the deadline till the very last minute."
The Abu Dhabi English instructor Freeman accepted his fifth place sportingly. "I probably would have liked to be 'further up the field,' if I can use a horse-racing analogy," he joked. "That said, I'm hugely excited to be attending the prize-giving ceremony at the book fair."
• The fair will wrap up today at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre
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