x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Embrace your creative side and get writing

We talk to Charlotte Smith, a British journalist based in Dubai who was inspired to start teaching her own creative-writing course in a bid to connect with other writers and share her skills.

Charlotte Smith, a journalist who runs a creative writing group in Dubai. Mike Young / The National
Charlotte Smith, a journalist who runs a creative writing group in Dubai. Mike Young / The National

So you want to write a novel, but you don’t know how to start? Taking a creative-writing class or joining a group would be the obvious course of action. The problem, however, is that there are surprisingly few here in the UAE. This could be explained in part by the lack of a literature scene until recently, given that the Emirati culture of storytelling is mainly oral. And while poetry is a popular literary form, there is little or no tradition of writing novels and short stories.

Still, there are a few such options scattered around the country, reflecting a literature scene that is growing and prospering in the -country.

New York University Abu Dhabi offers a creative writing course, but it’s only open to full-time students.

Dubomedy Arts runs a four-week course every year that changes between writing for stage, scriptwriting, poetry and creative writing, which is the focus this year. This year the course begins on November 3.

And while there are a number of ad hoc “meet-up” groups – some of which are based around writing both in Abu Dhabi and Dubai – when it comes to learning how to write a novel, there is little to chose from.

It’s a problem Charlotte Smith, an arts journalist from the UK, encountered more than a year ago.

“I had already studied writing but I wanted to meet like-minded people – other writers,” she says.

Discovering the lack of creative-writing courses available in the UAE, and having graduated from such a course back in the UK, she was motivated to start her own.

“I realised I was qualified to do it and there was a real need for it here in Dubai, so I thought, why not?” she says.

The course is offered once a week over eight weeks, taking place at Ductac in Mall of the Emirates. It involves sessions of two hours at a time in which 10 people are taught the basics of creative writing in a fun and creative environment.

In fact, it has become so popular that Smith now has a waiting list of 20 people. Her second course, which started last month, is also fully booked. She plans to start an advanced course in January, as well as a course for young adults.

“I cater for all age groups and we have a great mix of nationalities,” she says. “What’s more, you don’t need to have had anything published to join the class. Some people come with novels half-finished; some are writers who have developed a block; or people who write journals or blogs. The level varies, but generally an interest in writing is in itself enough.”

She points out that she’s aware that not everyone can be taught to write brilliantly, but regardless, they can be taught the basics.

“Not everyone is destined to be a novelist but I can teach people how to go about it and they can enjoy the process. In the first class, for example, we focus on the ‘right to write’. Over the course of eight weeks, people learn how to develop a skeleton framework for writing short stories and a novel.

“We cover memory, structure, plot, character development and we examine examples of both good and bad writing. I get the students to work in small groups and to critique each other’s writing. The results are usually great and it’s very rewarding. I have had such good feedback from the people who have taken part.”

Although none of her pupils has yet been published, a number write regular blogs and are in the process of completing novels.

Among these students is 23-year-old Fatma Al Bannai, an Emirati who grew up in Dubai and completed the course last year.

“It’s so rare to find a genuine creative-writing course in Dubai,” she says. “When I saw it advertised, I signed up immediately and it was a great experience from start to -finish.”

Al Bannai has always dabbled in writing, experimenting with different genres including short stories. She had written a novel before taking the course, but had never published anything.

“I was hoping the class would help me hone my writing skills,” she says. “And it certainly did. It gave me an insight into where I was going wrong and I found Charlotte very encouraging. What’s more, I met other writers and saw what they were doing. It was really interesting and I would encourage anyone to do it.”

Al Bannai is at work on another novel, one she hopes will be -published.

“It’s a book for young adults in a historical setting and part fantasy,” she explains. “I wanted to write something that featured young Emirati heroes and heroines because I realised that there was nothing like it and it’s a genre which is fast becoming popular. It’s almost finished now and the creative-writing course has really helped me.”


• For more information on the creative-writing course, email
Charlotte Smith at charly2uk@yahoo.co.uk