x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Thirteen-year-old Emirati girl publishes story book

Maitha Eissa Al Mehairi is a 13-year-old Emirati who recently published her first book. Sally Ride’s Adventure is about a young girl who battles dangerous monsters at sea.

Maitha Eissa Al Mehairi is trying to persuade bookshops in the UAE to stock her book. Sammy Dallal / The National
Maitha Eissa Al Mehairi is trying to persuade bookshops in the UAE to stock her book. Sammy Dallal / The National

The origins

Maitha Eissa Al Mehairi, a Grade 8 pupil at the Glenelg School Abu Dhabi, began taking her dream of becoming an author seriously when she decided to participate in a short-story competition last year.

Sally Ride’s Adventure took shape as Al Mehairi began to develop the main character, Sally Ride, (named after a “brainstorming session” and not after the American physicist and astronaut who was the first American woman in space – that’s just a coincidence) based on her own passions and interests.

“The book is a short story about a girl who is obsessed with reading,” says Al Mehairi, who lists novels by Charles Dickens and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series as some of her bedside reading.

“Sally gets sucked into a story about Captain Jack and his crew, who fight dangerous creatures at sea,” explains Al Mehairi. “Sally is brave and learns how to help and encourage others. She also learns that kindness is important while jealousy is not good.”

Market for young writers

The 21-page illustrated book is backed by Trafford Publishing in Singapore and was put up for sale online on Amazon.com in April.

With technology facilitating greater dialogue and access, young writers are motivated to put their thoughts on paper and share them with a wider audience.

There has been a worldwide boom in teenage writers in the past few years, with big publishing houses providing a medium for talented young people. Several initiatives have popped up to nurture creativity, becoming stepping stones in a young writer’s path to success, such as Florida’s Future Authors Program by Canon Solutions America, which has already published the work of more than 300 middle- and high-school -pupils.

Online platforms are also proving useful. Sites such as www.movellas.com and www.wattpad.com allow teenagers to self-publish, some of which led to lucrative book deals.

But convincing publishers in the UAE to turn a short story written by a teenager into a well-edited book is not easy. In fact, Al Mehairi’s work was initially turned down for being “an immature aspiration”.

“At first I tried locally but publishers rejected my story because I was ‘too young’. One of the companies even accused me of plagiarism,” she says. “But that is untrue. It is a short story I wrote at school.”

The guidance

Over nine months, Trafford Publishing helped Al Mehairi refine her writing, rethink the characters and decide on an illustrator, until the book was finally ready for distribution, to the delight of her family and friends. “My friends have cheered me all along,” says Al Mehairi. “And my English teachers have helped me improve my writing.”

The young Emirati says she has always been fascinated by books. “As a child, my parents would buy me books and I would get lost in them. I’ve dreamt of becoming a writer since Grade 4. I did not want to miss this opportunity,” she says. “I wanted to package my values in a way that would be interesting for young readers. So I thought an English girl who goes on an adventure with pirates and monsters would be a good start.”

A series in the making

Sally will continue her adventures in the sequel, which is almost complete. “In the second book, Captain Jack gets lost on an island and Sally goes in search of him,” Al Mehairi says. “I plan to write a series.”

Trafford Publishing has taken on the next book, too. But a major task remains: to convince bookshops in the UAE to stock Sally Ride’s Adventure. “They aren’t sure that my book will attract readers,” says Al Mehairi. “But I sold 60 books at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair this year. I’m now waiting for my sales figures from Amazon.”

• Order Sally Ride’s Adventure at www.amazon.com (Dh74) or by emailing maitha.al.mehairi@hotmail.com

aahmed@thenational.ae

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