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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 August 2018

The UAE social network: Meet the Emirati writers embracing haikus, horror and historical romance

The Untitled Chapters group started with one person and now has more than 50 members

The Untitled Chapters group is helping Emirati women unlock their creative talent. From left to right: Shamma Al Bastaki, Shahd Thani, Afra Atiq, Fatma Al Bannai and Hessa Al Banafsaj. Chris Whiteoak / The National
The Untitled Chapters group is helping Emirati women unlock their creative talent. From left to right: Shamma Al Bastaki, Shahd Thani, Afra Atiq, Fatma Al Bannai and Hessa Al Banafsaj. Chris Whiteoak / The National

A flourishing social network is helping to spread the word about Emirati women writers and put their talents in the spotlight.

Fatma Al Bannai, a 29-year-old Emirati writer, founded Untitled Chapters in 2011 when she realised there were few opportunities for UAE wordsmiths to get together, make connections and friendships and showcase their skills.

The group has proved a success story in itself, growing from just one member to more than 50 - and there are still plenty more chapters to be written.

“Where do we find Emirati writers? In every country, in every culture, you see writers from the community. They’re in the news and bookstores. I saw an interview with Shahd Thani, an Emirati author, and thought surely there must be more out there,” said, Ms Al Bannai.

"We came together and we found that this is something Emirati writers are looking for and are not able to find."

Fatma Al Bannai is spreading the word about female Emirati writing talent through her Untitled Chapters group. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Fatma Al Bannai is spreading the word about female Emirati writing talent through her Untitled Chapters group. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Members of the group met online and in the first year they organised their first open word event where writers performed. Members have been part of different writing groups but they found themselves to be the only women or the only Emiratis in the circle.

Untitled Chapters meet mainly in Dubai, but the group has also held gatherings in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

"We started off a group to support each other, share our work and grow as writers. One of our members, Shahd Thani, started mentoring young writers and that’s how we started mentoring,” said Ms Al Bannai.

The group welcomes anyone who wants to write in any language. It boasts authors writing in French, English and Arabic. Members dabble in poetry, contemporary romance, historical romance, Emirati stories, short stories, haikus, horror stories and many other genres.

"I write historical romance and I used to feel ashamed, but I feel comfortable in my skin now,” said Ms Al Bannai.

The group also critiques written work on request and has held workshops in schools.

"When I did that workshop with sixth graders, I thought this is why I started this, for them to discover what they are capable of," said Ms Al Bannai.

For the group of Emirati women, being published in English is not a challenge, though they are often asked about why they chose to write in English, not Arabic.

"Arabic is my mother language and I’m proud of it. English is my creative language,” said Ms Al Bannai.

Th Untitled Chapters group is opening up doors for writing talent. From left to right: Shamma Al Bastaki, Shahd Thani, Afra Atiq, Fatma Al Bannai and Hessa Al Banafsaj. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Th Untitled Chapters group is opening up doors for writing talent. From left to right: Shamma Al Bastaki, Shahd Thani, Afra Atiq, Fatma Al Bannai and Hessa Al Banafsaj. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Shahd Thani, 33, a member of Untitled Chapters, writes contemporary Emirati love stories.

"Untitled Chapters is about finding your voice. Through the group, I have someone to 'fangirl' with over the latest book or to say 'we love this book, show me how to write like this',” said, Ms Thani.

The group has a diverse book club where members study different writing styles.

The group also attracts new members through social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.

The community has seen many choose different paths and come up with a host of ideas.

"We have seen writers grow up in the group,” added, Ms Thani.

Shamma Al Bastaki a 21-year-old Emirati student discovered the group on Twitter when she was 15.

"They had 10 followers and I clicked follow. At the time, I was feeling alone in my writing and would only share it with my family.

"I believe that in any of the arts, you can’t thrive without a community and a support network around you. Within Untitled Chapters, we are so different from each other but we are linked by our passion for the written word,” said Ms Al Bastaki.

Many writers who had never had the courage to show their work to the world, participated in the group’s first open word event.

"Many people didn’t share their writing in public. It was the first time people got to share it with the community,” she added.

"We wanted to show the community that we do have writers who are immensely talented and they just want a platform to showcase that."

There are no rules at Untitled Chapters. When you tag them in your writing you are immediately part of the group.

Afra Atiq, 29, an Emirati performance artist and a spoken word poet, has been part of the group since 2011.

She said they welcome Emirati authors of all ages, regardless of whether they are established or not, and from a variety of genres.

“We come from different walks of life and we aspire to be this place the brings everyone together," she said.

"A lot of it is about community and about getting writers to share their work, watching the fear on their faces before the event and the pride on their faces after it. For me it's incredible to watch that journey,” said Ms Atiq.

Hessa Al Banafsaj, 30, another member of the group cited that many successful writers like Ernest Hemingway were parts of groups and they would get feedback from them.

"When we give each other critical feedback, it helps us become better writers. I found people who are authors to give me feedback on my writing,” she said.

If someone wants to get published, they can seek support or advice from the group, but they are not a publishing house. The group has received support from the community and cafes have helped by providing a meeting space.

For more information on the group, visit https://untitledchapters.com

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Read more:

My UAE: Fatma Al Bannai has the write ideas

My UAE: More than words for the Emirati poet Afra Atiq

The influential female voices shaping the UAE art scene

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