In celebration of all things literature (as this past weekend concluded the incredible Emirates Lit Fest), we were given the incredible privilege to interview Sheikha Salama Bint Hazza Al Nahyan, renowned Emirati author who recently published her fifth children’s book, The Horse, The Saluki & The Falcon. Originally from Abu Dhabi, Sheikha Salama began writing at the age of 21, and published her first book, The Invisible Orphans, in 2019.
Inspired by great writers such as Harper Lee and George R.R. Martin, she dove into the world of young adult fiction with her first novel – which is to this day unpublished. However, while she continues to hone her skills as she spins stories that weave a web of complex characters waiting to ensnare her readers until they are lost in the worlds she created, we wanted to get an inside glimpse into the mind of this incredible author.
What drew you into a writing career?
Writing came by coincidence way back, but I think what led to this was that as a child, I always loved stories. Stories shared by my parents or hearing the older generation share stories of their past and myths. I think what ignited this passion was I was always interested in this field. I’ve heard some writers started pretty young and others who began at an older age. I’m sure everyone is different, but I believe that sometimes your passion might come knocking at your door and other times you open that door before it nudges you and tells you, ‘I’m here, let’s go and start something together, and I promise you, you will find yourself here’.
Who are your favorite authors? Do you have any authors you would consider your inspiration?
When I embarked on my literary journey, I looked up to many female writers. Some of the writers that truly spoke to me were Harper Lee, Elif Shafak, J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Joyce Carol Oates, and so much more. Currently, I’m a huge fan of Eleanor Catton’s work. She’s the author of The Luminaries, a somewhat new tv series.
In addition to the female writers I looked up to, a quote by George R.R Martin has always resonated with me and guided me in my writing process. George R.R. Martin once said, “I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. … The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it.”
From this quote, I found out that I would categorize myself as a gardener. I know the genre, but I don’t know what the story is or what comes next. The more the story unfolds itself to me, the more there is to work with and build a strong base.
Why did you choose to write children’s literature?
Writing children’s literature was never the course I planned on taking. In 2015, after almost a year of constant editing and rewriting of my first fictional novel for young adults (which to this day is not published), I started taking writing classes to help me with the structure of the novel. I remember my instructor once informed me to take a few days off of writing as I was suffering from writer’s block, and that’s when the idea of my first published children’s book, The Invisible Orphans, unfolded itself to me.
I didn’t intend for it to be a children’s book; however, when a story unfolds itself, it chooses what it wants to be, and at that point, I thought to myself, children’s books are a great starting point and practice, especially to evolve as a writer — you always need to start somewhere.
I read that you embarked on your journey in 2014 by writing a fictional young adult novel? Is this finished? What is the story?
The story isn’t close to finished yet. When I began writing it 2014, it was totally different to what it is today. It’s still fictional for young adults but the plots, characters, and world-building have all evolved and matured to something totally different, and I’m glad that happened. I had to start from scratch and take bits and pieces from what I wrote in the past. It still has a long way to go. My goal right now is to work on other unfinished pieces and do more side research on that unfinished novel. It’s a complex story with complex characters, and it requires a lot of patience and dedication.
What are you working on next?
Right now, I’m working on a short story called Mouth of the Lion. The story is based on the red island in Ras Al Khaimah, which many today believe is haunted for some unknown reasons. The story goes back to the mid-1900s, and during that time there was a lot of trade between UAE and East Africa, which is something factual I do cover in the book. But I’ve played around a lot with the story, so nothing is really based on history, it’s purely fictional. All I can say is that strange events happen because someone took something they weren’t supposed to take.
What are three of your favorite novels you have ever read that you would recommend to your friends in a heartbeat?
I would recommend The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and The Rose of Tibet by Lionel Davidson.