Young authors make mark on global literary landscape

The growth of digital tools and growing interest in Young Adult fiction trigger a rise in the number of young people taking to writing

Think of young authors and you might picture a group of laidback writers in black garb under the age of 40, possibly 30. They’d be in London, New York or Paris, with dark shadows circling their eyes from the late nights of writing and worries about how to make ends meet. If your imagination conjured this or something similar, it would be out-dated.

Helena Coggan is British, 15, and started writing her first, now published novel The Catalyst aged 13. According to her publisher Hodder & Stoughton, the London-based author had wanted to write stories from the age of six.

Dubai Abulhoul is 18, shares her name with the city she’s from, and is the author of Galagolia: The Hidden Divination. The book is hailed as the first Emirati fiction novel in English, and the futuristic story follows the life of Maitha BinHumaid, a 10-year-old, orphaned Emirati girl living in Deira, Dubai.

Alia Al Hazami, 18, is the author of Alatash – and she’s also from the UAE. Published by Kuttab Publishing, her novel is about a young African woman's tragic tale of forced marriage and divorce. Alia completed the first chapter aged 14 and finished the manuscript in eight months.

When she was 12, the Chinese-American Nancy Yi Fan sent her children’s fantasy novel, Swordbird, to the head of Harper Collins – a move that saw the book published, later to become a New York Times bestseller. People magazine said the story, "would be a standout even if it wasn't written by a 12-year-old."

And back again in the UAE, Abdullah Ali Hassan al-Ahbabi is one of the most recent young people to capture the attention of the literary world. At eight, he became the youngest Emirati author with no less than three children’s books. After seeing a giraffe for the first time at Al Ain Zoo, the animal became the protagonist of his story.

Mohammad Nur Eddin, al-Ahbabi's publisher, said: "He can address the children of his age. Such a child can simulate the children's needs more than the grown-ups who write for children."

Abdullah Ali Hassan al-Ahbabi can address the children of his age. Such a child can simulate the children's needs more than the grown-ups who write for children

Mohammad Nur Eddin, Head of Dar Nabati publishing house

Speaking to Gulf News earlier this year, al-Ahbabi said: “I read a lot of books related to animals. I am both happy and proud of my achievements,” adding that he aspires to becoming the Minister of Interior.

With the growth of digital offering more tools to write and share work, and Young Adult fiction popularity on the rise, a large number of much younger writers are emerging, and they’re striking publishing deals some established authors are unlikely to enjoy in their decades-long careers. Further, in countries where there was before a vacuum of literature of certain genres, it is the young – in some measure – who are filling in the gaps.

Meanwhile, as the tools to publish adapt, so too does language. In May, Oxford University Press said that ‘hashtag’ was the children’s word of the year. The oldest university press in the world analysed over 100,000 entries to a BBC-led writing competition for children aged between five and 13 years old, to find that technology is high on the agenda. While words such as Facebook and mobile were in decline, others such as Snapchat, Instagram and emoji rose.

Vineeta Gupta, Head of Children's Dictionaries at Oxford University Press, said: “Language is constantly changing and adapting. Children are true innovators and are using the language of social media to produce some incredibly creative writing. What impresses me most is how children will blend, borrow, and invent words to powerful effect and so enrich their stories.

"Children have extended its [#] use from a simple prefix or as a search term for Twitter to an editorial device to add drama or comment."

So with these changes and amid a slew of emerging, young authors, who will be the next JK Rowling?

The ending has not yet been written. #mystery