From Dubai, a portrait of the artist as a young lady

The Global Islamic Economy Summit last week was illuminating in more ways than one.

I bumped in to the Thomson Reuters executive Samer Habbal, who helped me out with a quite technical query regarding some obscure aspect of Sharia finance, but who, as an aside, passed on a very inspiring story about his daughter Celine.

The talented young lady must be one of the youngest published authors in the UAE. She began her first novel at the age of 10, finished it a couple of years later, and – now just tuned 14 – has had it published.

The Land the World Forgot is a fantasy novel for young adults, and I’ve had it in my hands only long enough to read the blurb. But I must say I’m looking forward to reading it with my own daughter, Amira, now eight, in the hope it will also inspire her.

“Aurea, the Golden City, is home to sacred spirits of ancient realms and the birthplace of many of humanity’s myths and legends – even though most of humanity has never heard of it,” I read by way of synopsis. It seems an action-packed and gripping tale.

Dad tells me that Celine was in love with books from an early age. “She’s always been a reader. We had to fight to get the books out of her hand at the dinner table,” he recalls.

Books, notice. Celine does not go for iPads or Kindles, preferring the real thing. So print is not quite dead for the younger generation.

But there is a cautionary side to the tale too, which Samer elaborates. “We had a lot of trouble finding an agent to handle an author so young in English, and in the end we self-published it online and in print by Lulu Publishing.”

That is nothing to do with LuLu the UAE retailer, by the way.

Another problem young authors face here is that the big bookshops like Kinokuniya and Borders will not take them, and so far Celine’s novel has not gone on general distribution.

While the UAE has launched a commendable and successful reading initiative, it is disappointing, to say the least, to hear of a talented youngster who has gone one step further in actually writing a book, but who is being knocked back by the retailers.

Others were quick to recognise her. Wellington School, which she attends, gave her a special award, and the Roads and Transport Authority singled out a short story she has written.

Which seems to have made her more determined, despite the miserable book retailers. “Being a successful author is my dream and I am working very hard to pursue it,” says Celine. She has already completed the manuscript of her second novel. Brava.

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