A scene from the Chevron Readers’ Cup winners ceremony.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
The 2023 winners of the Emirates LitFest Writing Prize, the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature’s (EAFL) competition to discover unpublished novelists, this year was divided in two categories: adult fiction and children’s fiction.
The prize for adult fiction was judged by Luigi Bonomi, leading literary agent and founder of LBA Books. The new category of children’s fiction was judged by Louise Lamont, also a literary agent and director of LBA Books, specialising in children’s authors and illustrators.
The winners were: Adult novel – first place Yi-Hwa Hanna; second place Noor Salih; third place Laura Mulligan Plunkett and fourth place Andrea Gissdal. Children’s category: first place Romita Maitra; second place Mary Collins. “For the first time we have opened up the LitFest Writing Prize to include children’s writers, in addition to writers of adult fiction, giving more entries the opportunity to be recognised,” said Ahlam Bolooki, EAFL Director. “The track record for putting new authors on the path to international publishing success has been tremendous, reflecting the huge number of talented writers in the region. I hope that this year’s winning children’s writers will enjoy similar success.”
Both first-place winners got a one-hour one-to-one session with the judge of their category for feedback and writing career advice. Hanna’s novel, The Casting Season, tells of a secret community that lives deep in the mountains of Truko Gorge, where a dragon’s curse means that Shu-Ching will never be older than 30 … and she has turned 16, for the fifteenth time. Can she discover a way to break the curse?
Maitra’s children’s book, The Theft of the Grande Dame Ruby, tells the story of eleven-year-old Althea Bhowmick, who is sent to visit her great-aunt Zenky and meets a robot bird named Gaspard and a scientist called Reo … together they embark on a wild journey to track down the missing Grande Dame Ruby, a stolen gem.
The competition has a track record in finding new writing talent – it has produced nine published authors in the ten years since it began, though a publishing deal for the winner is not guaranteed. Novelists who have never been published are eligible to enter, providing that they are 21 years or older and resident in the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman or Saudi Arabia.
Entrants have to submit a 400-word synopsis of the book in English and the first 2,000 words of their almost completed manuscript. Bonomi is a literary agent who has launched the careers of many bestselling authors. He is the founder of Luigi Bonomi Associates (LBA), which represents a variety of authors, journalists and writers including multi-million bestselling authors, Susan Lewis, Simon Scarrow, Fern Britton, and Ben Miller – all of them regular top ten Sunday Times Bestsellers. Lamont is a literary agent and director of LBA Books, specialising in children’s authors and illustrators.
Adding to the delicious literary mix, the winners of the Chevron Readers’ Cup, were also honoured in a live ceremony at EAFL, following a hotly contested ‘read-off’. This competition for schools is held to find out who is top of the class when it comes to mastery of reading skills, with students competing against other in a series of heats, answering questions from a list of books, by a variety of international authors.
The team with the best knowledge of the selected books is crowned winner. Close to 5,000 students entered this year’s reading quiz in the first round, with 87 teams competing in the finals, which were held in Arabic and English in person in two age groups – Primary and Secondary. The teams hailed from the UAE, as well as the GCC. The winners were awarded trophies, certificates and book vouchers.
The prizes were presented by Muhammad Al Sadek, Commercial & Government Relations Manager, Chevron; Renu Sharma, General Manager & Country Chair, Chevron – UAE; and EAFL Director, Ahlam Bolooki. 2023 marks the eleventh year Chevron has sponsored the competition; it has become a popular fixture in the academic calendar. Sharma said that “we have been proud of our continued sponsorship of The Chevron Readers’ Cup. This lively quiz shows that reading can be fun and entertaining as a group activity, engaging with books in such a dynamic way. At the same time, it imparts the benefits of reading - so important for academic success across the board. It is our hope it will kindle in those taking part a love of reading that will continue throughout the contestants’ lives.”
Winners, English, Primary Age Group, were The Maverick Readers, Indian International School, DSO, Dubai; The Polar Readers, The Winchester School, Jebel Ali, Dubai and The Elementals, GEMS Our Own English High School, Dubai. Secondary Age Group winners were MRIS-G team 2, Manarat Al Riyadh International - Girls, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; St Mary’s Catholic High School Dubai, Oud Metha, Dubai and Millennium Senior Readers, The Millennium School, Dubai.
Winners in the Arabic section, Primary Age Group were The Bright Future, Dar Al Uloom Private School, Falaj Hazza, Abu Dhabi; Hikmat Al-Ula, Al-Hikmah Private School, Nuamya, Ajman and Knights of Creativity, International School of Creative Science, Nad Al Sheba, Dubai. In the Secondary Age Group, Arabic, winners were Pioneers of Creativity, Dar Al Uloom Private School, Falaj Hazza, Abu Dhabi; Promising Pens, Dar Al Uloom Private School, Falaj Hazza, Abu Dhabi and Ambassadors of Reading, Al Marefa School 2, Cycle 1 and 2, Secondary Education Girls, Fujairah.
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