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Author of the 2020 HBKU Press World Book Day Book Selection Looks to Pay It Forward to Young Writers

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Dalal Ghanim Al Romaihi – the fourteen-year-old author of the 2020 HBKU Press World Book Day book selection Where Is My Teacher? – can usually be found in her class or at home with a book propped open in her lap or a pen in her hand, reading about other worlds or furtively creating her own. Inspired by her mother, who is also a best-selling HBKU Press author, Dalal took a leap of faith to make her dream of becoming an author come true sooner than she imagined – and believes young writers everywhere should be encouraged to do the same.

I’ve always loved reading and writing. With reading, I can explore worlds that are wonderfully creative and learn about new places from the comfort of my room. And writing – it’s almost like a therapy. I come from a big family so I’m always surrounded by a lot of people. Sometimes I can’t even hear the thoughts in my head! I’ve kept a journal, full of personal thoughts and my made-up stories, for as long as I can remember and it gives me time away from all of the commotion around me.

As I grew older, I also started to read more. I like popular fiction, but I love the classics. The really old books that have made their mark on history – Oliver Twist, Huckleberry Finn – those are some of my favorites. The way those authors paint a picture with their pens is something that I aspire to be able to do one day. In the back of my head I dreamed about becoming a published author. Whenever I read something, I get caught up in the world that’s created: if I close my eyes, I can see it in all of its details and the characters become my friends.

The more I read, the more I wrote, and soon I had a few stories written out that I shared with my family. My mom, Muneera Saad Al Romaihi, is an author who writes children’s books.  She loved my work and encouraged me to try to get it published. I wasn’t really convinced until she told me about HBKU Press’ work with young authors. A few years back, HBKU Press had published a really great book about civic responsibilities by a 13-year-old author. My mom encouraged me to submit one of my own pieces for publication.

It isn’t easy: when you expose yourself as a writer to criticism there is always a lot of anxiety and fear of rejection. Am I ready to be published? Is my story good enough? How can I be an author…I’m just a kid?! Please, please, please don’t laugh at me!!

My mom and I talked a lot about how it’s always important to believe in yourself. She told me that we all have to start somewhere and if I’m pursuing a passion or dream, it’s never too early to start.

So I took the plunge and submitted my work.

One of my biggest fears was submitting my work and then having it changed so much that I couldn’t see my voice in it. But the process with HBKU Press was not like that at all. After submitting my manuscript, I met with the editorial team to talk about my work. I was so happy to learn that they really loved it! I breathed a big sigh of relief, but that, it seems, was the easy part. Next came the hard work: I was assigned to work with an editor to develop my piece to make sure it was the best it could be. There was a lot of back and forth and for many weeks I would stop by their offices after school to work on my book.

But when it was finally complete and everyone was happy with it, we moved onto the illustration process which was by far my favorite part. I loved seeing my words come to life in pictures. The illustrator - the amazing Nikos Yanopulos – seemed to be a mind reader: the final product turned out to be everything I had imagined and more. 

When I finally got to hold my book in my hands, it was surreal. And everything else after that has happened since has been surreal. The book was launched at the 2020 Doha International Book Fair (DIBF) and I’ve done book readings in schools, and now, my book has been chosen as the 2020 HBKU Press World Book Day book selection!

It’s all so wonderful and it’s crazy to think that if I didn’t take the chance, if I didn’t believe in myself, none of this would have ever happened. I would have been just a regular kid, still reading, still writing, just me. Which would have been fine, but the best part out of all of this?

Now, I can pay it forward.

I’ve met so many kids who ask me the same questions I had: I’ve been writing since forever, but are my stories good enough? How can I be an author…I’m just a kid?!

Now I’m here to tell them: yes, you can. If you are passionate about writing and you’ve got something to say, or a creative story to share, believe in yourself and take a leap of faith. You might make your dream of being an author become reality sooner than you think. I know I sure did!