Stranger than fiction: 15-year-old girl is youngest English-language Saudi author

Leena Althekair, second right, with her family at her book-signing event in Jeddah. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 09 September 2018

Stranger than fiction: 15-year-old girl is youngest English-language Saudi author

  • Young author said she had her share of naysayers and detractors who told her she was not old enough to succeed
  • Althekair recently appeared at the Virgin Megastore in Jeddah to sign copies for excited readers

JEDDAH: At the age of just 15, a schoolgirl has become the youngest Saudi to publish an English-language novel. Leena Althekair started writing her book, “Foreshadow,” in the summer of 2017, when she was still only 14.

“I have always had this idea but it wasn’t clear,” she said. “But as I kept writing, it got easier and now it’s in the form of ‘Foreshadow.’”

The idea for the story originally emerged from a school writing assignment.

“I actually wrote an essay for school and when I re-read it I thought, ‘You know what? This is a pretty good novel idea’ — and then I spent whole summer writing it,” she said.

“For me, it was never about becoming well known, it was getting the message across that age doesn’t really matter; what matters is that you need to work hard. You are never too young or too old to be chasing your dreams.”

Althekair said she had her share of naysayers and detractors who told her she was not old enough to succeed.

“People would say to me, ‘You are still young — don’t do it now because you have so much ahead of you.’ But my mom and dad and my friends have been such a big support, cheering me on,” she said. “Sometimes I would just want to stop but my friends told me to go on. In the beginning it was hard, because people wouldn’t take me seriously. A lot of them didn’t say anything but they would give me strange looks. I focused on the people who supported me instead.”

It is well known that writer’s block is the worst enemy of an author. Most will face it at some time, and Leena was no exception.

“In the middle of the book I started panicking because I had only planned it that far,” she said. “There were times I deleted whole chapters right before sending it to the editor and wrote the whole thing again.”

After pushing through the tough times, the book was finally completed and published, and Althekair recently appeared at the Virgin Megastore in Jeddah to sign copies for excited readers. Her family were there, as always, showing support for their talented daughter.

The book features a suspenseful, well-written story that draws the reader in from page one. The plot revolves around the adventures of Meghan, who is about to start high school. Her older brother is a physics geek, and she is spending time with him in his lab when an accident changes her life.

As for Althekair’s own continuing adventure as an author, she said she has ideas for further novels, including a possible sequel for “Foreshadow.”


Human rights officials visit 2,094 Saudi prisons

Updated 08 July 2020

Human rights officials visit 2,094 Saudi prisons

JEDDAH: Saudi Human Rights Commission (HRC) representatives made 2,094 visits to prisons and detention centers throughout the Kingdom in one year, according to a report by the organization.

HRC spokesperson, Norah Al-Haqbani, said that the aim of the visits was to ensure that convicts and detainees were being afforded their rights under Saudi laws and regulations.

The commission’s visits included 835 to detention centers, 614 to general prisons, 557 to security facilities, 49 to social observation centers, and 39 to care institutions for girls.

Al-Haqbani pointed out that huge progress had been made due to the ongoing replacement of paperwork by electronic processing, increased collaboration between authorities and agencies, and the introduction of new mechanisms to speed up procedures.

She noted the need for the swift completion of construction work on buildings to house categories of convicts and detainees requiring specific facilities.

The HRC carried out 414 visits to other government agencies in various regions of the Kingdom to detect violations of convicts and detainees’ rights, taking appropriate regulatory measures, Al-Haqbani said.

She added: “Visits were made to various institutions including 259 to shelters and social institutions, 117 to hospitals and health care centers, 20 to educational institutions, in addition to visits to other institutions.”