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
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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.”


Departing British envoy ‘hugely optimistic’ about Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030

Updated 20 September 2018
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Departing British envoy ‘hugely optimistic’ about Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030

  • Outgoing British Consul General Barrie Peach will remember the beaches, the historic sites ... and the delicious seafood
  • Peach offers valid reasons for optimism that Saudi Arabia's ambitious Vision 2030 project will be a success

JEDDAH: British Consul General Barrie Peach has reached the end of his third posting in Saudi Arabia. His two years as Consul General in Jeddah — preceded by three years in Riyadh — ends in September.

As he prepares to continue his diplomatic career elsewhere, Peach sat down for an interview with Arab News to reflect on his time in the Kingdom and the optimism he feels for its future in light of Vision 2030. It was, he pointed out, an apt final interview.

“When I first arrived in Saudi Arabia, my first job was in charge of communications, so I was the press officer,” Peach said. “So, I’ve had a very long relationship with Arab News. In fact, the very first time I was interviewed by a newspaper was by Arab News in 2003.”

As Peach explained, it was no surprise that he came to work in the Middle East as a diplomat. 

“I studied Arabic in Scotland and in Lebanon, so I guess the foreign office was a logical choice,” he said. “I’ve been with the Foreign Ministry since the year 2000. Since then, I have worked in a number of Arab countries. I suppose as a diplomat I’m slightly unusual in that I’m coming to the end of my third posting in Saudi Arabia. Most commonly, diplomats will go to a country once in their career, maybe twice at most. In addition to that, I’ve also served in Qatar, Iraq, Algeria, and Libya.”

Peach was already well versed in both the language and customs of Saudi Arabia when he became consul general in Jeddah, having worked in the Kingdom for many years. “I have spent more of my adult life in Saudi Arabia than I have in the UK. So, I guess I really do consider myself in many ways to be part of the fabric of Saudi society,” he said. “I’ve lived here through many changes, many experiences, and I’ve always found Saudi Arabia to be a very warm and welcoming place that I’ve very much enjoyed living in.”



Peach cited the consulate’s coordination with Saudi authorities to provide British pilgrims with security and hospitality during their travels to Makkah as one of the highlights of his time in Jeddah.

“I would say one of the most important functions that our consulate has carried out has been our care toward British pilgrims. When I speak to my Saudi friends and colleagues, they are often surprised at just how many British Muslims visit Saudi Arabia each year. This past year, we’ve had around 130,000 pilgrims visit, including, most recently, 26,000 pilgrims for Hajj. As you know, for many people, this is one of the most important journeys of their lives, and we are ready to help them if — God forbid — they get into any trouble. We are very grateful to the Saudi authorities for the huge efforts that they make in facilitating the pilgrims with safety, security, and tranquility. Thankfully, the vast majority of visits have been trouble free.”

As consul general, Peach has witnessed first-hand the progressive reforms that the Kingdom is going through, and offers valid reason for optimism that the ambitious Vision 2030 project will be a success.

“An important role of the consul general is to promote trade between our two nations, and I’m delighted to say that over the past year we have increased mutual trade between businesses in Saudi Arabia and the UK. We’re expanding into new areas, so we’re mapping our work onto Vision 2030, following the creation of a Strategic Partnership Council as a result of the Crown Prince’s visit to the UK earlier this year,” he said.

“So, we’re looking for opportunities in new areas such as the creative sector, which we see Saudi Arabia is opening up to, not forgetting the more traditional areas where we have longstanding relationships — commerce and manufacturing.

“I’m hugely optimistic about the future of Saudi Arabia. It’s a country that has been blessed with many resources. The oil has been a blessing, the pilgrimage has been hosted here for centuries, and I know under Vision 2030 there are plans to significantly increase the number of pilgrims — which I’m sure will be very successful.” Peach also believes that the Kingdom’s tourism drive has great potential, describing it as “one of the most exciting things” about Vision 2030.

“I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia for over nine years, and I’ve been very fortunate to visit most of the country. It’s an amazing country from the mountains in the North, to the greener lusher mountains of the South, and world-class beaches along the Red Sea. I’m hugely optimistic that, in the future, tourists from around the world will get to experience the Kingdom that I’ve seen. Saudi Arabia has a very young population, and that means a very creative, dynamic population who want to change things and who want to work hard.”

While he may be leaving his official post in the Kingdom, Peach said the country’s natural beauty will certainly lure him back for frequent visits in the future.

“Jeddah will always be a special place for me,” he said. “It’s the first place where I’ve held the head post, and there are certainly unique responsibilities that go along with that. It’s been a very important place for my professional development, but also a place that I’ve been very much made to feel at home. I’ve found the people to be very open, friendly, warm and welcoming. I’ve built up many new friendships and partnerships and I’m sure those relationships will endure. In the years to come, I’m sure I’ll be a regular visitor to the Kingdom.

British envoy Barrie Peach with Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

“Jeddah is perhaps the most familiar environment to me as I enjoy spending time at the beach, the Red Sea, and eating some great fish. Some of my more memorable experiences though, are from my time in Riyadh, from camping in the desert to eating some of the more interesting foods that we might not be so familiar with in the West. I will always miss my jareesh (a Saudi dish). 

“Al-Ula in Mada’in Saleh is, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular places that I’ve ever visited — a mixture of beautiful natural landscape, desert mountains, and ancient civilization. When I’ve been there in the past, there were so few tourists, unlike — for example — the Nabatean ruins in Jordan, where you’re there with thousands of people. It was actually a really special experience to be at Al-Ula and almost completely alone. I also had the pleasure of organizing the visit of the Prince of Wales to Mada’in Saleh a few years ago, which was quite a unique experience.” 

“A career in foreign service is a uniquely rewarding experience. It has given me the opportunity to travel to places I might not have otherwise visited,” he said. 

“To have been able to travel and experience new cultures and languages, for me, has been the most rewarding part of my career in the foreign office. My advice to anybody who might enjoy that kind of lifestyle would be that a career in diplomacy is an excellent way forward.” 

As Saudi Arabia and Great Britain usher in a new chapter of diplomacy, the departing consul general made sure to welcome his successor.

“I would like to wish him the very best of luck during his time as consul general. For me, he has one of the best jobs in foreign service. I hope that he will very much enjoy it. He’s arriving here at a very interesting time of change, and a change that the UK is very happy to be part of to help and support,” he said. 

And finally, what’s next for the outgoing consul general? Peach kept it short and sweet. “A very long holiday,” he said with a laugh.