Rarely do we see Bahraini writers causing such scene’s in the editorial industry. Ali Al Saeed, A Bahraini writer who happens to have made a scene with his hit story “The Randomist” Blending provocative writing & intimate moments from his life, he manages to publish a statement making book. Sketchbook Magazine had the chance to interview Ali right before he left to attend the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.
Q1.How did your flair for writing all start?
It’s incredible how much of our young hood forms our paths as adults without realizing it. In many ways, I never intended to be a writer, but through a series of coincidental fortunes I found myself in the business of writing, becoming a journalist by pure chance early on in my career, which led me to rediscover my keen sense of telling stories.
When I looked back at my childhood, I found that I’ve had it in me all along. I spent hours and hours daydreaming great adventures and amazing I found little handwritten and hand-drawn books of stories, Life has a mysterious way of leading us to find ourselves. We just have to trust it and let it do its thing.
Q2. Why Writing? Why not something else?
It was never a conscious decision. It just happened. I began to write. Even before I became a journalist. I was writing diaries, letters, dreams I’ve had the night before. It was the only outlet I found myself comfortable with, at a time when I was going through a rough patch, writing was the only thing that kept me sane.
Q3.Who is your favorite author and is you writing style similar to theirs?
This question comes up in almost every single interview and I always seem to drop the same name. The one author who truly had a significant impact in shaping me as a writer is Neil Gaiman. He is an inspirational figure not only in term of his writing, but also as a person.
Q4.What’s your favorite part of a book?
There’s never really one factor or element. Each book has its own unique flavor. Each book offers its own take on things. I know I am reading a good book when I struggle to put it down, or when I don’t feel the time pass as I read on page after page. This could be because of the fluid, gripping style of writing, or the characters you find emotionally attached to, or the heart-pounding, exhilarating plot that keeps you hooked.
Q5. How do you view the writing scene her in Bahrain?
Let’s not sugarcoat it. The writing scene needs to up its game a whole lot. And the publishing industry needs a complete overhaul. It’s difficult for any writer anywhere in the world to succeed, let alone in a place where the basic foundations of traditional publishing isn’t available. There are efforts, but they never really amounted to the aspirations.
A nation’s literature is its treasure. And contemporary literature is essential in documenting a country’s social and cultural identity as it transforms through time. We must invest more in literature.
Q6. Tell us more about your latest book “The Randomist”? What is it about?
The Randomist is a collection of my non-fiction writings that I’ve collected through my career as an author and journalist. These writings include columns, essays, blog posts, diary entries and memoirs that deal with everything from social commentary to personal discovery.
Most of those I’ve written over the past 10 years or so, so as I went through it before publication, I was intrigued to see the transformation, not only on a personal level, but also in terms of the cultural landscape of my country. Parts of it documents the journey and experience of being a young Arab writer and a cultural enthusiast who believes in the power of art and literature plays in changing a society. And I was surprised how even some of the things that I wrote years ago were still relevant today.
Q7. Generally, authors use personal experiences… Was your first story based on a personal experience?
The Randomist is a perfect example as it is a very personal book that chronicles a certain period in my life, and also recalls memories of traditional things that have been fading as part of every day life in Bahrain.
When it comes to fiction, it’s a different story. Each piece of writing a writer does, has a piece of him or her in it, no matter what. Be it an emotion, a memory or a specific event. Just as a songwriter cannot disassociate himself from his songs, a writer cannot deny his stories having a personal connotation to them.
Q8.When naming your stories, do you give any thought to the actual meaning?
Coming up for a title to a piece of work is one of the most important and satisfying parts of the process of me. Often, I know the titles of a story or a novel from the first line. Sometimes I might even start with a title. I don’t have children, but I’d imagine naming a child as a father is a lot like naming a story for a writer.
Q9. Who are your target readers?
Anyone who can read and is willing to approach my work with an open mind.
Q10. What can we see from you in the next 5 years?
It’s been an ambition of mine to write a graphic novel, or a comic book series. It’s just down to finding the right story to develop, and an illustrator to collaborate with. So if there are any keen illustrators out there, get in touch!
I’m planning to get as much writing as I can during my residency in the US and I have a couple of novels I’d like to pen down. In addition to my writing, I’ll continue my work in supporting the local art and music scene, having recently setup the online, independent record label MuseLand Records with Faisal Amin, from The Relocators, a band we recently released their debut EP for.
Q11. Any words of support or advice you’d give to young writer and/or readers?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of rushing your work. I’ve learned that from experience. But writers here don’t have any sort of reference when it comes to the craft and I hope that that will change soon. As much as it is hard at times, writing is actually the easiest part in the process of becoming a successful writer. The only decent advice for any writer is to simply write and read. Those are the only two things that can help you become a better writer.
I also find that persistence is key. Don’t let anything put you off and if you fail once, try again and again and again. It worked for me. This year, I’ve finally been accepted for the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa, becoming the first from my country to do so.This was my fourth attempt at applying. I just kept improving my work and portfolio until I eventually got in!