Friday, March 17, 2006

CW INTERVIEWS: Ali Al Saeed

There isn't a whole lot I can write in an intro about Ali Al Saeed. The Bahrain born and bred award winning author author/blogger/film maker/script writer, (and a fellow shawarma eater!!) Ali has been gracious enough to sit down and answer some very tough questions for CerebralWaste and for that I am thankful. Answers that are open, honest and in depth to a degree that you don't always see, but as an interviewer you hope for. After Ali agreed to the interview and I submitted the questions he fired off an email to me saying ""Holy Chicken! These are some fine mind-poking questions you got there."

That was a compliment I will always cherish!

After you read the interview you owe it to yourself to please pay a visit to Ali's blog at http://quixotiq-writings.blogspot.com/ There you can learn more about Ali and his numerous projects. I think you will find after reading the interview Ali is a driven man and I am sure in the end he reap the well earned rewards that he so richly deserves.

So without further ado I am proud to bring you this interview and once again THANKS ALI for submitting yourself to this and for being a great friend!

1) Tell us a little about yourself Ali. Married? Single? Dating? Where did you go to school?
Woah! We just met dude. No, I'm not married. Not single. Not dating. Figure that one out! As for my schooling, did most of that here in Bahrain, attending the prestigious Isa Town Secondary School for “Boys”.
For some reason, whenever someone asks me and I tell them I've never been to Uni, they go silent for an awkward moment. Whether they feel sorry for me, or impressed by me, I can never tell.

2) What are some of the obstacles you have encountered and overcome as Arab author writing English language works and novels?
Over six years ago I went up to two well-known figures in the media and publishing industry in Bahrain with my writing, they both turned their backs on me. One of them actually told me that no one’s going to want to read my stories because they were in English!
A lot of people around me didn't understand what I was doing, and why. The concept and idea of wanting to become a writer – and an English fiction writer at that – was too difficult for some to grasp at first. But the frustrating thing was, at the time, that I got no support or encouragement from anyone, not even family and friends, apart from my girlfriend. That changed when they finally realized how serious I was about this, and once my novel was published, people I didn't even know became my closest friends.
Unfortunately, there is so much talent in Bahrain and around the Gulf, but they don't get the support or even the recognition. Let’s not forget that there are virtually no local publishers of English fiction. The publishing industry is weak and suffering and something needs to be done about that right away. Reading is a vital element in our intellectual, social and cultural progression.

3) When did you decide that you had a clear idea of wanting to become an author? What was the driving factor to write and be published in English?
I went through a very rough period in my life where I was lost and confused. I had no dreams or ambitions anymore and I was just going through the motions. It only occurred to me later on, sometime during my first couple of years as a journalist, that I've always had an affinity for writing. I've always been a daydreamer, in my head I lived alternative realities. I began putting these down to paper.
In one of my old shoe boxes, I found a comic book I wrote and drew called Equlaizer1, which was a science-fiction adventure. It was dated November 1988. I was ten. I have bunch of these comic journals. These made me realize that I've always had it in me. It was as if I found what I was looking for, found my driving force, a purpose. As I began to write and read more, I fell deeper in love with the idea of becoming a writer. I found joy and solitude in it.
I get asked a lot why do I write in English. Two reasons, a) I've always loved the language. English was my favorite subject in school. I grew up watching American/Western television, listening (and singing along) to rock music. My mother was an English teacher. I used to write pen-pals all over the world in English; b) it’s the language of the world. I want to communicate with the rest of the world, I want to be heard. And what better way to do that than through stories?

4) Have you ever considered writing in Arabic?
Sadly, I don't feel as confident writing in Arabic. I don't think I would be as expressive, which is a bit odd. But you have to keep in mind that my writing career, these past eight years, I've been writing for English-speaking publications only. So I never got the opportunity to write in Arabic. Having said that, Arabic is a beautiful language and some of the finest and greatest authors are Arabs, who wrote in Arabic. But it is also a much more difficult language to write with.

5) How would you categorize yourself as an author?
A quixotic one. Defiantly.

6) QuixotiQ was your first book. Can you tell us a little bit about the story itself and some of the recognition you have received on an international scale.
It’s a story about loneliness, shattered dreams, lost love and forgotten hopes. We all have dreams, when we sleep, and, as younglings we have pipe dreams. As a boy I dreamt of becoming either a pilot or a professional footballer. Obviously, that didn't happen. But it’s the way that different people react or deal with the fact that what we envision for our future isn't what life or fate has for us that matters, and QuixotiQ explores that.
It also deals with violence and how sometimes people turn to violence absent-mindedly, out of frustration, desperation and confusion.
I love the fact that the title reflects the characteristics of our main three characters in the book. We have Christina, who is excessively romantic, Roy who is impractical in his decisions and Guy who is impulsive in just about everything he does.
I was pleased with the feedback and reviews the novel received, which were mostly positive. Critics, editors and writers from around the world praised it as a “landmark in Bahraini literature” and a “genre-bending” story. One English language professor compared it, at least in concept, with Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment, which, funnily enough, was in fact the second novel I ever read.

7) You also have a strong short story background as well. Have you found yourself wondering what direction as an author you should take? Short stories VS Novels or have you find a balance between the two? Or is it even an issue?
I'm not one of those method writers with one direction. Most authors have one eyehole through which they can explore their writing. I've got no less than a dozen on my door! I don't like to restrict myself, my imagination or my creativity. The whole point of my writing is to let all that lose.
Short stories and novels are completely different mediums. But if I'm being frank, I'd probably admit that I enjoy writing shorts more, because I feel that suits my style of writing better. It gives more room for my imagination.

8) Your works have received critical acclaim and numerous awards around the world. What award(s) has meant the most to you as a writer?
I think the Bahrain Outstanding Book of the Year Award will always mean a lot to me because it was the very first award I earn (I hope it won't be the last) and because it was a significant recognition from an official body in Bahrain, having struggled for years to earn that recognition, it felt rather sweet. Also, it came with a nice, little check!
I've also recently won a short story competition organized by an Australian e-publisher. Two of my short stories were also finalists in the Glimmer Train Press short fiction awards.

9) Do you see yourself as a trailblazer for other authors is the Arab world who might like to crack the English language market?
Well, I knew that I was going into uncharted territory with the publication of QuixotiQ. What I didn't know, or expect, was the reception it received from the public and the media. I never expected it to be this big. Rarely would I meet someone who has not read it, or heard about it. I've even heard that QuixotiQ is gaining cult-status amongst bookworms in Bahrain, which is oddly quite flattering.
It’s worthy to note that since the launch of QuixotiQ, at least two other young Bahraini writers published works in English. This is exactly what I was hoping to achieve, to encourage others to believe in their talents and creativity, and also to encourage youths to read.
One particular senior high school student said reading my novel inspired her to write and that now she wants to study English literature! Hearing such comments is heartwarming.

10) What is next for you as an author?
I have been invited by Soderton University in Stockholm, Sweden to participate in a five-day conference “From Oriental ism to Postcoloniality” next month (April), where I am hoping to showcase my work through the conference’s program.
On March 20th, I have a reading at Al Riwaq Art Gallery here in Bahrain and the following week I will be speaking at the Muharraq High School to students about my experiences and writing in general.

11) Why have you chosen to stay in Bahrain and pursue writing? Do you think you could have greater success if you relocated to the UK or the US? Or is location a non factor?
I've always dreamed and wanted to move abroad, start life somewhere else. For the time being I'm in Bahrain, building up my profile, hoping that would help in my plans to breakthrough internationally. My next step would naturally be to progress and expand and I personally feel that relocating to the UK, where the publishing industry is in fine form, is the appropriate move.

12) What goals have you set for yourself and are you continually revamping them as you mature as a writer?
Goals? I don't set goals. I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do and where I want to be, but I never tell myself that by 2010 I will make the NY best-seller list or that on May 12, 2017 I will win the Booker Prize! That’s just plain silly.
But I do hope that I could land an agent and a publisher in the very near future. My only hope and dream is to be acknowledged as a writer, a creator of stories. I've done that in my own country, now I'm ready to take on the rest of the world.

13) What do you do when you hit a "brick wall" and writers block sets in? Is it as simple as stepping away from the keyboard for a while or do you look for a form of inspiration?
My approach to writing is very impulsive, undisciplined. Sometimes I feel I'm closed in by four walls, which ever way I turn my writing path is blocked. Quite annoying really. It comes to me in spurts. But I think it all goes down to me being an impatient, compulsive writer.
If I sit down to write and nothing comes, there is no point in forcing it, as the results will be weak. Sometimes I find it helps when I go away and read a book or watch a movie, it re ignites inspiration.

14) Have you ever use any of these so called plot software programs that are one the market? Do you think these "plot software programs" take away from the imaginative process?
No I have not. And yes I do. The whole point of writing is to explore your creativity. If you don't have any, don't bother.

15) How many books are you working on now?
I have two novels in progress, Buried and Against. There are no less than three solid ideas for novels waiting in line as well. In fact one of them I think you'd find very drawn to, Shawarma. I'm also working on a non-fiction/photo essay book. And have a collection for short stories ready for publication, entitled Moments.

16) Some might find it difficult to understand how someone could manage several books being written at one time. Is this a common thing? I understand Stephen King often has 3 or 4 or more books going at once.
Well, it shouldn't be a common thing! Some find it distracting. But like I said, I have no method to my madness. I tend to write two thirds of a book and hit a wall. When I do, I start a new one. That’s what I did while I was writing QuixotiQ, I stopped and started Buried. Two thirds of the way through that, I stopped and started Against. I'm not quite sure why. I think the last third of any book is the hardest to write. It’s easy to start something, but getting to the finish line is what counts.

17) You also have been in on the blogging phenomena and Bahrain certainly leads the Arab world per capita in the number of blogs. I understand your blog has also won some awards as well. Do you see a good marriage between blogging and writing novels?
I think there are a hundred million other people better than me at it, but basically by keeping a blog you create an open portal between you and the cyber community. I personally started my blog as a way of promote my novel and general saying whatever comes to mind about writing, literature, films and music.

18) Tell us about your current film project?
It’s more of a multimedia project that in essence will include a 30-minute long documentary film, book and website. I am co-producing the film and writing the book. The Models of Success project showcases a number of successful, amazing women from around the GCC states, it tells their stories, achievements and highlights the role of women in the Arab/Muslim world.
Working on making a film has been an eye-opener and an extremely wonderful experience. And I learned a great deal about the process. What I enjoyed the most was having the opportunity to interact and work amidst a group of wonderful and talented young people in an openly creative environment. That in its own was worth the hassle of sleeping three hours a night and waking at 5 in the morning!

19) What was the inspiration for this?
The idea was perceived by director, producer and writer Art Jones, who is a university instructor. Through his interaction with young female students, he realized the importance of providing them with some form of inspirational guidance, presenting them with role models which they can look up to and aspire to follow.
The premier of the Models of Success film will be held on the evening of March, 204th and what promises to be a unique cultural affair.

20) Any plans or desires to turn QuixotiQ into a film or any of your other works?
I'd love to see QuixotiQ turned into a film, that would be brilliant. But as of now there are no such plans. But I am very keen on the idea of turning some of my work into films. That’s why I took my involvement in the MoS project as an opportunity to learn about the process of filmmaking.
I had actually written a screenplay, The Red Hand, based on one of my award-nominated short stories, which tackles a very sensitive and taboo subject matter in an Arab/Muslim community. I hope that I can get this project off the ground in the near future.

21) And the single most important question. What is you favorite shawarma place on the Island? (Bahrain)
I'll play it safe and go with Burger Land. Their chicken shawarmas are the best. Stuffed with French fries and mint leaves… Hold the mayo please. Although I must admit the new Shawarma Xpress franchise is making quite a stir within the shawarma-obsessed community!

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good interview CW! I read Ali's book and found it to be a good read as well!

Pinter

March 18, 2006 4:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting

March 20, 2006 1:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read Ali's book, and what really amazed me is his ability to master the craft of writing in a second language. Being a creative in your own language is something, playing with the words creatively in a second language is something else. I do envy Ali for his ability to be this much truthful about himself and what he wants to be.

March 20, 2006 10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book itself is a long way from being what Ali perceives it to be... his success seems levelled at being the 'first' to write a book in a second language in his home country. He appears to be a nice, affable guy, but he isn't riding on the merits of his creative talents, and he should be aware of the pitfalls of self-blindness. I wish him luck in his writing, there is something there to build on, and he should steer towards that.

March 21, 2006 2:31 AM  
Blogger Cerebralwaste said...

ANON # 1 and # 2, THANK YOU both for stopping by.

I am afraid I don't fully understand what you are trying to say ANON #2 and I am not sure I want too.
Concerning Ali and his success: Ali deserves whatever success he is getting at this time. Personally I think he deserves more recognition from the world, and that includes some financial windfalls as well. It is hard enough for a writer in the US to get published let alone in a region that as a whole is stagnant for writers. Regardless of what the future may hold for Ali, he alone has already inspired others to take up the pen and write and that is something that he and everyone else should be happy about.

Ali is also very grounded in reality and I think he fully understands the road ahead of him is not paved in gold. What Ali and every other struggling writer needs is support and HONEST criticism. Not ninny picking shots across the bow that don't hold up passed a second glance.

March 21, 2006 6:15 AM  

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