The Writers of Bahrain
It was a dark and stormy night. The wind whipped sand and salt off the causeway, stinging the eyes of the black-clad women as they struggled to reach their luxury limousines.
A slightly hyperbolic description of the scene that greeted me the other night as I entered a hotel in Bahrain. According to one member of the newly-formed Bahrain Writer’s Club, the first two words of the opening sentence – if this had been the beginning of a book – would have been enough to propel my manuscript straight into a prospective publisher’s waste bin. Deservedly so, I’m sure.
The Writer’s Club is the creation of Robin Barratt, a best-selling author of true crime non-fiction books, many of which draw on some of Robin’s hairier encounters as a nightclub manager in Manchester. He co-wrote one of his most popular books with Charles Bronson, a notorious British “hard man” who has conducted his criminal career mainly behind bars – of the prison variety, rather than those you find in nightclubs. His new book, about yet more hard men, is due to hit the bookstores later this month.
My good friend Mohamed Abdullah Isa, who has written a book about investor relations in Bahrain, put me on to the Writer’s Club, so I went along to the first meeting on that windy night. Given Robin’s chosen genre and professional background, I was expecting to cower in the presence of a seven-foot-tall, six-foot-wide, shaven-headed man with tattoos in interesting places and whose hands scraped the ground. I guess my cro-magnon imaginings were influenced by all those Guy Ritchie movies, and by my own youthful (and thankfully brief) experience of selling the services of truck drivers to various former associates of the Kray Brothers, a notorious gang that held sway over London’s East End in the Sixties.
Far from it. Robin is a charming, articulate and mild-mannered man who enjoys meeting other writers and is happy to share his experience as a published author. And he definitely doesn’t cast a dark shadow wherever he walks.
The first meeting of the Writers Club attracted a diverse mix of experienced and aspiring writers. Attendees included a million-selling author of cookery books, a former literary editor, a couple of people writing autobiographies, two or three crime fiction writers, a blogger or two, an arbitration lawyer, a couple of publishers – and moi.
Not being used to the company of large gatherings of writers (apart from journalists), I had no idea what we would be talking about. I had visions of the London writing group from the movie Last Chance Harvey – Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman’s romantic interest, attends weekly meetings illuminated by an 87-year-old author reading purple passages from his latest unpublished erotic novel. Surely not in Bahrain, my left brain told me.
As it happened, we talked about the vagaries of getting your work published, about publishers, agents, ebooks and a number of other subjects close to the heart of writers. All deftly moderated by Robin, who is setting up a website for the club and hopes to publish a compendium of members’ work by the end of the year. To add grit to the oyster, he asked each of us to write a short story – on the theme of pearls – in time for the next meeting. He has also set up a Facebook page, which has contact details for anyone wanting to join.
It would be good to see more Bahraini writers getting involved as the club becomes established. It will be their voices that will endure in the island after we foreigners are long gone. I wrote a recent post about the dilution of Arabic in the Middle East. Perhaps a budding Naguib Mahfouz will step forward to start an Arabic chapter.
In any event, I look forward to getting to know the literati of Bahrain a little better at the next meeting, which is on March 6th at La Fontaine Cultural Centre in Manama. It’s an open club, so if you’re interested, contact Robin and come along.