My Beautiful Bahrain, a collection of short stories and poems gathered into a book, was launched earlier this year in the Gulf, and became an immediate local success. The idea behind the project came from local resident and author Robin Barratt.
Barratt has published several books including five crime novels and coffee table books, as well as dozens of international articles for magazines and newspapers. In 2011, Barratt formed the Bahrain Writers’ Circle (BWC), which in less than two years has become the biggest group of international writers to have ever been formed in the country.
I was curious to learn more about the book, which gives a fresh look into life on the island. Told through a collection of short stories and poems written by a diverse group of people who live in Bahrain, the book gives a true insight into this small, yet culturally rich country.
I met with Barratt to discuss My Beautiful Bahrain and to learn why he chose to create a book about the small yet beautiful island.
The book is quite different from your previous titles, many of which feature stories about some of the toughest men on the planet; do you feel Bahrain brings out a more peaceful side to you?
[Laughs] For sure, my tough, rough days have long gone. I started my career as a doorman, then went into closed protection and worked in that for quite a long time. In the year 2000 I sold my company and started writing; because of my background I wrote one book called Doing the Doors. This happened to become really successful, selling tens of thousands of copies and because of that I went on to write lots of other books in that same genre; nightclubs, bouncers, doormen, bodyguards, gangsters, that sort of thing. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m like that subject, I just happened to have fallen into it.
That was 12 years ago, I’m 50 now and Bahrain is very, very calming compared to England. Bahrain does bring out a peaceful side to me.
How important was it to you when you started the book to create a platform to break down prejudices?
This was the philosophy behind the book and the reason for putting it together. I had been living in Bahrain for a couple of years, so as a writer I thought what can I do to promote Bahrain and counter all the bad publicity it had been receiving during the unrest? I wanted to do something for the country I’m living in, something positive. The idea was to put together a book showing the good side, not just by Bahrainis, that’s not the idea, but by a Brit, a Canadian, an Irishman, a Pakistani, an Indian or Sri Lankan. All these different nationalities telling people how good Bahrain is, to me that is a good message!
Do you feel you have achieved this?
I think we achieved this, it was the fastest ever selling book of its kind on the island, we sold 1000 copies in just 5 days and people are reading it. We didn’t want it to be a guide book or a ‘what’s on in Bahrain’. We wanted it to be personal stories about the country, which through the sales and publicity we’ve had surrounding it, shows we have succeeded. I don’t think any book recently has had so much publicity and so much interest.
What were the difficulties you faced creating a single book that represented the diversity of such a small island?
There weren’t any difficulties really because a few months prior to that, I formed the Bahrain Writers’ Circle. From February 2011 we met every month; it started with just a handful of people but we’ve now got 70 to 80 full time members. So when I decided to write the book I already had quite a few fairly established international writers, so I didn’t have any trouble finding different nationalities to contribute for the book.
With 40 writers contributing to the book there must have been a lot of organization, what was your favorite part of the process?
I’ve done a couple of anthologies prior to this and I think my favorite part is always to read the unexpected. When I get a contribution from someone that I didn’t know anything about, that hasn’t had any experience in writing, I read their piece and some of it is amazing. We have some really interesting and quite unique stories. Especially from some people whose English isn’t their native language so that was the nicest part; starting a piece and saying “Wow, this is lovely!” However, we did have a few pieces we had to reject, that were political or religious, because that wasn’t our concept.
You describe My Beautiful Bahrain as a ‘travel anthology’; what does this attribution mean to you?
Well an anthology is a collection of poems and short stories and it’s ‘travel’ because it’s about Bahrain the country. I wanted it to appeal to both residents and visitors so I tried to make it as diverse and different as possible. I’d been here for two years but there were a lot of things even I didn’t know. There are aspects of Bahrain in the book that as a British westerner I’d never hear about or experience if t weren’t for our contributors.
The title My Beautiful Bahrain evokes a lot of emotion, what is the story behind the title?
Well again it’s the philosophy, because Bahrain isn’t particularly aesthetically pleasing I wanted to do something that challenged the stereotype and of course “beautiful” happens to flow nicely with Bahrain. I started to think about how do I find Bahrain, how do I find it beautiful. Of course there are annoyances because things are done differently here to how I’m used to, but there are so many things that are wonderful.
I find though that the people here are what make the Island particularly beautiful. They come up to you, they’re friendly here; people say hello to you in the street which they don’t really do in England. That for me is what makes Bahrain beautiful and where the original concept for the book really came from. From there I invited other writers to explain why they think it’s beautiful.
Each author seems to have their own interpretation of why Bahrain is beautiful, conveying with honesty their love for the country, in 3 words can you explain why you love Bahrain?
Serene, enchanting and open minded.
Are there any secrets within the book that you can share with us?
The secrets for me are how other nationalities see Bahrain very differently to how I see it. One article about the architecture here is written in a very systematic and structured way. It was very simple to read, talking about some of the architecture of the houses that as a westerner I’ve not visited and so probably wouldn’t ever see. There was another story, fictional, about a pearl fisherman. It was about the journey of leaving and returning to Bahrain, which a lot of Bahrainis do. It was a nice secret because it was very personal and written with a lot of emotion.
Who is your most surprising fan of the book?
Well I was asked to send a copy to the Prime Minister, I signed with his full title so I hope he’s a fan of the book. I’ve shipped them all over the world, including one person living in Alaska!
Is there a possibility for a second edition?
I’m not sure about a second My Beautiful Bahrain yet, but I am thinking about the My Beautiful anthology series. I like the concept of personal stories and perhaps taking the idea to another Gulf country which people don’t normally consider beautiful and putting together something for there.
You can find out more about My Beautiful Bahrain on www.mybeautifulbahrain.com
– Lucy Moore