English-language genre writing from Bahraini authors is a growing phenomenon. Mohamed G. Darwish talks about why he was drawn to writing fantasy in English, and what role it plays on the Bahraini literature scene:
By Mariam F. Al-Doseri
Unbound by geography and culture, Mohamed G. Darwish writes about pirates, dragons, magicians, and vampires from the heart of Bahrain.
Readers will most likely associate Bahrain with Qassim Haddad’s poetry, not so much with fiction, let alone speculative fiction.
Ali Al-Saeed might have been the first to break through in this new literary scene, writing fantasy in English, with his Quixotic released in 2004. It took a few more years for other writers to come forward, and Mohamed G. Darwish and Hesham Ali are two Manama-based writers with works of fiction ranging from murder mysteries a la Stephen King to sword-wielding heroes in worlds of magic and sorcery.
Six years since the publication of his first short story in English, A Duck’s Sacrifice, on Wattpad in 2012, Mohamed G. Darwish has managed to publish a few other works of mystery and fantasy including his debut novel Dragon Tooth in 2015.
Despite the need for editorial fine-tuning, Dragon Tooth has it all: magicians, dragons, insurmountable powers of good and evil, camaraderie, and romance. The plot follows the protagonist and his companions in their quest to defeat a dragon and restore balance to the world.
The potential of the story is however derailed by the lack of background information necessary to readers’ engagement, the introduction of a number of two-dimensional characters, and the ambitious, yet under-developed themes. The language is easily accessible to young adult readers who make up most of Darwish’s readership, although, on occasion the reader is met with odd linguistic constructions and confusing grammatical shifts.
Darwish intends to revisit Dragon Tooth with a keener, more critical eye, once he is done with his current projects, as he told me when I put forward these question about writing fantasy fiction in English.
Mariam F. Al-Doseri: Why fantasy fiction?
Mohamed G. Darwish: This is a bit tricky to be honest, because as a writer, I don’t pay attention to genres at all. I write the story the way it wants to be told. Defining categories, genres, keywords and all that comes way later in my writing process. I tend to ignore all rules and guidelines when I’m writing. It’s the book that motivates me to write. Often times, I found myself struggling not to start dozens of projects before I finish what I’m working on at the moment, but there is always that story that begs to be told, and all a writer can do is oblige.
I try to use my imagination and creativity while mixing them with a bit of truth. It could be anything from a conversation I had with someone, or a story I read online. It all stems from the power of empathy where you put yourself in other people’s shoes and try to see how things happen.
I try to bring reality into the fiction I write, even if there is magic, dragons and titans, these is always realism where readers can connect with the characters; the story is there and it is for the readers to make of it whatever they want. For example, in one of my books, I use debt as a substitute for slavery. To some this wouldn’t mean anything, but others could read it and think that it is applicable to our world today.
MFD: Why English?
MGD: I’ve been writing in English all my life, and ever since I was a kid. Many people don’t realize how hard Arabic really is, but it is in English that I started, and writing in a different language comes with different aspects and challenges. There is definitely its appeal as a universal language and the understanding that writing is not seen as a viable career choice for most in our region.
MFD: Do you think your writing is relevant to your culture? And should it be?
MGD: That’s a solid no. I tend to create worlds that are understandable and relatable to everyone, and I don’t think tailoring my writing to a specific geography or culture will do any story justice. Isn’t that what people are trying to escape when they devour a book in the first place?
To answer the second part of the question, no writer should ever restrict themselves. If they do that, it will show in the writing. The whole point of becoming a writer is to do whatever you wish. The worst thing anyone can say to a writer should be “you can’t write that” because the answer should always be “I’m a writer, I can write whatever I want.”
MFD: Why did you choose to self-publish? And how do you evaluate the English publishing scene in Bahrain?
MGD: The English self-publishing scene in Bahrain is going strong, I believe. The more writers believe in themselves and push through the shell that keeps them from taking on huge challenges, the better for the country as a whole. Part of my mission is to enable more Bahraini authors to publish their books (whether through lectures, blogs or whatever). With CreateSpace, an Amazon company that provides free self-publishing services, writers have no excuse not to publish.
While still struggling to find footing in Bahrain’s predominantly Arabic literary scene, works written in English are often well received in online communities, are featured in local bookstores and authors are invited to meet-and-greet with hopes of putting them under the readerships’ radar.
A little excerpt from Dragon Tooth (p.44):
The lands were at ease knowing that the Council was looking after them, and with the new formed guild, Longwood, becoming one of the better guilds; peace knew not a better time. Rakan was playing with a big read ball, bouncing it off the wall with as much force as he could muster. The ball rocketed off the wall, nearly knocking him off his feet. Absorbed as he was in his game, he still heard a noise coming from his father’s chambers.
He moved quickly, dropping his toy to the ground, and opened the door to witness something he would never forget.
Mohamed G. Darwish also runs a website where he shares his thoughts and first-hand experience with writing. While his upcoming novel, Titanlord, is slotted to be published this year, his previous works can be viewed on Wattpad.
Mariam Al-Doseri is a feelance scribbler based in Bahrain. She’s interested in arts and culture, with a focus on literature and languages.