Professional artist Anna Thackray loves a good story. However, it was Bahrain that unleashed her creative spirit, taking her on an incredible journey that spawned a trilogy of graphic novels.
Anna Thackray is basking in the success of her graphic novel, The Awakening of Shamal, which was released in February. The Brit, who was trained in fine arts at Southampton University, has lived in many countries and her art is an amalgamation of these cultures.
To research her Bahrain-based trilogy, Anna visited forts, viewed exhibits at Bahrain National Museum and photographed Bahrain from north to south. She listened to stories about old Bahrain, whether it was from poets or taxi drivers.
An introvert, Anna loves the flexibility that storytelling provides her and the freedom to live many lives all at once. She tells us what went into the making of The Awakening of Shamal.
Woman This Month (WTM): How do you classify the book?
Anna Thackray (AT): I describe it as a graphic novel since it’s an illustrated book with over 30 pages to which an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is awarded. I wanted to make it accessible for all ages. I’m a geek, who loves superhero books and sci-fi films. I think there are plenty of people like that in Bahrain.
WTM: How did the idea for the original story come to you?
AT: In the beginning it was just a sketch. I wanted to pay tribute to Roy Lichtenstein; so I made a painting trying to emulate his comic paintings. But unlike him, I lacked the ability to control paint. Instead, I made drawings and coloured them with Letraset pens. One drawing turned into multiple sketches and a story was born.
WTM: The illustrations in your book are incredibly detailed. Could you take us through the process?
AT: Initially, I made pen and paper drawings, which took forever. So I bought an electronic Wacom Cintiq Tablet. I start by scribbling notes. Then I look into facts that I may or may not use.
For instance, I really wanted to know what kinds of clothes where worn by pre-Dilmun people. In some places I just had to apply artistic licence and imagine things. Then I looked in my library for images that would depict closely what I wanted to say.
I’ve taken millions of photos of Bahrain in my six years here. A friend of mine has Arabian horses and I shot hundreds of images of them. These would assist me in the drawing process. Reference material is essential in telling the saga, but day-to-day life in the Kingdom shapes the way I see the story unfolding.
After the initial sketch is done, I try to perfect it. I think I’ve redrawn each panel at least 15 times. Only then can I start to stitch together a page.
I’ve developed enormous respect for comic book artists after this venture. It’s not easy and it’s definitely not a fast process. I sometimes get really frustrated because in my mind I can see where the story is going but I can’t draw fast enough!
WTM: Is this a Bahraini novel or a Middle Eastern story through the eyes of an expatriate author?
AT: I’ll always be an outsider looking in. That’s why I can look at a tree and imagine thousands of scenarios unfolding in the shade of its ancient branches. That’s why I can hear the screams of war at Arad Fort and the rhythmic songs of the men bringing in the fish. I think you need to view the world from the sidelines before you can play the game.
WTM: What was your biggest challenge in realising this project?
AT: considering the limited number of bookstores here, my biggest challenge is the distribution of the book and in getting it to the readers.
WTM: Given the near absence of publishers in Bahrain, what advice would you give first time authors?
AT: As a fine artist, I can’t tell you how many rejection letters I’ve received from galleries over the years. But it’s only made me more determined.
With this book, I didn’t even consider trying to find a publisher. I wanted to do it myself. There are a lot of resources out there for young authors. Publish with www.lulu.com or www.lightningsource.com. Get your digital eBook up and selling with www.smashwords.com and Amazon’s direct marketplace.
WTM: When will you launch the sequels?
AT: At the moment I’m working on the second book, which will be completed by September. The final part of the trilogy should be available early next year.