Who is Our Man in Beirut Nasri Atallah?
I was born in London in 1982. Thatcher was in office. I grew up watching Fawlty Towers and Keeping Up Appearances and all sorts of insufferably British things on the telly. Moved to Beirut when I was 15 with my family. Hurriedly rushed back to England when I hit 20. And decided, rather inexplicably to come back to Beirut two years ago. Of my own volition. Over the course of my 28 years, I’ve been a UN researcher, an oil analyst, a private banker and an advertising copywriter. I’m currently enjoying my latest incarnation as a person who writes words. I started Our Man in Beirut back in 2009, out of frustration more than anything. I had no idea what I was doing with my life and quite how I’d ended up in Beirut. The place infuriated me no end, and I decided to channel that. Once I did, I found out a lot of people had similar feelings. I’m now trying to turn all that angst into something constructive, and I’m involved with an online platform rolling out soon which ties together arts, culture, social responsibility, entrepreneurship with lots of fun content. As for Our Man in Beirut, it’s turning into a book which will be released in November. Just in time for Christmas. Available at all good bookstores, fits perfectly under the Christmas tree. Wink wink.
Greatest inspirations or influences
Well, I’m really lucky with the family I landed in.
- Saying my father is a writer doesn’t do justice to the breadth of his knowledge and charisma, he’s the ultimate inspiration.
- My mother is a painter and recreational hippie. Yoga and all that jazz. She keeps me grounded and calm-ish.
- And my sister is a very talented fashion designer. It’s all about family really, and I’m lucky enough to get my inspiration from them.
Most interesting response to your work so far?
- Well everything that has happened to me over the past couple years has arisen from the blog really. My job as an advertising copywriter, my involvement with this new online platform, my book deal. It’s been very therapeutic. (Did I just say that? Jeez).
- But seriously, the validation you get from people who enjoy your work is just amazing. It’s something that’s very specific to the creative industries I think, and it’s heightened by social media. The response is immediate. Even the negative responses are great, because it allows you to defend yourself and argue your point.
I’m kind of addicted to the internet. I check a ton of design inspiration sites daily (Not Cot | fffffound), tech sites (TechCrunch | Mashable). I read the Guardian everyday. but the site I couldn’t live without is Arts & Letters Daily.
Plans to publish soon- other upcoming projects?
Well, besides the Our Man in Beirut book coming out in November, which also includes some photography, I’m working on some fiction. It’s still embryonic but I’m aiming for Bret Easton Ellis meets Tayib Salih, channelled through Gary Shteyngart.
Your opinion on social media in the Middle East and how its developing?
I think we’re going to stop referring to social media soon, and just call it media. It is the default mode of communication for people in a certain age bracket and that will be the case increasingly. It’s extremely empowering, and it helps us realize our roles as something special, beyond a passive, captive audience. The impulse to create, and comment and engage can only be positive.
Anything else you´d like to share with our audience?
Someone said do what you enjoy and you’ll never have to work another day in your life. Or something to that effect.
I couldn’t agree more. Some people thought I should seek psychiatric help when I said I was quitting a cushy banking job in London to start writing out of Beirut. I think they’re the crazy ones for putting on a suit and tie everyday and denying themselves the pleasure (and subsequent success) of doing something they’re actually good at.
50 Ton Beast