Monday, 30 May 2016

The First Screen And Violent Desires

Family watching television, c. 1958
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I can remember a chap at a conference referring to mobiles as 'the third screen' (after TV and PC) and, some years later, someone putting on one of those Arthur, King of the Britons voices to prophetically announce that the mobile was now the first screen. Cue gasps from audience, challenged by speaker's uncanny insight.

Which is all well and good, but this whole constant screen lark is getting out of hand. I'm increasingly infuriated by the experience of lift doors opening to reveal people gazing at their mobiles. It's like a ritual, as dependable as Southern Indian men walking into lifts with mirrored back walls (cue comb whipped out from back pocket and furious primping of hair, usually by someone who hasn't pushed the button for the floor he wants and rewards you, when you get out, with that 'tch' of irritation as he realises he's in the car park and not, in fact, the 43rd floor). The slack-jawed mobile gawper stands there thumbing away at his handset, oblivious to the ten people staring at him and wishing him dead as their own lives ebb away, waiting for his convenience.

After a few seconds, he realises and either looks up and dashes for the lift or, worse, just belatedly blunders in with his head still buried in his mobile. Not buried quite as far as I'd ideally like it, I can tell you. On good days, the doors close painfully on his shoulders and I have to struggle to contain my elation.

I have little fantasies of being alone in the lift, the camera lens in the corner obscured by some fiendish device invented for one of my novels, grabbing the back of his head and dashing it against the mobile screen propped against the lift wall, bouncing his ugly pate against the little rectangle until splinters of Gorilla Glass are embedded in his...

Okay, I have to rest for a few seconds.

Aaaand we're back.

Stuck in traffic on the benighted MBZ, watching the guy in front leaving a hundred metre gap until the car in front of him, his eejit features dipping like one of those wee birds with felty heads you used to get that pivoted on a plastic base to dip eternally into a glass of water. And you know that means he's texting or Whatsapping or Facebooking or whatever other neoloverbism you want to dub his slavish infosharing with.

I hate him. I watch cars push into the yawning gap he's leaving; one, two and three people all getting home one car, two cars, three cars ahead of me. I want to get out and go knock on his window, perhaps talk to him, point out that directing a tonne of steel, glass and, increasingly these days, plastic might might just be a teensy weensy bit more important than sharing photographs of Rima's first puke. Or even rip the mobile out of his fat, hairy hands and toss it under the wheels of the jerk in a brown Renault Duster who's undertaking us both and filling the permalacuna that mobile-head is leaving in the flow.

But the one that really, and I do not want to understate this too much, really, really gets my goat (I don't have a goat, but if I had one it would get it. Probably comprehensively eviscerated.) is the blithering dimwit who walks into me in the shopping mall because he is gurning into his mobile, his sago-slack features lit by the flickering of the YouTube clip of a cat whose arse is being used as a pencil sharpener by a dog egged on by a buttered mandrill.

I mean, right into me. I'm standing quite still because my wife is consumed by the enormity of the choice between Wallis and Chic. Shoes or dresses. She's torn, uncertain. I'm waiting for her to reach the epiphany of the indecisive shopper and Elie The JerkTard actually walks into me. And, finally, my legion suppressed fantasies of violent urges silently played out on numberless witless screen-droolers find their outlet. Sarah's headed for Chic, because there's a Lebanese man with male pattern baldness hanging out of the smashed plate glass window of Wallis, his body jerking as arterial blood spurts, drenching the long cougar-print dresses drooping from their circled hangers.

And yes, I do feel better now, thank you very much.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Friday State Of Mind


"A Decent Bomber was an excellent story."

"I read and reviewed prior novels by Alexander McNabb (Shemlan, Olives, and Beirut). I enjoyed all of them, and recommend them to anyone who enjoys a good thriller. In my opinion, A Decent Bomber is the best yet."

"McNabb moves from the familiar ground of the Middle East to Ireland, and remnants of the Provisional IRA. Thoroughly enjoyed this book. A really pacey thriller with brilliant characters."

"Crime, political, conspiracy, action thriller, call it what you need to, this one is a page turner you do not want to miss."

"Thoroughly enjoyable."

"Enjoyably nasty canter through a familiar Troubles-based background."

Straight five stars on Amazon. Rave reviews. It's sold less than 200 copies.

Sometimes I think I'm missing something massive, shake my head and just move on...

Friday, 20 May 2016

An Alternative To That There Soulless Mall


So you want to get up to something different this weekend? Something a little more off the beaten track than wandering around marbled malls listening to that swishswish of the mall walkers, too lazy to pick up their feet as they wander around the 'new roundabout', packed with shops selling things they can't really afford and don't really need?



Let me suggest something. Over here, on ShjSEEN, is a wee guide to Sharjah's souks. Go for the early evening shift, from about 5pm onwards is good on a Friday or Saturday. Have an adventure. Fill your boots. You can thank me later...



BTW, all the souk names in the piece are links to Google Maps, so you have no excuse about 'finding my way around Sharjah'

Friday, 13 May 2016

Beirut - An Explosive Thriller And The Dynamics Of Free Vs Amazon Advertising


Warning. Very long post about book marketing.

So here's the skinny. In Mid-March, I dropped the price of Beirut - An Explosive Thriller and Olives - A Violent Romance to FREE on Apple, B&N, Kobo et al.

This then forced Amazon's Amazing Algorithms to 'price match' the books and make them free on Amazon. This is not something Amazon lets you do otherwise, only letting you make a book free for 5 days per quarter if it's enrolled in Kindle Unlimited and therefore exclusive to Amazon.

Note, as per my previous post on this, you have to change to the 35% royalty to do this, otherwise Amazon gets shirty.

Amazon's big machines decided to chop Beirut and Olives in the US store (.com) but only Olives in the UK store (.co.uk). The volumes are markedly different: 30 free Olives downloaded in the UK compared to 700 in the US.

As of today, Beirut is now free in the UK store. You can go here and get it. Do please feel free to share the link on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or another other platform where you think your followers, friends and family might enjoy a fabulous international spy thriller packed with guns and bombs and babes and stuff. [endplug]

So what has all this 'free' told us?

For a start, people have found Beirut a lot more attractive than Olives: 3,000 downloads compared to 700. As you can see from the covers side by side above, the title and cover of Olives don't really cut the mustard. Not sure what I can do about that, to be honest. However, it would appear Beirut got a bit of a lift up on some unseen list or another, because its early trajectory was amazing, speeding it to #1 free thriller on Amazon.com for a few halcyon days.

What has the knock-on effect been? A handful of Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy sales have been bubbling along, 14 copies in April and so far 4 copies in May. Sales of A Decent Bomber and Birdkill have also slowly started to lift (6 and 7 copies respectively). However, Beirut's downloads have slowly declined, dropping from a relatively steady couple of weeks at 30-50 copies, then a couple of weeks ranging from 15-30 copies and now running at 5-15 copies per day.

There have been a couple of additional reviews of Beirut and Olives alike on Amazon, 4* and 5*, thank you. But the maths is amazing - almost 3,000 downloads to drive 10 book sales and two reviews.

Generally, as my books have got better (IMHO), their sales numbers and therefore number of reviews has declined. Which is wonderful, really.

Amazon Advertising

I've also been running an advertising campaign for Birdkill on Amazon over the past week. This has been interesting, particularly compared to the experimental Twitter campaign I ran. I have kept relatively quiet on other platforms to better isolate and judge the results and impact of the Amazon campaign.

$100 of my hard-earned spent a while ago on Twitter was targeted not so much at keywords as at followers of a number of book promoters, publishers and book recommendation accounts. That resulted in 29,707 impressions and 90 clicks. I think I sold one book, so we're doing better than McNabb's Law of Clicks would have us believe should be the case.

I thought Amazon advertising was likely to be more impactful. Here, you're targeting people at the moment of browsing and purchase and you can target by genre. If you think about it, that's nigh on perfect. It's like being on someone's shoulder in a bookshop with the ability to whisper, 'That one. There. Birdkill by McNabb. Do it.'

Amazon lets you serve up a number of ad formats, placing the ads on other book pages, newsletters, into Kindles and so on. Like Google's Adwords, you bid for your clicks. In my genres for Birdkill, (Literature & Fiction: Action & Adventure; Mystery, Thriller & Suspense: Conspiracies, Mystery, Paranormal as you ask) the bidding was in the range US$ 0.40-0.50. In reality, I had to raise my bid to $0.55 to start getting impressions and eventually raised it to $0.60. My average cost per click has come in at $0.53.

The bidding works just like Google: your bid is accepted above the second highest bid, rather than just topping all bids.

So far, we're not quite done yet, Amazon has yielded 22,057 impressions, 118 clicks and two book sales and we're about 60 bucks into my budget. That's better than Twitter and again better than McNabb's law of clicks, but it's a pretty impressive catalogue of fail - Birdkill is a well packaged book and to see 118 clicks turn into 116 bounces is pretty depressing.

There has been no appreciable impact in the sale (or download) of any of my other titles since the campaign started. Unless you count one copy of Space...

Here are the Birdkill ads in the various formats Amazon supports, all auto-generated out of the base data you supply them - you don't have individual control over each creative:

 245 x 250
Didn't know those paltry two reviews would show. Five stars, mind, which is nice, but not enough reviews really. Funnily enough, that doesn't seem to have affected the CTR (Click Through Rate to you, mate), which has been just over 0.5%.

270 x 150

I like this one best of all. Those reflections are right classy...
270 x 200

300 x 250
402 x 250

980 x 55

And, finally, I is in ur Kindle...

It's worth bearing these in mind when you look at your advertisement format and the text you're planning to use... The 'astounds and horrifies' line did quite well on my Twitter campaign, which is why I decided to re-use it here. Do people want to be 'astounded and horrified'? Who knows? All this stuff is merely trial and error. If it were a science they'd teach it in school.

And so at the end of a two month campaign of experimental free offers and advertising campaigns targeting keywords and followers on Twitter (as well as messing around with a lot of organic Twitter targeting: ads.twitter.com/user/yourusername is a powerful dashboard for measuring the impact of tweets) and a genre-targeting campaign on Amazon, I am none the wiser. Although arguably better informed.

If you know anything wot I don't, or have any new angles on the above, please do feel free to share.

And don't forget to drop an Amazon review when you've read your free books!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Thirty

Martin, R.M. ; Tallis J. & F. Arabia. 1851 Wor...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It was thirty years ago when I first travelled to the Arabian Gulf (Wikipedia says Persian Gulf, but then Wikipedia has a distressing tendency to say tomayto, faucet and German Shepherd Dog) - on business, as it happens. Few, back in the day, were intrepid enough to travel to the peninsula for touristic purposes and most of those were Germans seeking exciting new ways to get skin cancer.

It was thirty years ago I was head-hunted by a strange, balding suspected megalomaniac and pitched into a world I could never have imagined; a world of madness and oddity beyond belief. If the end of days was to be filled with cats barking and men walking backwards, I was severely underwhelmed, because Saudi Arabia in 1986 was a great deal weirder than all that Dantesque nine circles of hell stuff. You want dystopia? Welcome to the Gulf, my friend. We have too much dystopia. How much you like pay?

I was to sell things. To this end, a strange attempt was made to put me through a thing they called 'Sales Training'. Basically, you pretended to be interested in people, asked them lots of questions to find out what they wanted and assured them your product was just what they needed. They agreed, signed the form and you ran away with all of their money, a small percentage of which you were allowed to keep.

What could possibly go wrong?

Pal and colleague Adel thinks I should document my life in the Gulf. This sort of advice is usually to be avoided, because friends and family always think you sound more interesting than you really are. But it was he convinced me to go Prado over Infinity and he was so very right about that. Let's face it: if you want advice on car buying, Emiratis are unfailingly sound. But memoir? Really? The diary of an expat nobody? Who in their right mind cares?

And then it hit me on the drive home yesterday. It's been thirty years. 30. The big three zero. I've turned into some of those crusty old bastards I met when I first arrived. They were legends those people. They had seen strange things, could tell strange tales. And I cast my mind back to those first experiences in the sand pit and I must confess, I amused myself greatly.

This is always a dangerous sign. It means I'm about to write something everyone else thinks is shit.

So here's the deal. I'm going to have a go at dredging it all up and posting it. God knows, the blog has been missing posts badly enough recently. I might get bored and just give up - and I start the exercise with that caveat. I might carry through with it and turn it into a book, although Middle East Memoir is arguably the genre which gave 'vanity publishing' its bad name to begin with. But then I've made something of a speciality of publishing books that don't make much sense. Why stop now?

In the spirit of the wonderful Dubai As It Used To Be and even Facebook's Dubai - The Good Old Days, I'll have a go at remembering the anarchy and madness that made me fall in love with the Gulf, and the wider Arab World. For this is the place I still call home today and for which, 30 years on, I retain a genuine and abiding love...

Thursday, 5 May 2016

shjSEEN - Sharing Sharjah Things, Stuff And Stories

English: Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE).
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm contributing blog posts to an interesting project called shjSEEN, which is being run by the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The idea is to take a fresh look at Sharjah and perhaps delve into the many hidden joys, delights and treasures of The Cultured Emirate, under the tagline 'One city, lots of soul'.

I can hear you Dubai types scoffing as I type, so you can stop that right now, pally. Sharjah's got a great deal going for it - all you have to do is look beyond your brunches, blingy bars and chain stores. And you can get over that wailing about the traffic, while you're at it. At the weekends, when Sharjah's arguably at its best, it's generally a breeze.

Sharjah HAS got soul, lots of it. From the area where I live (whose tribal leader, in the 1920s, invaded Ajman and occupied its fort), down to Al Khan on the Dubai border (where a protracted gun-fight took place between Dubai and a gang of dissidents, which stopped each day to let the charabanc of British travellers on Imperial Airways pass), Sharjah's got history. Loads of it. There are Umm Al Nar tombs, iron age settlements and ancient cities, forts and trade routes that go back - literally - to the dawn of humanity. There's the history of trade, from the lovingly restored (and beautiful) Souq Al Arsah and Heart of Sharjah through to Mahatta, the fort which was built as the Gulf's first airport hotel.

There are sights to see, from Mleiha's world-class visitor centre to the many museums, art galleries and exhibitions. There's loads to do, from dune bashing over fossil rock, chilling out in Khor Fakkan (Sharjah's the only Emirate with coastline on both the Arabian Gulf and Indian Ocean) through to wandering around the Sharjah Desert Park with its Natural History Museum, Wildlife Centre and Botanical Gardens.

In Sharjah you can buy diamonds, pearls, oud and bukhour, ambergris, musk and antiques, from old stamps and coins from the UAE and wider Middle East through to khanjars and water jars: you can wander perfume souks, spice souks, old souks, new souks and even gold and blue souks. You can take the kids to the aquarium or to play as you enjoy a waterside coffee at Al Qasba, or Al Majaz. Or let them go wild in the rides, swings and waterpark at Montaza.

If you fancy a full-on Friday brunch without having to fight off hooning, red-faced drunks in Paul Smith shirts and Coast dresses, the Radisson Blu does a family one including pool and beach access, so you can snooze it off - and cooks up some of the best Lebanese food you'll find outside Beirut. The Sheraton Sharjah does a glorious afternoon tea for pennies.

So I'll be looking forward to writing about these things and more - because there is, yes, a lot more. It's all rather fun, I must say!


Sunday, 24 April 2016

Still In Limbo. Enjoying Limbo. And Ginger Beer.

English: Bottle used for J. Ladd's ginger beer...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I realised things were getting pretty desperate when I started growing a ginger beer plant. I used to have one of these as a kid, gifted to me by someone who hated me.

I used to sell the resulting ginger beer at school. It was mildly alcoholic and popular. Things got out of hand when the school market became saturated and I had to run for it before the teachers found out why their classes were suddenly filled with a mild ethanol and ginger miasma and their lessons greeted with enthusiasm that quickly slipped into grinning torpor.

Ginger beer plants are a curse. You grow one, it makes ginger beer and you end up with two. So you make twice as much ginger beer. It's a mad experiment in exponential escalation a la the wheat and chessboard problem. A couple of weeks later your house is filled with bubbling carboys and near-exploding bottles, cloudy brews and the undeniably rich yeasty reek of fermentation. Your garage is a cellar and your garden has become a storage zone. So you start to give away ginger beer plants. To people you hate.

Trying to grow a ginger beer plant in Sharjah is probably a) illegal and certainly b) pointless. I wouldn't even have contemplated it except I have acquired some small ceramic-stoppered bottles and feel guilty about throwing such pretty little things away. Oh, and because I hadn't got a writing project on the go, I was suffering from serious terminal purposelessness.

Now I have two such projects. They're jostling for my attention. One is a recounting of Gerald Lynch's early history in Civil War Beirut. The other I can't even talk to you about. Seriously.

The ginger beer plant's been chucked out. I wasn't really serious about making ginger beer.

Honestly, ossifer.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Any Old Post

Obscure Motmot
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've slipped into the warm waters of a happy limbo since the LitFest. I've had little enough to say, too 'meh' about things online even to tweet very much but otherwise perfectly content in my space. Easter saw the Niece From Heaven and Naughty Niece coming out for a week which was lovely. Other than that, no news.

I've been tinkering with Beirut - An Explosive Thriller being a free book on Amazon. Having hit #1 free thriller, the book slowly slid down the slope back into the gloopy, fetid air of obscurity that is the lower reaches of the Amazon charts. Olives never did so well, a combination of less than dramatic title and over-dramatic cover doubtless making it less attractive to an incurious wandering eyeball somewhere in Missouri.

Over 2,500 free downloads of Beirut later, only one new review has been posted of the book on Amazon. I wonder quite how many of those downloads ever got opened? Incidentally, you need over 1,000 downloads a day to top the free Thriller chart and a good 200+ a day to stay up there in the top 3 - about 50 downloads keeps you in the top 10. The downloads peaked high early, dropped back very fast and the book is currently being downloaded about 20 times a day. Whether that is residual recommendations from the original spate of downloads or just chance discoveries being made, I do not know.

As for new projects, I've been flirting with the idea of telling the story of how Gerald Lynch first popped up in Beirut during the early 1980s, chasing an IRA bomb-maker called O'Brien. That early history is hinted at in both Beirut and Shemlan. The idea would be a novella rather than a full-on novel. There are other ideas bouncing around, too. Frankly, I'm in no rush and am just letting things bounce around and bed down in their own time.

I am finding that letting my 'online life' settle down into neglect is not resulting in the end of the world as we know it. Who knew?

Sunday, 20 March 2016

'Olives - A Violent Romance' And Flirting With FREE



I've been playing around a bit with this here FREE thing and so Olives - A Violent Romance is now available across ALL ebook platforms as a free ebook. That's right - you can now download my first, acclaimed thriller novel for nothing. Nada. Sifr. It's all yours. Fill them boots.

While this is nice and easy to do with Smashwords (which populates iBooks, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and so on), Amazon doesn't support free books unless you've enrolled in KDP Select, which limits you to selling only on Amazon. So - this is a million dollar question for authors - how do I make my books free on Amazon for Kindle without enrolling them in KDP Select?

Here goes:

First you pop over to Amazon and set your royalty rate to 35%. This is important, because at the 70% royalty, you undertake to Amazon that you won't sell elsewhere at a different price. So when you start messing about with prices on other platforms, Amazon can (and has every right to) get a bit tetchy. At the 35% royalty, there are no such restrictions.

Now you set the price to zero in Smashwords and wait for that change to impact iBooks and the other stores served by the multi-publishing marvel. Amazon picks this change up and at its discretion will match its own price to that of iBooks, Kobo and Barnes & Noble. If Amazon's price crawlers don't pick it up after a few days, there's a little button against the book's page on Amazon that allows you to request a price match by providing a link to the competitive store where the other pricing (ie: free) is offered. Note it doesn't work if you provide a link to Smashwords. It has to be a retailer.

My first, silly, book Space is, and always has been, enrolled in KDP Select simply because I wanted to play around with the platform. KDP Select allows you up to five days' free promotion every three months but does have that terrible drawback of only letting you sell via Amazon. And only five days' free promotion isn't quite enough to really make an impact, in my humble opinion. Olives is now perma-free so I can provide a sampler to an increasingly skittish and wary book buying public. And if they like that, they can buy Beirut - An Explosive Thriller for $0.99 and Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy for just $1.99!

Does 'free' work? Well, in the first 24 hours, I've shifted over 500 books. Will it win me readers, reviews, accolades and plaudits? We'll see. I'll let you know how it goes if you sign up for my occasional freebie, hints and stuff emailer... See what I did there?

Oh, by the way, A Decent Bomber and Birdkill will still cost you a reasonable $2.99. You ain't getting them for free...

PS: Amazon also picked up a momentary blip on Beirut's pricing as I was playing around and made THAT free too in the US, although not the UK. For some reason, downloads of Beirut have massively eclipsed Olives and it's now #2 in the Thrillers & Suspense, Espionage listing of the Kindle store. Which is nice...


Sunday, 13 March 2016

That Was The LitFest That Was


I'm feeling slightly shell-shocked this morning. The weekend's whirl is over and I realised, probably massively belatedly but then I am a bear of remarkably little brain, from the moment I started the process of editing and formatting Birdkill, I was preparing for it.

I got roped into a panel on science fiction at the last minute, which was a little bit strange. One of the panellists decided we were all going to start with a reading which I thought odd, but I was feeling benign and generally happy go lucky and so went along with the scheme. There should be a law banning people who assert they 'read rather well' from ever reading their books to an audience.

The invitation to a science fiction panel came because of the mad eugenics, drugs and battlefield enhancement program that's at the heart of Birdkill. I thought of explaining that it's actually reflective of some real-life, modern-day programs run by people like DARPA but threw that up and just agreed to it. In all things bookish, I have a policy of never, ever saying 'no' to anything - something I have rarely had cause to regret, BTW.

It all went well enough, I suppose and we chatted happily about how Sci-Fi has sort of grown up and is no longer the guilty secret read it was when I was a kid, how writing 'near future' Sci-Fi is harder than space opera and other stuff. I was there more as a fan than anything, I suppose. I managed to get in a dig about how explorer of suburban dystopias JG Ballard would have loved writing a novel set in Arabian Ranches, which was all rather fun.

I went to Justin Marozzi's talk about Baghdad which was great. One of the perks of being a LitFest author is your wee badge gives you 'access all areas' and you can attend sessions without a ticket - something I always manage to make all too little use of. I had read Marozzi's history of Baghdad with fascination and similarly enjoyed his presentation. Of course he had to tell the Haroun Al Rashid story. Tsk Tsk.

The how to find your route to publication and onto shelves panel was an absolute hoot. Having in previous years found myself debating the role of traditional publishing vs self publishing with people like Luigi Bonomi (the world's nicest literary agent) and Orion's Kate Mills (an eminently sensible and most likeable lady), it was nice to finally encounter someone who represented the face of traditional publishing I felt I could really disagree with. Jonathan Lloyd is chairman of Curtis Brown, a very big London literary agency, and he was eventually provoked into aiming a sentence at me starting with 'With all due respect' - a phrase all English people know means 'I am about to be rude to you' and Jonathan didn't fail us, advising me that perhaps I might better spend my time learning how to write well instead of dancing around wasting it playing at book marketing.

I am very glad, in hindsight, that I noted the English preamble to discourtesy rather than trying to address the assumption behind it. I'd have come across as an angry and defensive person and I most certainly am neither of those (at least when it comes to writing and publishing my books!). I'm perfectly happy that traditional publishing should continue to strive to exist, as I am that they have clearly decided the things that interest me and how I tell my stories are not for them. Given that, the swipe rather back-fired. Mind, I don't think I'll be signed up by Curtis Brown any time soon...

Arrow's Selina Walker took perhaps a more benign view of the changing face of publishing and the opening up of the market to wider choice and it was clear that publishers and agents are no longer quite as aligned as they once were. Jonathan's assertion that agents were on the side of the author while publishers were in it for themselves drew a polite, measured but I felt slightly pained response.

This was the stuff though - I would describe the panel as lively and it must have been highly entertaining for the audience, which is what you're after really, isn't it?

But I had the most fun the next day, with the panel on crime I shared with Chris Carter and Sebastian Fitzek, both of whom write about serial killers, psychopaths and really, really bad people. I noted to the audience that I felt like something of a fraud - my bad guys are just bad, but they're pussies compared to Chris and Sebastian's bad guys. My bad guys steal ice creams from small kids, stuff like that. They won't rape you while they're sucking out your brains with a straw. Truth be told, my good guys are more of a worry...

We talked about research - meeting IRA members, serial killers and forensic surgeons; about inhabiting the grey area between good and evil; about creating empathy for horrible characters and how you handle putting yourself in the head of a killer. I did a lot of book plugging, for which I am truly contrite.

Both Chris and Sebastian are very nice guys who have some worrying stuff going on in their heads, but they're engaging and genial talkers who conjured a great deal of laughter from the audience. We wrapped up on the hour and it was clear both authors and audience would gladly have stayed another hour and more bouncing all these questions, ideas and experiences around.

We signed books afterwards and some people turned up to have me sign my books which is lucky because that doesn't usually happen and I was dreading getting sandwiched between two international best-sellers with my usual queue of three (mind you, they put me next to 'House of Cards' author Michael Dobbs the day before. As usual, a line disappearing into the horizon next to the yawning space left in front of me after I'd signed a few books. Le sigh.)

As usual, the LitFest team were glorious, wonderful, patient and kind. If there was a single hitch or hiccup, I certainly didn't spot it. Tens of thousands of people, 160 authors, hundreds of sessions, events, happenings, talks and signings. And it was all as seamless as a seamless thing.

So here we are. Facing a world without the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature - at least for another year. What AM I going to do?

Not write another book for a while, I can tell you...