Thursday, 25 June 2015

Blow Up Planes

English: Balloon seller works on the beach at ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The NSA are going to love the title of this one, aren't they?

Being married to a teacher can have its odd effects on life, not the least of which was a recent dash to try and find inflatable aeroplanes. It's a long story, but the theme of the week in class was transport and Sarah had created a rather fabulous little role play area for the kids which let them check in at the airport, shop at duty free and hang around in the café before boarding their flight. There was even a wee plane with a pilot's cockpit, portholes and chairs with seatbelts and overhead lockers.

If they'd been role playing this weekend at Dubai International, incidentally, they'd have been coming to school three hours early to avoid the huge crowds milling to exit the country at the start of the schools' summer holiday.

By any standard, it was a cool role play. But Miss Jean Brodie wanted some inflatable planes to hang above it. So one fine day, I found myself stopping at the local cold stores, most of which sell a range of wild and wacky inflatables (being as wot we live near the sea, see?), from 'Milka' branded cows through to beach balls, zebras and virtually any other imaginable inflatable. And you can stop that filthy minded stuff right now; this is Sharjah, Bub.

Did any of them have an inflatable plane? They did not. A raft of uncomprehending faces met my enquiries as I tried to find every possible permutation of the words 'inflatable aeroplane', even reduced to holding out my arms and whizzing around the darkened, pungent interior of one shop, to the bewilderment of the small and mildly wizened Malabari gentleman in charge.

It started to become an obsession. We remembered places we'd definitely seen planes hanging up, but all professed complete ignorance. We quartered the area, tracking down cold stores like stars of the History Channel reality series 'Inflatable Hunters'.

Not one of them had an inflatable plane of any sort.

And then we remembered seeing them hanging from the shops as you leave Dhaid towards Masafi. Dhaid is Sharjah's inland oasis town, about 60km from the coast. Finally, driven by the mission to get those damn blow-up planes by hook or by crook, we launched ourselves onto the desert road past Sharjah airport and the Wildlife Centre, into the wilds of mysterious Dhaid and there, in a moment of glorious epiphany, we found inflatable planes. Seas of them. Millions of them. It was like a view of FlightRadar24's display of Heathrow out there.

It was also Friday and just gone 11.30am. They were all closed. The next day I went back solo and bought up their stocks, paying prices that could only have inflated the market for inflatables in a massively inflationary way. I didn't care. We'd done it. Tadaaaa! The role play area was little less than glorious and there, in the skies above the airport, hung on nylon threads, were inflatable planes flying against the backdrop of azure skies.

Well, textured ceiling tiles. But we can imagine, no?

Talking of imagining, I can only imagine what happened next, but it goes something like this. A few weeks later, the chap from the specialist distributor who's cornered the Sharjah inflatables market goes on his rounds to the cold stores around the corniche areas of Sharjah and Ajman. And in each call he makes, he's asked if he has any inflatable aircraft? There is being too much demand for these in the European market demographic which is, we all agree, sought after due to its delightful propensity to accept the 'first price' no matter how insane the sum postulated may be.

But of course, says Mr Inflatable Distribution Specialist. I am having these aircraft wery much in stock. They are with Emirates liwery only. And, he adds, I can assure you they have been selling like hot dosas in Dhaid, where the market for them is like masala.

This is the only explanation I can come up with for the fact that every single cold store in my area is now festooned with displays of bloody inflatable aeroplanes, bobbing mockingly in the warm breeze coming in off the sea.

Seriously. Blow up aeroplanes, everywhere the eye can see...

Monday, 22 June 2015

Olives - A Violent Cover

This is the new cover for Olives - A Violent Romance. You can go here to buy it, as well as my other books. No, no need to thank me. It's a pleasure.

Why on earth would I want to change the cover, five years after publishing the book in the first place?

It seems more like a million years than five, I must say. A great deal has changed since then for me, personally and professionally. If you'd asked me back then if I thought I'd end up writing six books, I'd have laughed at you, hollowly. 'Ha ha', or something like that. Maybe just 'Ha.'

I'd turned my back on the endless round of submissions and rejections that had characterised my life as a writer up until then, finally accepting if I was going to go anywhere with this writing thing moving forwards, it was going to have to be on my own two feet.

I started looking at publishing platforms, stumbled upon Smashwords, wrangled with Amazon's strange idea of HTML to get a Kindle edition up and running and downloaded Createspace templates and started playing with book formatting.

Before long, I realised I needed a cover and I lost no time turning to Lebanese designer and graphic artist Naeema Zarif, whose clever and compelling work I had long enjoyed and who had also provided the 'visual identity' for GeekFest (although it was brother in law @deholyterror who came up with the initial logo for GeekFest 1.0, just to give credit where it's due!). Sadly, her website appears to be no more.

Naeema created that blue and beige cover, a superimposition of the Mediterranean sea and sky, the soil the olives grow from, a peace treaty and the edges of leaves. It's how her art rolls, layers of imagery super-imposed to create a series of visual 'jokes'. There's a bit of Amman's Citadel in there, too. It was just the ticket and I was pleased and proud to have her art illustrate the cover.

But that was then, this is now. The old cover is much admired, but is very, well, Arabesque. And my other covers have taken a very different direction, tending towards that very stark white space with a single illustrative element; Beirut's lipstickbullet, Shemlan's pillskull and now the two new books look like they'll have iconic emblems on the covers.

You can see all my book covers arrayed together tastefully here.

Olives ended up just looking odd and out of place, so I decided a long while back to update it. That's the lovely thing about publishing online, you can do that sort of thing. The UAE print edition, clearly, was going to stick with the old cover!

I've cast around for an image for Olives, to no avail. It's a very bad title for a book (I've had it confirmed by a top professional that my book titles suck lemons. That's sort of okay, it's the way things have ended up and I probably wouldn't have it any other way) at the best of times and a cover image is hard to think up. What do you do? Some olives? A crushed olive? I found a nice image of some olives and a skull, but it wasn't quite right. I've asked artist/designer friends, but nobody seems to have been able to come up with an image that 'does the trick', so I've finally invested a few days in finding some things that might work. The result is certainly impactful.

Amazon et al have been updated. So if you bought the book with the old cover, you now hold a limited edition print in your hands, one of about 2,500. There'll never be another one. I rather think, and hope, that'll amuse Naeema.

The old cover. A limited edition of 2,500 prints with a free book.

So there we have it. A new website, new cover and two new books. Golly, it's all change around here these days, isn't it?

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Lost Souk Of Aleppo

I was last in Aleppo in 2006, to attend the wedding of pal Lena to Koko which took place in the C14th Armenian Orthodox Church in the heart of Aleppo's Ottoman Souk.

I wandered the souk happily, going on to set a couple of chapters of my third novel, Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy in the crazy city within a city that was the world's largest covered market.

Working on my website a week or so ago, I came across the photos I took of the souk back then. It's been burned to the ground now, utterly destroyed. So here, for your delectation, is the souk that is no more...

The souk was noisy, a bustling tide of people packing the narrow flagged street, a motor scooter welded to a trailer forging its way through the press. The stalls were brightly lit from inside, neon strips hung crazily from twisted wire stays. Broken fittings, sacks of flour, wheat, herbs and charcoal lined the way. Poor stores sold charcoal, tobacco, spices and sweets butted up against collections of pans and kitchen implements. Every available surface was used to store and display goods; ancient rusty nails driven into door frames held bags of candy floss, great bales of sponges or tied-together bundles of shower pipes.
From Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy

Lynch slipped through the throng feeling lost as he tried to recall his way around the Ottoman labyrinth. He passed a man butchering a lamb, the carcass hanging from its back legs on a great hook, its blue-veined viscera shining as the knife slashed at it. He turned left off the busy street, passing shops stacked high with bolts of cloth, tailors working on ancient-looking sewing machines whirring away, their voices raised in cheerful conversation.
From Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy 

(Eagle eyed types will spot the header of this blog comes from the above image!)

Lynch slipped into the ancient Armenian Church. He stood by the door and scanned the gloomy space, taking in the rich icons; ceiling fans dropped from the vaulted shadows, the complex altar area bathed in the warm light from two massive chandeliers. It was quiet in here, the hubbub of the souk forgotten in an instant. The cool air smelled faintly of frankincense.
From Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy
Lynch gazed around the room. It was barren, stone floors and rough-hewn walls. Ahead of him was a great hewn windowsill, some three feet deep. The windows were shuttered, the wood ornately carved in oriental whorls and intertwined leaves. The General sat in the middle of the room next to a pot-bellied stove, a dull metal table to his side carrying a bottle of whisky and an overflowing ashtray. There were two glasses, one half-empty. The table was scattered in coins as was, Lynch noticed, the windowsill. The General sat in a wheelchair, his twisted legs covered in a beige woolly blanket. He had withered, his great frame shrunken inside clothes that were too big for him.The Sandhurst English voice was still strong. ‘Come in, damn you, you Irish bastard. There’s a chair over there.’ 
From Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy

In the open street beyond them, the corona of orange-tinted damp around the sodium streetlights was tinged with rapid coruscations of blue from the squad cars’ lights. Lynch pushed himself over the rooftop and slid down the wet tiles to the rusty gantry below, glancing at her elfin face taut with fear as she waited for him to catch up. She was away in an instant without giving him a second to catch his breath, sliding down a slate tiled roof, jumping over a long-abandoned revetment and curling herself around a pillar that joined two ancient buildings, the rough curved surface stretching down into the souk below. Lynch scrabbled around the curve, following the girl into the shadows beyond. She stopped him with an upturned hand and a hiss and he doubled up, breathing as deeply and quietly as he could.‘You’re not very fit,’ she scolded him in a whisper.
From Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy 

The madrasa which lies at the heart of the souk

There you are. It's all gone now, washed away in the tide of violence that broke over Syria, displacing millions and flattening whole towns. There's little or nothing left of the souk, I'm assured.

Having finished writing Shemlan before the destruction of the souk, I then had to decide whether to keep the souk I knew, rewrite the scenes to be in the ruins or delete the lot. I decided my souk - the one which had so enchanted, amazed and, perhaps a little bit, scared me - could at least live on in prose - and now it can in pictures, too.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Autolease In Sharjah Car Rental Shock Horror

Smile 12 a
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Every now and then I have to give my car to Al Habtoor so they can annoy me and then charge me the national aid budget of Chile for servicing it. Occasionally they keep it in overnight so they can charge me more and fix something like the engine mountings which are, for a 4WD, oddly prone to breaking.

I may treat my car badly.

Because Al Habtoor owns Sharjah car hire company Diamond Lease, it clearly makes no sense to have a car hire facility tied to your Mitsubishi service centre so your customers can hire cars when theirs are in the shop. That would be convenient, provide an excellent service and make money to boot. So we'll not do that, then.

Luckily, there is Sharjah based car rental company Autolease.

I've been using 'em for years, ever since I first got here in fact, when I hired a 4WD for a day out (In the process hitting - and negatively life-enabling - an Omani goat, but that's another story). They hire out Nissan Altimas for a daily rate of some Dhs175 (inclusive), which sort of suits me. Their website, incidentally, is one of the most charmingly retro UAE experiences to be had outside the Hatta Fort Hotel's Roumoul Bar.

They've decided I now qualify, me with my measly occasional one day hire, as an 'old customer'. Yesterday, I got there to find the paperwork all pre-completed - they'd taken my documents from the previous car rentals in their files - just a signature and then outside to find a chap ready by my car, engine running and AC on. The staff even lent me Dhs10 to pay off my taxi because I didn't have change.

At the end of a long and weary day, it was a wondrous - more so for its rarity - thing to find. Really good customer service. Staff who are friendly, helpful, intelligent and simply delightful, who have anticipated your needs and who are genuinely solicitous. I was grinning all the way home.

Braving the 611 (or, these days, 'Emirates Road') this morning in a Nissan Altima, I have to say, was blood-curdling. Trying to negotiate four jostling lanes of close-packed, bad-tempered commuters hammering 140kph and realising you have the road presence of a curdled gnat. Not good.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Free Space

Working on my new, luscious and totally yummy author website today, I realised I'd enrolled silly thriller spoof Space into Amazon's 'Select' programme and yet totally neglected to do any promotions at all for months.

So Space is free for your Kindle over the next 72-odd hours. Free? Yes! Free!

Tell friends, family, acquaintances, dogs in the street. Tweet it, Facebook it, Pin it. Let the world know. They can save $0.99 for the next 48 hours by seizing the moment and, well, just acting.

Just think about this.
YOU can save the people you LOVE good money and give them JOY.

I know, I know. It's pretty damn tremendous news. Take a few deep breaths. Okay? We're good.

Enjoy! And if you do, leave a review! :)

If you loathe it, hell, leave a review anyway!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

GeekFest Dubai 2015. We're BACK Baby!!!

GeekFest Dubai is back with a vengeance and I have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with it. 6PM on Saturday 13th June at Impact Hub Dubai is what you need in the old diary.

What is GeekFest? It's an event my old mucker Saadia Zahid and I put together after drinking too much coffee a few years back. It's sort of designed to bring online people together offline with as few rules, restrictions or people telling you what to do as possible. Think of a Montessori TED organised by Anonymous and you're sort of getting there. We became so wrapped up with letting the whole thing descend into chaos, we even referred to ourselves as UNorganisers. The event's not supposed to be disorganised, but it's not supposed to be organised in the sense that you're channeled places or have to deal with people shouting brands at you or having expectations of you. You want to come in a geeky t-shirt? Fine. You want to Cosplay? Fine. You don't? Just as fine. You want to be late? Fine. Early? Fine. Get the picture?

GeekFest went regional, with events taking place all over the Middle East. Beirut, Jeddah, Damascus, Cairo, Amman, Sharjah even! And then we stopped doing it. Simple as that.

The team at startup funky workspace hangout place Impact Hub - Diya Khalil and Sara Saleh - missed the good old days when Geeks Wandered The Earth and decided they wanted to get down and geeky again, which is just fine by me, so I gave 'em a copy of the Geekifesto and left 'em to it.

Impact Hub has many of the aspects that made Old Shelter so good for GeekFest. It's got a central space as well as breakout rooms aplenty, food and drink and, of course, copious Wifi. The team there have been beavering away and have come up with the following Smörgåsbord of delicious delights to tempt and tantalise your tastebuds. I've included reminders of what each element is in italics!

15 minute talks from people who care too much about stuff to be considered normal.

The Internet of Things
Elias Jaber

Social Media Clichés
Aby Sam Thomas

Revolutionising Finance with Bitcoin
Tarik Kaddoumi

Simplifying Freelance Journalism
Mohammed Parham

Displays of new technology backed by people that understand what the hell it is that's on show...

3D printing from DaVinci and The3DBee

Drones from Parrot

Hadoukenido retro gaming from Mohannad Ashtar

The Hop Away Game App from Hybrid Humans

The Oculus Rift from Spark Bits

Artistic events and happenings, new ideas and inspirations from pencil squeezers.

Middle East Comic Con is bringing a fistful of artists to pack 'Artists Alley', whatever that is!

BeanBag Workshops
Ongoing 'how to' workshops for self-selecting audiences of people on, well, beanbags...

3D Printing by Doodlebare

Educational gaming by Hybrid Humans

Animated film making featuring new movie Hujan Dan Hijau from Emirati animator Mohammed Fikree.

Food on the night

Spontifora (which sounds interesting, in a sort of 'grows on the world in Avatar' sort of way) and There Will Be Crepes

The Big Picture Art Platform presents live experimental sound from Kapital7

Now I'll warn you fair and square - the event's already looking over-subscribed with some 470 guests registered to the Facebook event (Impact Hub's capacity is about the 250 mark), so it might get a bit jiggy in there. But what the hell, go on down and have a blast anyway. Although mightily tempted to be there in my authorial velvet smoking jacket telling everyone how much better it was back in my day, I find myself with a packed weekend and shall therefore leave it to people younger and smarter than I to attend...

Impact Hub is to be found here.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Web Strategies For Authors

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Ugh. Even the title of this blog post makes me want to heave. But, like it or not, as a writer you're going to need to work out how you define yourself on The Tangled Web. Remember that one - when the marketing nongs who gave us 'the cloud' and 'the Internet of things' coin that as the next bigbig thing, you can all queue up to give me the credit for inventing it.

Suit: "We're defining the solutions that will make sense of TTW and simplify the muddle of the interconnectedness huddle."

Lesser mortal: "Sorry, TTW? What's that?"

Suit (smugly): "The Tangled Web. Duh."

Wow. I haven't said a thing yet and I've already managed to completely derail myself.

So. Authors. Websites. Basically, you're going to have to work out what you do about websites and the like. For myself, it was all nice and simple. When I published Olives - A Violent Romance, I started a blog of the book and a book website. At the time I worried a little about whether that was the right move, or whether I should have an Alexander McNabb site that had the books in it, but I was greedy for SEO, in part because Olives is such a pants title for a book (long story) and in part because it doesn't really matter what you do for a day job, you're too close to things when it's your own work.

The blog of the book was a clear content-led promotion play and launched in January 2012. I kept it going until around May 2013, by which time I was so exhausted by book promotion I could barely look at an Olive, let alone write about the blasted things. The blog was basically an ongoing discussion of the book's content, quoting bits of book and discussing the ideas, concepts and situations behind each quote. In total it's pulled about 24,000 page views and is still averaging a little under 400 views a month. That's not bad, really, but when you take McNabb's Law Of Clicks into account, it's not a very big hill of beans.

The book's website was nice and easy to do: I used Blogger as a CMS (Content Management System), because it's the Barney of CMSs (Wordpress is immeasurably more powerful, but complicated. Blogger is all primary colours and simple steps) and the introduction of multiple pages meant it was just fine for simple sites. I had a little help from +Derrick Pereira who knows more about the under the bonnet stuff than I do - other than that, it's simple enough for an averagely connected person. The website's pulled about 17,000 views since December 2011 when I launched it, which isn't actually much as it was the landing page for most of my Tweets and Facebook posts - but it's nice to have somewhere to send people to get more information on your book before you launch them at Amazon to close the deal.

The Beirut - An Explosive Thriller website launched a year later and has pulled about 14,000 views, while Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy has a measly 4,000 - a reflection on how increasing weariness has negatively impacted the amount of book promotion I've been doing, really. Perhaps interestingly, particularly as a test of the previously mentioned Law Of Clicks, Olives has seen 2,000 clicks on the 'buy Olives' page, Beirut has pulled a tad more (but possibly that's Lebanese politicians who thought someone else might be selling the city cheaper than they are) and Shemlan 1,000 clicks. Those clicks on the 'buy the book' pages have not translated into an equivalent number of book sales, believe me.

I decided on a simple common naming convention, and so on. Clearly I wasn't getting or And, of course, I put the address of each website into the books themselves, alongside was originally just a redirect. I snaffled the domain (from, where I do all my web stuff) but didn't really get around to doing anything with it except redirect the URL to this here blog. After a while I bit the bullet and put up a simple, five-page site using Whois' Sitebuilder, which is a very simple to use but really quite powerful website template manager and CMS.

That 'strategy' has now run its course. I can't go on launching a new website for each book, apart from anything else it's costing me $9.98 a year in domain registration fees for each site. So over the weekend I pulled the primary content from each book website and put it all under, giving myself a 'proper' author website by taking Whois' 20 page package, rolling up my sleeves and structuring the site to be very book-centric. There are now six books up there (including the appallingly neglected, some would say justifiably, Space) and there's room to add more without increasing cost. The content is just as searchable as it was in the book sites and I'm not losing millions of links into those sites with the move.

If I could do it all again knowing what I know now (bear in mind that back in 2011 I had no idea I was going to go on to write and publish more books), I'd have gone straight for an author site with the books under its aegis. It simply makes more sense, introducing readers to other books I've written and giving a core property to link to. The Whois Sitebuilder product is actually pretty powerful and includes multimedia, social links and even a shopping cart if you're minded to go down that road.

I wouldn't have bothered with the Olives blog, either. I'd have abused this blog more and built links from it to rather than the Olives website.

If discussing all this has helped you to think through your own web presence as an author, I am glad. If it has bored you senseless, sorry about that but remember no refunds. If you want to pop over to my shiny new website, it's linked here for your listening pleasure. Please do remember to wipe your feet before you go in.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

An Embarrassment Of Books

some old books i found in the guest room. =]
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It's not my fault I've ended up with two books. The Irish Farmer took a year to write, the newnew book has taken a tad over a month, having possessed me in the spirit of something Steven King would think up. I've been haunted by a book and it used me as an unwilling channel to create itself.

So now I'm in the odd position of having one book still being rejected by literary agents as I start to shop the second one around. Even beta readers haven't finished sending me their comments and feedback on the Irish Farmer. Some of the poor darlings have ended up with TWO of my books in their inboxes because they weren't fleet enough to get rid of the Irish one. I'm keenly aware my beta readers, kind enough to agree to being part of my book development process, are being soundly abused right now.

So now I have two unpublished manuscripts clamouring to become real books with titles and covers and Amazon pages and everything.

The question is what to do next. Assuming the result of sharing the newnew book with agents will be the usual round of smug, platitudinous form letters...
Sorry, but we're going to pass on this one. It's a tough market right now and we didn't feel enthusiastic enough about this to take it forward. However, this is a subjective business and others may feel differently, so don't be dispirited.
...I will then face self publishing two books, both set in the UK and so with limited appeal for a Middle Eastern audience. Do I print them as I did Olives and Beirut? Certainly, not printing a UAE edition of Shemlan had a major (negative) impact on the book's sales - but then I really don't have the time to go around chasing up bookshops and trying to chivvy up a charming but ultimately flaccid distribution chain. Doing that for the first two was exhausting.

And Shemlan didn't leave me out of pocket to the tune of a Dhs 15,000 print bill. Every copy of the book I've sold has been profit and while it all hardly amounts to a hill of beans, it seems to make more sense to be in the black than in the red. Call me old fashioned.

Fair enough, having sold out both books' print runs means I'm not technically out of pocket, but I'm hardly laughing all the way to the bank - and back at square zero anyway, because I'm certainly not about to order a reprint and start all over again. So if you want to buy Olives or Beirut today, you'll have to go online same as you do for Shemlan.

I tried to resist, honestly I did, but it's no use.

I can order smaller runs from Createspace, getting them delivered here to the UAE for a little over Dhs30 per book. This means I can sell them to people at events and so on, but makes traditional distribution unworkable (the disty takes 50%). People here generally seem happy to buy a book that's in front of them but very averse to buying print books online. In fact the online habit, including ebooks, is pretty nascent around here.

But, for a self-published author, online makes so much sense it's not true. So the decision's pretty much a no-brainer: no big print runs, we'll be going with Amazon, iBooks, Createspace et al.

The next big question is timing. Giving agents another month to finish rejecting the Irish book takes us into July and Ramadan and Summer. And editing takes 4-6 weeks. So we're looking at October publication. Should I hold back on the newnew book and publish it to coincide with the LitFest in March next year? That would seem to make sense, but I can't for the life of me see how I can sit on a book for six months without bursting. Especially the newnew one, because I am very, very excited about it.

So I'm going to have to mull that one over. There are no easy answers. Any smart ideas gratefully received...

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Books - A Journey

Look into the Future
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is all totally irrelevant to anyone, anywhere, ever, but I thought I'd take the chance to document some stuff now I've finished another book and have a little time before I can face editing it.

My first completed novel was a rather silly affair called Space, which I reckon I started back in 2001, but probably only really started in the spring of 2002. The oldest archive files I can find for the book only date back to 2003.

The oldest book files I have are actually a backup of an unfinished novel called Booze - those date back to September 2001, so I must have started Booze then put it to one side to work on the the less controversial Space.

When I'd finished Space and shopped it to agents, being rewarded with a remarkable tally of rejections (by the time I gave up, I had over a hundred), I started back on Booze, a rather scurrilous tale about a Kuwaiti buying a monastery that holds the recipe to an aqua vitae that tastes like angels' tears and is as addictive as crack cocaine. I began to get messages back from agents that said things like 'Humour doesn't sell dear boy' and so the work in progress that was Booze got shelved and, indeed, lies gathering dust even now.

I'll finish it one of these days, it was great fun. Let us remember that I still think Space is funny - it made me laugh enough, re-reading it after all these years, to put it up on Amazon for sale at a princely £0.99. Its first review on Amazon pointed out that " just isn't very funny."

So I wandered off and decided to write a serious book. The result, Olives - A Violent Romance, was originally written in September 2004, pre-dating - I always thought rather presciently - the 2005 Amman bombing by a year. However, the bombing in the original manuscript was a dream sequence.

The original MS starts...
The first day of my new life started out in the dark, dreary sodium wetness of Heathrow Airport and ended in a cell. Let’s just say things didn’t go according to plan. Now, months later and looking back to the start of my time in Jordan, I wonder that I stayed there at all. Part of me bitterly regrets not leaving the second I was released. But there’s a tiny glimmer of hope in me that won’t go away, although now I’ve run out of choices and the consequences of my actions are written in the wreckage around me. 
And was considerably improved by the large amounts of editing and rewriting that went on between then and 2011 when it was finally published. Most of these took place post-2007, when I discovered Harper Collins' Authonomy and met other writers who taught me how to write better books, principally Australian Italian novelist Phillippa Fioretti. Other than that, the whole Authonomy experience was, as I have documented extensively in earlier blog posts, pretty pants.

Beirut - An Explosive Thriller was started in Autumn 2009 after the 'reader' for an agent called Eve White, who had requested a 'full read' of Olives had finally responded that it was all 'A bit too low key' for them. I was in a fury. The book's crammed with spies and bombs and shit and it's too low key?

That was it. The final straw. I was going to write a mad book and it was going to be based in Beirut. The first versions of Olives had Paul moving to Beirut, looked after by Gerald Lynch (who at that time was called Nigel Soames, a character who nagged at me because he wasn't 'working'), who felt guilty at the way things had panned out for the feckless young journalist. Beirut just made all sorts of sense as a location. I chucked Prague, Hamburg, Spain, Malta and the Greek Islands into the soup mixture just to be sure.

Work on Beirut - An Explosive Thriller actually started with 'The Muezzin Cried', a short story I posted here on the blog, derived, as usual, from a dream memory.

By December 2009 I had realised I was actually going to have to go back to Beirut if I was going to pull this one off. I had been travelling there since the '90s, but hadn't been back in a few years. I needed to refresh my memories and impressions of that sexiest of Eastern Mediterranean cities.

At the time, I had been involved in running a social un-event for online people in Dubai called GeekFest. I called a friend in Lebanon, Alex Tohme, and asked her if she'd be up for running GeekFest Beirut? Of course, she was totally up for it. And so I had my ticket to Beirut sorted!

On the 6th February 2009 GeekFest Beirut took place and I spent a few halcyon days striding around the city often in the company of old friend and partner in crime Eman Hussein. Thanks to GeekFest, I had 'my' city in the 'can'. I went back again for ArabNet with colleague and friend Maha Mahdy, discovering Barometre in the process thanks to geek and blogger Roba Al Assi. And again for GeekFest 3.0. And again, and again. The gorgeous Paul Mouawad Museum, the model for Michel Freij's own private museum, I discovered for myself.

It was with Maha that I went in search of Shemlan, the village nestled high in the Chouf that was home to the 'British Spy School' MECAS - The Middle East Centre for Arab Studies. I was to go back time and again, with the lovely Micheline Hazou and then also with friends Eman and Sara Refai. This village and an inspirational gentleman called Barry were to combine in the person of one Jason Hartmoor, the anti-hero of Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy.

Work on Shemlan actually started back in 2011 but was postponed because I decided to self-publish Olives and that took 110% of my time, back in November 2011. Beirut followed in September 2012.

By early 2013 - having visited Estonia, the location of the book's finale - I restarted work on Shemlan and it went like a rocket. I raced to the mad, climactic and rather unusual end of the book, propelled by death metal and much musical mayhem. I sent it off to my agent and when he responded, weeks later, that he wasn't even going to try shopping it to publishers, I terminated our relationship.

Boy, did that feel good.

Shemlan was published on 1 November 2013. I didn't publish a book in 2014, I spent the year wrestling with A Simple Irish Farmer and quite a lot of existential self publishing angst. Olives and Beirut have sold quite well, but Shemlan - easily the best of the three books - was plagued by the fact I didn't do a UAE print run and was too exhausted by the whole farrago of promotion to actually get out there and market the thing. Shemlan has been terribly - and unfairly - neglected as a consequence.

Seriously. I can't even look at a book blog now. If I see the words, 'I love books and...' one more time, I'll burn the puppy. Big brown eyes or no big brown eyes...

I've written a screenplay for Olives since. I just don't know what to do with that, so it's in a desk drawer. It was fun to do!

So here I am, fifteen years into my journey as a writer of books. I have one more book now finished, being steadily rejected by a number of agents. That's taken, as I have documented earlier, a year to write. And I have another new book to edit now, which took about a month to write. If traditional publishing turns both books down, as I confidently predict they will, I shall self publish them in September this year (A Simple Irish Farmer) and March next year (the newnew book) to coincide with the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature.

And after that, I reckon, I'll be hanging up my literary shoes...

Friday, 22 May 2015

I Just Finished A New Book

Small Craft on a Milk Sea
Small Craft on a Milk Sea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It's a bit mad, but I've written another book. I finished it today. It's going to need some editing and tweaking and stuff yet; it's just a first draft, but it's done. 80,000 words of it. And it feels right.

Agents haven't finished rejecting A Simple Irish Farmer (almost certainly to be re-titled) yet and I haven't even had final feedback from beta readers preparatory to getting it edited and proofed, let alone published it. And I've gone and written another one!

It's been an amazing roller-coaster of a journey. As usual with my books, it all started with a dream, one I had years and years ago. And it ends with another dream, one which recurred for a while a few years back, enough to become an enduring memory. The two dreams became conflated in my mind a long time ago, I sort of knew this book was going to happen like this but ASIF sort of pushed in.

I've been blasting away for the last month, managing a good thousand words on most days, frequently more. Unusually for me, I took a good couple of weeks to outline the plot, pretty much chapter by chapter and scene by scene. That framework meant I was focused on making the writing work, setting and building the scenes more carefully rather than worrying about plot development. The plot still changed, of course, with scenes suggesting themselves and, in one case, two of my characters doing something I had most definitely not intended them to! I only turned my back for a second and they were at it like rabbits. But in general, the book follows the structure I had originally intended, with a few unplanned twists and curves and one major refocus of the plot later on because I was being lazy and that shows through when you write books.

I haven't written a book this quickly since Olives - A Violent Romance, which took four weeks. And this one won't take seven years of editing, I can tell you!

FWIW, Deadmau5 has been a major musical inspiration, with lots of Brian Eno and Harold Budd, perennial favourites Silence and Sigur Ros, a goodly dollop of David Holmes, some Nine Inch Nails and quite a lot of Professor Kliq, Rim Banna and a few slices of William Orbit.

And now, to celebrate, a visit to Bombay to celebrate its lovely Sapphire...

Tomorrow, it's edit time...