Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Not Posting


Wow. I'm mad busy with the day job like you wouldn't believe and yet I've got a Birdkill to edit in time to get copies over here for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on 1 March which might seem like a lifetime away but is, in fact, just over a month. When you're printing books with Createspace and shipping 'em, a month isn't very long. When you have to finish proofreading the book then format it for print, upload it - review and approve the page layout and then order a run of copies, a month is nothing.

And even this post is coming at the expense of editing time.

WH Smith has yet to place their order, which is the only thing stopping me from going mental right now. I'm trying to get the thing ready by the time they do. I'm doing school visits and the like, but right now I've got a work deadline that's massiver than massive Mick McMassive.

I can tell you that Birdkill's a huge departure in some ways, a logical development in others. I can tell you it's got me grinning from ear to ear. I can tell you at least one reader from the LitFest found the book left her feeling violated, which is pretty high praise, as it happens.

Editing it, with this pressure on, is probably the hardest thing I've ever undertaken in my great booky journey. Birdkill was written in six weeks in a huge pressure relief surge after the two years it took to squeeze out A Decent Bomber, and yet it's right. This edit's just a nit-picking exercise, yet I have to do it well which means giving it time, effort and focus.

Tempus bloody fugit, I can tell you...


Sunday, 3 January 2016

Content, Themes And The Dream Factory

English: View of the clouds below from the cabin
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I recall part of George Michael's original spat with Sony Music was triggered by his sense of deep outrage at their insistence on referring to his music, his creative output, as 'content'. Railing against what he considered to be this most egregious phrase, our George was clearly onto a loser from the get-go.

Never a great movie buff, I have not disgraced a cinema in many a year, I prefer to watch my films on EK on the basis that a) I wasn't doing anything else for those 120 minutes, just sitting in an aluminium tube five miles up in the stratosphere breathing the foetid air expelled by some 500-odd other carbon-based lifeforms b) it's not costing me Dhs35 c) I can switch off (if not walk out) any time I want. This arrangement suits me fine, given that 99% of the films on offer on Emirates' impressive ICE entertainment system are clearly total drivel. The other 1% turn out to be mostly drivel on viewing. This is not, I hasten to add, because Emirates offers anything other than the brightest, spangliest, newest films out there. Rather, I suspect, it is precisely because they do.

On the flight to Blighty last year, I watched Guy Ritchie's 'Man From UNCLE', which was a stylish, if obvious and stilted, pastiche. There were many visual treats on offer, some annoying split-frame sequences and a exhilarating lack of intelligence, plot, wit and dialogue. This didn't stop the film from being mildly entertaining, a little in the spirit of an indulgent uncle finding the clunky piano playing of a favourite niece entertaining. I must hasten to add that I do not have a piano playing niece. Drums, yes, but the ivories have so far been thankfully untinkled.

I also watched 'Bridge of Spies', a Spielberg classic in which Tom Hanks plays Tom Hanks brilliantly. Mark Rylance puts in a wonderfully understated performance as Scottish-accented Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. There are some obvious bits that make you writhe in your expensive seat and threaten to upset your tray-table, but otherwise the film is a fine entertainment that underscores the obvious fact that our system was so much better than their system and we should Be Thankful For Our Great Democracy and the values we represent which are so much more fundamentally good than the other side's. It takes, of course, Tom Hanks' great humanity to bring this point home because our guys in authority insist on behaving in the same way as their guys  in authority. But I cavil - the film is well worth watching.

On the flight back I was horrified to find, despite it being not only a new month but a new year, the film selection hadn't changed. Having watched the only two films in the whole 70 million item catalogue that didn't look woeful, I was reduced to the prospect of spending eight hours staring at seat back, talking to my wife or something even more terrible. The comedy channel on ICE, incidentally, features no comedy whatsoever unless you are a protozoic life form whose brain has been replaced by expanding foam and who considers the very zenith of humour to be 'Family Guy'. And there's no 'Top Gear', of course. Damn. Not, you understand, that I consider Top Gear to be the best thing since sliced Hovis. It just gives gentlemen of my age hope that they could become rich and famous even this late in the game.

Reduced to sheer desperation, I watched 'Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials'. It might not be called this, but I can't be bothered to Google the title. I'm probably better off not wasting your time in describing the film much at all, really, other than to note that it's utterly shite on every level. There's a great deal of running around, peppered by people shouting 'Come on' and 'Hurry' frequently. There are swathes of rubbishy CGI victims of a virus who have been turned into zombies who screech and vomit black ink for some reason. The love interest looks like an anthropomorphic egg with a wig on and the baddies are called WICKED in case you didn't know they were really bad. I made it through to the end and sat back feeling guilty and abused, a little like that feeling you get when you've eaten a Big Mac.

I tried to watch Mr Holmes, which is about Sherlock Holmes as an old person. He's played by Ian McKellen, who looks a lot like a benign alcoholic tortoise with a very big nose. He's got dementia, which was last years' Great Theme for the entertainment industry. If you'd written a book back then about someone who can't remember things and thinks family members are there when they're not, you'd be quids in, mate. The film starts with a small boy mistaking a wasp for a bee, much to McKellen's dislike as Retired Holmes is, we find out quickly, a bee-keeper. I got to the third episode of forgetfulness and switched off, trying not to feel self-importantly angry because my father died of dementia and I didn't like to see it trivialised. I failed in this.

I also tried to watch 'Mad Max: Fury Road', which didn't go so well. I'm embarrassed to tell you I watched the original Mad Max as a teenager and loved it. It was the film wot launched Mel Gibson's career, a low-budget Australian sci-fi effort which went what I suppose we'd call viral today. Looking back at the original, it's amazing how much impact it had at the time, because it's incredibly clunky and low-key. But I recall how mad and, well, just 'out there' it was. The sequel was equally brilliant, adding a huge amount of pizzaz to the dystopian style of the original. By the time Tina Turna pitched, I'd fallen off the bus: style had eclipsed content and the whole point about the original Mad Max is it was a brilliantly and stylishly told story of brutality and revenge, not just a collection of shinies trotted out like a dumb game show's glittering prizes.

Fury Road isn't even that. It's just lazy, woeful pants. The trouble is, for a work of imagination ('content') to turn into something wonderful, it needs to be anchored in reason. Even dystopia needs reason - the trick, ask William Gibson, is to warp the reason and build tottering towers of suspended disbelief on that twisted logic. There was no reason on offer in this film, just a lazy freak show that reminded me more of Duffo than Gibson's vengeful cop. I got as far as the flying car with four drummers on the back and a CGI bloke playing a flame-shooting flying V on the front bumper before switching off. I was amazed, in retrospect, at my staying power.

I tried not to let myself be plunged into black depression. Looking out at the dawning sun over the dark cloud, I was in awe. So this is the best the Dream Factory can conjure up? The greatest stories mankind can tell itself? It likely is. It's probably my fault. I'm clearly out of step with everyone else.

Thank God for the Kindle. That's all I can say...

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Goodbye

Let's Say Goodbye Like We Said Hello
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We head hunted him, back in the '80s, either from Alain Charles Publishing or from Middle East Comms magazine. I can't remember which. He was hugely talented and just too happy to be an easy catch. You always look for discontentment when you're poaching people and Dominic appeared far from discontented. Ace ad salesman by day, jazz singer by night. He loved gigging, had a huge voice made for belting out those big Rat Pack numbers. We plotted his acquisition and by chance came across a terrible weakness for BMWs. One red 5 series later and the boy was ours, the new ad manager for Arabian Computer News and Communications Midde East Africa magazines. God help me, but I was his publisher.

Dominic De Souza closed a sale like nobody else I knew, he had a killer instinct for it. One minute you'd be arguing with a marketing manager about why a 6 series of DPSs was the way to go, the next SLAM the guy was signing the order, his eyes all glassy and Dom holding the form straight for him, a manic crocodile grin plastered all over that big face. On our first trip to Saudi together, for some reason best know to himself, he insisted on telling everyone he was Brazilian, although he was brought up in Africa to Goan merchant parents.

When he was a kid in Kenya, some other kids tried to steal his prize kazoo. Dominic rubbed a red chilli on the mouthpiece and let them take it. He had that side to him, had a real mean streak if he thought he was being treated unfairly. And he could be pretty vengeful. Goaded on by his amour at the time, he abandoned his quiet wee wife for an affair with his ad sales exec, he took to demanding raises and more status. He got into the habit of bursting into the office and flinging his BMW keys down in dramatic mock resignations. And then one day, the keys got quietly accepted. He didn't know what to do. It was one of those 'You're not serious' moments. Oh, yes, we are.

I suppose legal reasons would prevent telling the whole sorry tale, but he set up in competition to us and we sued him for stealing our database. It got fairly messy, house arrests in Dubai and the like ensued. Much acrimony followed, quite a lot of recrimination and a lot of rumour and larceny. Out of all this, he founded Dubai based publishing company Corporate Publishing International or CPI as it came to be known. Years later I ran into him late at night and alone, beleaguered and somewhat the worse for wear outside The Lodge (remember the Lodge, folks?), where the bouncer wouldn't let him in because he 'wasn't a member' which translated to 'looked Indian'. It was a ticketed event and I had a spare, which I gave him. The bouncer tore it up in his face and told him to sling his hook in demotic Anglo Saxon. He was like a lost puppy and in that sad, lonely moment, we buried the hatchet.

He used to call Sarah 'Sazzypops'. He laughed like rolling thunder and sang like an angel. He was always running away from himself, launching new escapades and eating life up like a great big life eating thing. The energy was exhausting, his big hands constantly embracing madcap schemes and rescuing lost causes. He never turned his back on someone in need, having been alienated and marginalised himself. He fell in love with Marmosets and suddenly his house, life and conversation were packed with monkeys of every shade and size. His flamboyance was legendary, from a taste in 'purple' suits to announcing to Reuters that he was going to launch a magazine about  dead celebrities called 'Goodbye'. They ran with the story. No sense of humour, journalists.

Latterly, he fell prone to a dicky heart. Last night he was singing at the BBC Good Food Awards and keeled over on stage. Today, he's gone.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

The Liberty Bus

English: Desert in Dubai
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You know when a day goes to complete ratshit? When you had plans and they gang aft agley? It was that sort of day last Thursday. Scheduled to be in Warqa for festive nibbles with pals, I'm still in the office at six with a drive to Ajman and back ahead of me and every road in Dubai is crimson on Google Maps. The MBZ is just awful, blocked up south of Mirdif.

And so, desperate, I set off to find The Last Snicket, the tiny gap out by the RTA depot in the desert beyond Mizhar that breaches the insane wall of concrete lumps that very transport authority has constructed in the sands that border two parts of the same country.

I don't know what I was thinking. I mean, if I'd sat out the MBZ mess, I'd have been through in 30 minutes. But something in me, the spirit that sets salmon carving their way across the world's oceans to seek a nice, Scottish river to die in, craved freedom. Driving along the sandy track by the barrier in the darkness, I started to doubt myself. Was this really the smart thing to do? Of course it was, I was moving, wasn't I?

The little gap was closed. They've been plugging gaps opening in their barrier daily. And they've gone further out into the remote desert than ever before. You know that feeling when you just have to keep going around the next corner in the wadi to see what's there? Yep, that. I carry on up sandy hill and down bosky dell, finding gap after gap has been plugged with the ground all around churned up by the tractors they've used to pile up great walls of sand to reinforce their barrier. Until I get to The Last Snicket, literally a few hundred yards from the Emirates Road, the E611, in the deep, deep desert.

They've even blocked that, something I discover as I hurl the car over the piles they've made in their blocking frenzy, the Pajero bucking on the rough, soft sand and then lurching down a steep slope into a deep, pitch black bowl. That's when The Fear hit me, the nasty tingle you get when you know something really, really bad's about to happen and you're powerless to stop it. There are two ways out of the bowl, a long slope that appears to have no ending in the darkness and a steep boggy little track out to the right, all churned up and deeply rutted soft sand. I can see very little because my lights are pointed downwards as I slip down the slope. I'm going too slowly, slam my foot down on the throttle and go for the boggy sand, knowing in my heart of hearts I don't have enough speed. Sure enough, half-way up, I dig in and grind to a halt. I reverse to try and regain some momentum to get back up the steep incline I've come down, but it's useless. I stick right there in the cusp of the bowl in the desert blackness.

I say some rude things and then abandon ship. It's too late, too remote and too dark to do anything else. I clamber up the soft dunes and strike out towards the bright lights of the labour camp that sits between the RTA depot and the snaking lights of the 611. Shoes filled with sand, I realise what a spectacle I present when labourers stop to gape at me - a man has walked out of the inky darkness of the desert wearing a blue suit and carrying a laptop bag. I do what any decent Englishman would do and wave, bidding them a cheery 'Good evening'.

I find a gentleman wearing a 'security' uniform. 'Good evening,' I smile. 'Is there any chance I could get a taxi from here?'

He is speechless, but the chap next to him has more presence of mind. 'Where going?' He asks. 'To Sharjah,' I tell him. He grabs my arm and propels me to a nearby bus full of labourers. 'Sharjah, Sharjah, one way!' he shouts at the driver. A jockey seat is put down and patted by a chap in tatty blue overalls. 'Majlis!' he calls out above the coughing engine noise, a broken-toothed grin welcoming me into the fuggy interior. And we set off, some thirty labourers on their way to enjoy a wander around Rolla and me in my blue suit, poker straight and somewhat bewildered, if the truth be told.

We drive up through a track in the darkness, finally breaking out onto the road by the RTA depot and then through Mizhar and Muhaisna. The chaps are nattering away, cheerful and buoyed by the coming weekend. Their chatter is a constant tide of shouts, laughter and tubercular coughing set against the rise and fall of the clanking engine. We hit bad traffic and a moan goes up from the bus, 'Sonapour, Sonapour,' they tut and sigh. It's as if there's nothing good ever to be got from Sonapour, the source of the traffic snarl-up.

They let me off at National Paints and I bid them a cheery, and genuinely thankful, farewell and get a taxi. The taxi driver has clearly never seen a man in a suit get off a labour bus before and it takes me a while before I can get him to listen to where I want to go.

For what it's worth, I eventually made it back down to Warqa only half an hour late.

The next day I went back in the company of pal Derek to see how we could possibly unstick the Paj. It was pretty hopeless, but some tyre letting down and tugging later, we managed to extricate ourselves both from the bowl. And then, because we could, we pootled over the blocked snicket and home to Sharjah.

It's safe to say, though, that my snicketing days are now over. I enjoyed the new experience of the Liberty Bus but honestly don't fancy making a habit of it...

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Reviewing A Decent Bomber

Bomber (album)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Quick post, just to share that 'Talking of Books' radio show from last week...


They quite liked A Decent Bomber, which is nice. Because of Paris and events around it, they reached the perfectly understandable decision not to refer to terrorism or fundamentalism in the programme in an attempt to be sensitive to events taking place in Europe. This left them with the interesting task of reviewing a book about a former terrorist who used to make bombs for a terrorist organisation who is coerced into resuming his old trade by a bunch of Somali and Arab terrorists. Without using the 'T' word...

Have a listen, it's quite fun...

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Talking Of Books Reviews A Decent Bomber

Lopez speaking! Vincent Lopez at radio microph...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In a little under half an hour, Dubai Eye Radio's 'Talking of Books' program will review A Decent Bomber. Half an hour after that, they'll be interviewing me about the book.

I can't pretend I'm not a little nervous. For a start, this isn't really a great time to be talking about terrorism in your novel. But beyond that, it's a very public grilling for the book. Will they love it? Hate it? Be 'meh'?

I can't get a thing done. I'm just marking time. *sigh*

Time. Ulp. Listening in. Here we go. Oh golly, they liked it...

A book of real quality. Sensitively drawn characters. A book of real style and you find yourself experiencing, smelling Ireland. This is tangibly plausible. I love the complexity of the character of Pat. What I liked particularly about the book was that the plot never stopped to explain characters, the dialogue and plot carry their development. The dialogue is very natural, he has a very fine ear, McNabb. It was real and honest, the dialogue was true to the characters. They're frightening, the characters. It's a white-knuckle ride and a real page-turner.

This isn't a light book. It's a line-up of misery and pain. There's no plot humour, but the dialogue has lovely touches of gentle irony, very Irish humour. This is an extremely good book, more than a thriller, you could draw parallels with Le Carré.

Clearly a book to buy, people... :)

The interview was fun. They didn't like Boyle and Mary's shenanigans and I explained I wasn't so happy myself, two of my characters just ran away and did stuff they weren't supposed to.

Did I pick the name Pat O'Carolan for a reason? As it happens, yes, the troubador was a knowing reference and Pat was Sarah's Uncle Pat, whose wee farm up in Cummermore started the whole scheme going. Orla wasn't supposed to have the romantic involvements she ended up with, either.

How come conventional publishing hadn't picked me up? Dunno, these days don't really care that much either. I explained how Shemlan, my last book, had been about a man dying of cancer whose life is revealed to have been utterly pointless to him, about how I'm cruel to my characters. And about how that - or a book about an ex-IRA man - might not gel with what a risk-averse publisher's idea of a self-marketing book was.

Why thrillers, there are elements of literary fiction in here? That was nice of them to say, but I like to think I write a smart thriller. thrillers are fun, although Birdkill - my next book - is a little more complicated on a psychological level and perhaps a little more screwed up generally.

I told about how my developmental editor/reader for Beirut had told me to put more 'gunplay' into the book and how I regret having taken that advice, now preferring to rebel rather than produce formulaic books that are 'on genre'. They liked the interplay between Driscoll and MacNamara, the politicians in A Decent Bomber who are trying to pretend this stuff isn't happening. I confessed I had enjoyed playing with the idea that they are conflicting with the PSNI where before they had fought the RUC, but this time they were denying themselves rather than last time when they had been asserting themselves.

It's amazing how quickly half an hour can pass when you're talking about your books, but pass it did. I'll post the podcast when it comes around. So far I've sold a tad over sixty books in all. We're hardly troubling the NYT list here, people...

Monday, 16 November 2015

End Of Snickets

A view of the desert landscape on the outskirt...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My first short-cut into Dubai from Sharjah was a wee desert track which ran through low dunes and camel camps, snaking its way down into the outskirts of the big city behind the Dubai abbatoir. These days it's called Beirut Street.

My second was a little further out, again a desert track and a fun drive each morning and night, a little dune bash to settle the mind. I've long said, if I had to sit on the Ittihad Road and that jostling, snarling line of cars I couldn't live in Sharjah. But I never have, so we've continued to embrace the joys of the Cultured Emirate. Time and progress eclipsed my second snicket, which is called the Mohammed bin Zayed Road now.

A few years ago, my current snicket was blocked by faceless forces. Well, Dubai's RTA. A running battle developed between JCBs laying an insane barrier of concrete blocks across the desert dividing Dubai and Sharjah. The Orcs were clearly intent on forcing the little band of 4WDs, who daily bumped their way over the short sandy stretch, onto the roads. For a time, to my great amusement, cars would dart around the lumbering yellow earth-movers, blocks would be pulled aside when the baddies weren't looking and we'd continue our merry way across the snicket. This went on for a while and The Man clearly gave up and left us to it.

Quite right.

But, of course, we always find a way to ruin things and word started to leak out about the snicket which slowly developed from a couple of holes in the barrier to great multi-laned super-snickets. We obviously reached Peak Snicket, because the other day, someone in authority clearly decided enough was enough. The JCBs came back in force, great fresh concrete barriers laid right the way along the border, earth-movers piled up huge sandy berms and the forces of Mordor kept at it relentlessly, quickly repairing any breaches that would appear. Their work is complete. The whole thing is now functionally impassable.

That's it. End of snicket.

And so this morning we went to school on the 611, the Emirates Road. It's a nasty, aggressive little high speed drive, the road at times seeming close to capacity and clogging slightly but it moved freely for the most part.

I was highly amused to find it took about the same time to get there as going across the snicket...

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Expat Woman Festive Fair Live Blog

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Selling books at the ExpatWoman Festive Family Fair along with winsome authorettes Rachel Hamilton and Annabel Kantaria today. Signing them, too, because people like their books signed. I've never been able to work out why, but always perfectly happy to comply!!!

I'm live blogging the day. Well, why not?

08.30
Coffee. Decided to sell my small stock of shop soiled Olives first editions, so have knocked up a quick sign to that effect. Running late now. Microsoft hates me. Light clothes, expecting a hot day. Shouldn't really be posting this, tempus fugits. Books are heavy.

10.00
We're set up. Things are looking good. Hot, but good. Classical music, polo club. It's all rather a posh way to sell books. Hamilton is already causing trouble and having fights with Annabel. We've got two tables to fill with books and the girls are embarking on spirited land grabs on each others' space. Hamilton has brought a cuddly Santa in a cynical bid to capitalise on Yuletide good feeling. People have started circulating. We're off!

2.03
It's busy here! We've been happily flogging books. Gotta go, someone's looking at me covers!

2.45
Hamilton is, as usual, shifting great tottering piles of books in the direction of small children with glazed over eyes who push money at her in their thousands. Grinning, cackling and bouncing around like a madly animated marionette, she's pushing money into her Tardis-like cash tin faster than the mint can mint it. It's awful to watch. I hate her.

3.05
It's calmed down generally. Beirut's been selling well, A Decent Bomber has flown, which is nice. Annabel and Hamilton are cramming chips into their faces. Annabel has been steadily selling, wondering why she's here flogging books  and not her publisher. People ask funny questions. A small boy wanted to know how many words are in my books. He was wonderfully wide-eyed at the answers. The crowd tends to ebb and flow and quiet periods suddenly become quite manic. I love the sound of books being sold. I wish I had a 'kerching' sound on my wee cash box.

4.00
Consensus. The people are no longer buying. Time to pack up and slink off. Hamilton has a skateboard on a rope to use as a trolley. The day ends with her walking her books off to the car.

Annabel and I have agreed the psychological effect of small children stopping, going all glazed-looking and then being drawn inexorably to colourful books about poo and brains will now be called 'The Hamilton Effect'.

At one point Hamilton wandered off to have a look around the other stalls and a small child popped up and started looking at her books. I swear to God, she came from nowhere, just appeared and embraced the child, leaching it of its money. She reminded us of the child snatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The live blog thing didn't really work. Every time I whipped out the laptop, someone pitched up and started looking at my books and I had to cut and go sell a book.

A nice day, in all. It amazes me how hard you have to work to sell a book sometimes. And how much selling work the blurb on the back does...

Monday, 9 November 2015

A Decent Festive Family Fair


Yo ho ho! It's that time of year again. Deranged writer of childrens' books Rachel Hamilton and I shared a table at last year's Family Fair and we had a lot of fun and sold some books. Well, I sold some books, Rachel pushed hers like narcotics at eager-eyed children who, bless them, knew no better. Honestly, it's awful to watch the way she dances and coos around them as she steals up to whip the money out of those damp little hands.

This year, we're being joined by sensible author Annabel Kantaria, who will hopefully curb the worst excesses of Hamilton's unstable and mercurial personality. Annabel is the author of psychological thriller Coming Home, dubbed by Judy Finnegan as 'An utterly compelling story of loss and betrayal.'

So we've got Rachel and her books for kids, Annabel and her book for mum and me with my big boy's toys. A proper little family offering we make. All down at the Arabian Ranches Polo Club...

I've got copies of A Decent Bomber, natch. And I have Olives with its new cover as well as Beirut. I forgot to order copies of the new, unexpurgated Shemlan on time, but hopefully they'll make it before the weekend. All, of course, the ideal Christmas present for that loved one or, depending on your view of my books, your worst enemy.

See you there!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

A Decent Bomber And Terrifying Terrorists...

This is nice. Produced by vendor to the US military Albert's Gifts, it's a roll of toilet paper inviting you 
to wipe your arse on Osama Bin Laden. I have another with Saddam on it. 
Because America is better than the bad guys, right?

Róisín handed the joint to Orla, who shook her head. ‘No thanks. Not my thing.’ She waved her glass. ‘Are you a student too?’
‘Sure, I am.’
‘What you studying?’
‘Terrorists. You?’
Orla searched Róisín’s face, but it was without guile. ‘Animal husbandry. How do you mean, terrorists?’
‘Just that. Terror studies.’
‘You’re kidding me. That’s a course?’
Róisín laughed, shaking her head. ‘What’s so odd about it? You look like someone just slapped your arse.’
‘I suppose it seems strange that someone would want to… well, that. Oh, I don’t know. Don’t we see enough about them every day?’
‘This nation was founded on terrorism. If it wasn’t for Michael Collins, Dan Breen and the likes of them there’d be no Ireland. We’d still be a British colony.’
‘Ah, come on. That’s ancient history.’
The spark at the end of the reefer stabbed at Orla, the features behind its glow knit in fury. ‘The fuck it is. What’s a freedom fighter? What’s an insurgent? What’s a terrorist? That’s what I want to know. We let ourselves be governed by old men who tell us what’s good for us and what we need and the second we question it we’re hauled off to face their idea of justice. You know what democracy is? Say you what you like, do what you’re told. And we slap the label of terrorist on anyone who happens not to agree with us and doesn’t conform to the restrictions we impose on them.’
‘Jesus. You’re best off studying anarchy studies, you.’
Róisín’s angry expression softened and she flicked the butt of her joint over the fence, a spinning ember flying through the cold darkness. ‘Fuck it. Let’s get a drink.’

Eman Hussein is a friend of mine. We used to work together. She has been with me in some of the key moments of my booky journey, from long lunches at Shemlan's Al Sakhra restaurant to meandering walks through Beirut and Amman, strange encounters in the night-time heart of Aleppo's Al Madina souk and liquorice-strong coffees at Uncle Deek's. She's Palestinian, passionately so. It's because of her that Olives has that quote from Mahmoud Darwish in it, "If the Olive Trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears."

Many, many years ago a colleague left - for some mad reason - a toy gun lying around in the office. And - for some mad reason - I thought it was really funny to grab said gun, jab it in Eman's face and scream 'Remember the Achille Lauro, Palestinian bitch?'

She looked at me calmly up the barrel of a plastic pistol, all serious brown eyes. And she said, 'Alexander. You will never work in UK again. Trust me in this.'

Recently she's started using the 'Your knife is freedom' logo as her Twitter AV. This is a grass roots reaction supporting the recent stabbings of Israeli settlers by Palestinians. I thought it might be interesting to get her idea about terrorism and what it means to her. Given the focus on the whole retired terrorist vs terrifying terrorist theme in A Decent Bomber...




How would you define terrorism? 
Terrorism is the act of inflicting a constant state of terror/fear among a certain group of people.

Do you think terror - or let's say violent forms of legitimate resistance - works? 
It works to a certain degree. History tells us that terror makes you heard but not necessarily accepted. When the Palestinian Front of Liberation Organisation (PFLO) started hijacking flights, it made the world listen, but not care for the “cause”. And that’s what we missed back then, we did not know that gaining public opinion is a game changer while the Israelis knew that early on.

You've adopted the 'your knife is freedom' logo. Would you do it? 
If I am living in constant oppression, denied basic human rights, watching my land stolen, and seeing that there’s no future for the young generation of my country, I would carve my way to liberation with a knife, yes.

Do you think that the campaign has improved the image of Palestinians internationally? 
Luckily, the world has become more aware, at the same time Palestinians have become more media savvy. I haven’t gauged international public opinion regarding the “knife intifada” but I haven’t seen strong opposition from world wide public figures, especially that the Israeli settlers haven’t mastered the “Victim” game yet.

If you protest peacefully, you're not heard. If you throw stones, you're shot. What is the way forwards? Is there one, or is the danger of a new intifada purely because of this frustration? 
The solution is in a balanced approach: Sit on the table to negotiate peace, but keep your fists clenched tight on that stone/knife. One person could master that, Abou Ammar - Yasser Arafat.

Why did the IRA get peace and the PLO didn't? 
Don’t know.

What can people elsewhere do to help the Palestinians? Is it as simple as BDS? 
BDS is not a simple movement. I strongly believe in it. It is the optimum of all soft power coming together to form a strong force. It speaks volumes about the illegal existence of Israel and raises awareness among young people worldwide, especially through cultural boycott, about the atrocities of Zionism.