Friday, 27 March 2015

FREE BOOK BONANZA!!!


BOOKS? FREE?
YES! FREE BOOKS!
WHERE? RIGHT HERE! ISN'T IT AMAZING?
WOW! WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO?

The Dubai Radio ad scriptwriters would have a field day. Free books. What more could you want?

Here's a brilliant scheme which allows you to get Olives - A Violent Romance, Beirut - An Explosive Thriller AND Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy ALL FOR FREE.

It's thanks to Amazon's pretty cool 'Matchbook' promotion.

You just go to Amazon and buy one of these super books as a paperback gift for a deserving UK-based relative or friend. Go on, you know they could do with a wee surprise from you to show your appreciation/love/dedication. I've even included the links for your listening pleasure:




You'll actually save £2.68 on the cover price of Shemlan 'cos Amazon has, as they do occasionally, decided to take a haircut and is offering a discount on the book!

All three could be delivered anywhere in the UK free of charge if you a) buy something else to take the total over £10 or b) agree to a free trial of Amazon's Prime service.

You can, of course, swap the .co.uk in the URL for .com to buy for anyone in the States, or .de for Germany or .fr for France etc etc.

Amazon will then offer you a Kindle version of the book for FREE. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Maafi.

And there we go - three free books!

Don't forget (altogether, now) no refunds!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Novels, Dreams, Stuff, Books, Things.

English: Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When I started work on Beirut - An Explosive Thriller way back in November 2009, I posted this here lump of semi-prose on da blog. It was the dream/half-thought that was to lead to the book's creation, along with another nocturnal shade, a morning time dream-memory of a man being propositioned by a peroxide cropped-haired girl in the cold German winter night and brushing her off. These things coalesced over time and became the book that is the book it is.

Olives - A Violent Romance was also conceived from a dream-memory. I woke with a book in my head after sleeping to George Winston's February Sea - a track that made me think of a girl dancing in the rain, a scene that is actually physically and literally at the very centre of the book today.

And Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy started with a dream, too - although the dream sequence itself didn't make it into the final book: Shemlan opens with Jason Hartmoor wakening in a sweat after a nightmare.

I've, literally, dreamed my novels. If I've been stuck with a book's progression, I've taken the problem to bed with me and more often than not woken up with the solution - if not clear in my mind, somehow easier with me as I've tackled it the next day.

I love the story of the bloke who invented the sewing machine. Having wrestled with the problem to no avail, he woke up one morning having dreamed of being chased by pygmy head-hunters brandishing spears with a hole in their tips. Eureka!

I think dreams are our way of managing experience and input, a sort of file management routine that lets us sort our most recent experience and weigh it against our remembered relationships, a way of learning that prioritises and balances our memory, learning and experience. We discard the unimportant, re-calculate our understandings and problem solve our issues. We re-balance, based on the inputs from the day that was. I truly believe my subconscious helps me build books.

I might, clearly, just be a total loony.

Many, many years ago I woke with the below in my head. I shared it with my girlfriend at the time, who lived in Sharjah while I lived in Northampton, in the UK. She's my wife now (Oh dear, that was rather League of Gentlemen, wasn't it?). It's probably my first attempt at writing, although the very idea of writing books hadn't occurred to me at the time. The short story I dashed down while the memory was still clear in my head all those years back has queued patiently to take its turn, but now it is my main focus. This is the core of my new book and I can't stop working on it. I've started writing again, having just finished The Simple Irish Farmer or whatever it'll be called.

I swear to God, it's a disease - an addiction...

______________________________________________________________________

Martin

Ashridge was a welcome contrast from the grey oppression of the city. After only a week living by the forest I had recovered my interest in life and work. The only source of worry in my delight with these freshened circumstances was that Mariam hadn't been able to get away from the city to come up and see me yet.

The city! A memorable misery; three years of making do and being alone amongst millions. Spending my working days in an antiseptic environment, preferable to the dirt, smoke and rush of the morning and evening commute. Even the small bedsit I had managed to find was little comfort as a haven, depressing every sensibility with its Victorian plumbing and Edwardian wallpaper. The ageing shabbiness came with a very modern price tag. London evenings were just a gap to fill between work, food and bed.

Even then, late at night, the city intruded. I had grown used to traffic rumbling through my short time of clear reflection before sleep, too used to faces that had no time, no concern for anything other than their own secret miseries. Now, here in the country, I found light, laughter, sharp air and the heady scents of wet leaves and fresh grass. At night I sat by my own handiwork, a wood fire that filled the living room of the little house with warmth and the hint of pine in its smoke.

Before I went to work at the Institute each day, the cold morning light would find me padding with a little thrill across the rough flagstones of the hall with the makings of the fire to prepare for my homecoming. Scrunched paper, criss-crossed twigs, then a couple of larger cuts laid down ready to take to flame on my return in the chill night. A lifetime away from igniting the Bakelite gas fire that brought warmth to that dingy London flat.

Of course the dog took to his new life immediately, not a moment’s hesitation there as he pounded down the woodland paths each day. Even buying a dog had been a trial in London, the pet shop filled with animal screeches and the sight of puppies scrabbling for space in tiny cages forming a background to the spectacle of the owner in her shabby pink dress and painted face.

Her voice rasped with fags and an awful confiding leer in every vowel. ‘You can't keep a big dog like this in a flat, you know.’ She coughed at me. ‘They grow up hellish fast.’

But I wasn’t buying year-old Bill for a flat. I was buying him to move into the great outdoors and now the patter of his claws on the flagstones peppered the silences, barking as he rushed to meet me every evening, Bill The Happy Labrador. I delighted in the contrast: cold screens and air conditioned clean rooms by day, a red glow and glass of scotch at night. After five days in the country, the hammering in my head receded and my new employer had commented on the brilliance of his find. 

This was my first weekend at Ashridge, and I wasted no time in pulling the collar and lead off the coat hook (with the usual attendant barking and skittering) and sallying forth on a long Saturday walk. Bill pulled and my feet scrunched on the wet gravel path, clouds of breath in the bright morning air. Soon we were away from the road, and I let Bill off and stooped as he bounded away chasing ghosts in the undergrowth. The woods took us both in, the dog and I, and we meandered for over an hour together through the pathways, Bill racing in great, curving arcs through the heather, returning to tease me with his big, brown laughing eyes.

I heard the children laughing a long time before I saw the green light of open field through the woodland. Bill was off nosing through the undergrowth again, muddling through the heather and snuffling excitedly at the day-old scent of pheasant. Labradors, I have found, are the world's greatest optimists, becoming so ecstatic at the prospect of game that they rush off making the most awful racket, never seeming to mind that every animal for a mile around has instantly gone to ground. Making enough noise for six humans, poor old Bill would never catch even the most stupid pheasant. And believe me, pheasants are off the dial stupid.

Nevertheless, he was delighted to be pushing through the bracken, and I was happy enough walking the dark leaf mould and listening to the far-off tinkle of children’s laughter. It must have come a good ten minutes after I had first heard them, the red flash of a tiny figure running past the opening into a field. Bill re-joined me on the path, soil on his muzzle, and leaves on his back. I dropped my cigarette, careful to heel a hole and bury the smoking mottled orange stub in a shallow grave of wet leaves.

I will never know why I didn't just walk straight onto the common. It was the first time I had walked that path, although I had strolled in the vast woodland several times during my short stay in the area. I’d normally have carried on through onto the common, and into the next patch of trees visible past the gentle rise of the otherwise flat grassland. But I stood just inside the shaded boundary of the wood and watched the source of the laughter, six children playing by the other edge of the common, some two hundred yards distant. Four were boys, about eleven years of age. The two girls were distinguishable only because they had longer hair, all six dressed in jumpers and jeans. They were capering around one of the boys, the smallest, who was standing stock still, and looking towards the top of the trees bordering the third side of the grassland.

The girl in the red jumper seemed to be leading the whooping dance around the small, expectant figure. The boy, still fixing his gaze on the treetops, reached down, and touched the tip of a small brown pile with his index figure. As he straightened, Bill pushed against my leg and, in my annoyance at the dog for breaking the spell of my voyeurism, I almost missed the boy reach out his arm to the sky. Red jumper faltered, and fell to the grass, screaming. As the dancers stopped, and the girl on the ground kicked, a bird flew to the small boy, perching on his beckoning index finger. Quick as lighting, he grasped the bird with his other hand, and twisted its neck. I heard the faint, high pitched crack.

Again he reached upwards, and again a sparrow alighted, only to drop to the pile of dead birds. Red jumper screamed again as a third bird came to its caller and fell to the pile. A fourth. A fifth. The dancers had come close now, and were holding hands as a sixth bird died. Red jumper was silent as the pile grew, she staggered to her feet and joined the dancers but I could see her pallor, even from that distance. My senses returned and I blundered through the undergrowth towards the group of children to stop this wrongness. Something clamped onto my mind and I slammed against the trunk of a tree, grasping it like a long lost friend.

The boy had turned, and stood with his hand stretched out to me. Doubt and foreboding filled me as his beckoning filled my vision and the urge to go to him, to give my life up to him, hammered at me. I looked down to avoid that intense stare. Bile rose in my throat. Green stains were slashed across my chest from the lichen on the tree-trunk. My impelled legs were heavy, not mine to command. I fought, my arms clutching at the rough bark, my body compulsively jerking forward. An age of battling the urge to run to him and be consumed before a girl's scream broke the spell. ‘Martin!’

It shed the urge like the lifting of stone weights pressing the life from me. The desire to be another sparrow evaporated as the boy turned and fled with the others into the far woodland. I slid down the trunk, spent, its roughness scraping my back. I sat in the wet leaves, tears running down my cheeks and bewildered Bill licking at my face.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Pink Caravan: Riding For Courage.


The Pink Caravan initiative has been going for the past five years in the UAE, a drive to raise awareness of breast cancer early detection and screening and to raise funds to buy an advanced mobile mammography unit to serve the United Arab Emirates. This unit, the 'Carevan', has screened almost 30,000 men and women (men can get breast cancer too) and detected 21 malignancies in women and one in a man since the programme started.

There's a whole cultural angle to breast cancer and its screening here, of course. But the women of the UAE are rallying together and some remarkable work is being done here at a grassroots level to bring women across the country around to the idea that regular screening is a good idea. A couple of years ago, Ajman turned its speed bumps pink to raise awareness. Hang on, in the 'conservative' UAE, we're making pink bump gags to get the point across? Yes, we are.

As anyone who remembers the days of GeekFest will know, I'm a massive fan of communities and online activism for good - and Pink Caravan is both of these things in spades.

Side note/ramble: now a long time dead, GeekFest was a regional social event for online people I was involved with - I was reminded sharply of it over the past couple of days as names I knew from the events we held back then started popping up around the audience of the Arab Social Media Influencers' Summit event in Dubai wot I have bin attending. Much nostalgia followed. Funny how in the Internet age, a couple of years is 'the good old days', isn't it?

Anyway. Pink Caravan. Each year, a group of some 250 horse riders takes to the roads and tracks of the seven emirates, joined by 200 volunteers and ambassadors, well-wishers and supporters. The ride has visited over 80 schools, travelling some 1,000 kilometres around the UAE in its quest to help build awareness, detect and eliminate this deadly disease. They call it 'Riding For Courage'.

From March 16th to the finale on the 25th in Abu Dhabi, the riders will do their thing. They left from Sharjah through Dhaid to Masafi and ended up in Khor Fakkan today, via Fujeirah.

Tomorrow, the 19th March, you'll find them in Ras Al Khaimah, starting at HCT Women's college at 9am and finishing at the Cove Rotana in the evening. The 20th (Friday) will see them riding in Umm Al Quwain and ending up at the Ajman Kempinski at 5.30pm - I'll see you there, it's my 'manor' and I wouldn't miss 250 riders with pink tack for the world!

Saturday the 21st March they'll leave the Ajman Kempinski and ride to the Qasba in Sharjah (passing by my house, natch) and then on Sunday 22nd they'll set off from the Palm Jumeirah Rixos to the Fairmont, The Palm. On Monday 23rd March they'll ride from Downtown Dubai to the Burj Al Arab, Tuesday they'll ride from the Formal Park in Abu Dhabi and end up at Zayed Military Hospital.

Finally, on Wednesday 25th March, some 300 saddle-sore chaps and chapesses will ride from the Sheikh Zayed Mosque to the Galleria Mall. This will be followed by a closing ceremony at the Rosewood Hotel in Abu Dhabi. Anyone wants a VIP pass, they can have mine, kindly sent me by the Pink Caravan Team. For a Sharjah boy, Abu Dhabi on a school night is not really on the agenda, dears.

The Carevan will be following them on their trip around the UAE, visiting an average of three hospitals, health centres or community centres in each location and offering free breast screening at selected stop-offs.

You can find out more, donate or join in by going to the Pink Caravan website here. There's an agenda detailing locations, a calendar of Carevan screening sessions and other events and the chance to donate to support the campaign both as an individual and a corporate partner.

Coming together for good. What's not to love about that?

Monday, 16 March 2015

Sharjah's Burning

Laboratory simulation of a chip pan fire: a be...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Another massive warehouse fire in Sharjah last night has the papers tweeting pictures this morning, but they haven't had time to get the story up on their websites yet. The images are pretty impressive.

You can pretty much bet these days on waking up to a swathe of black across the horizon above Sharjah every couple of months, if not more frequently. The fires, when they come, tend to be big black oceans of smoke occasions, a stack rising high into the blue before slowly dissipating to form a great skid mark of yellow-edged darkness over the city.

The biggest I can remember was when the infamous National Paints (infamous because their factory is next to a roundabout and flyover that has long been a popular spot for Sharjah/Dubai commuters to sit around in their cars tapping their steering wheels for an hour or so each way. Now the road has been expanded, the queues are still there but they are marginally less snarly) went up. I was doing a regular radio show back then and co-host Jessicaca Swann and I were lucky enough to catch eyewitness Albert Dias (whom I knew from Twitter) on the phone and open our 10am show with his account of the conflagration. I have the sound file still - it was great radio, with Albert recounting the events unfolding around him against a backdrop of shouting, sirens and the colossal whumps of barrels of paint exploding. It was only later I learnt that Albert's car was being consumed by the flames as he was talking to us.

The fires are not only monotonously regular, but almost invariably have that same huge environmental impact - what volume of toxic black smoke does it take to fill a skyline? And yet little seems to change - warehouses, factories and 'go downs' seem to be subjected to little regulation and appear to blithely continue to store large volumes of flammable material in conditions ripe for incendiary events to unfold.

You can just see it, a Middle Eastern version of that series that used to air in the UK, 'London's Burning'. I always loved those programmes because you just knew the guy who was working nights to feed his young family and who was exhausted and had dragged himself home to cook dinner for the kids was going to leave that chip pan on and go to sleep. The same is true of all those ER type programmes. You just know the guy with the hammer drill and a rickety ladder is never going to make it through the show intact. Sometimes, just sometimes, it would be nice if he didn't just get off the ladder and take a few minutes out to fix it up with some gaffa tape before going on to safely install his light fitting.

And so to Sharjah, where Kumar and Krishnan are in the warehouse, surrounded by looming stacks of shiny black sacking filled with plastic granules. Krishnan barks at Kumar to put out the fag and Kumar flicks it away dismissively. But what's that? A pile of paper in the corner? Oh no, the cigarette rolls towards it! Whatever will happen next?

Saturday, 14 March 2015

So You've Finished Writing A Book...


This is one of those comfortable, traffic-destroying book posts. It comes to you mainly because I'm not writing any more. I posted a while back that I'd finished writing (which got pretty intense towards the end) and now I'm about done with the book. It's had a couple of editing runs, a few tweaks here and there and it's in the hands of a group of people whose opinions on such things I value - my 'beta readers'.

Once I get their feedback, it's time to shop it around. Once about ten agents have all rejected it, I'll self publish as usual.

I've written the synopsis. It's always hard to pick yourself up having finished a book and draft a synopsis, but it helps when you're editing to have a 'big picture' view of the book's contents, because you can map what's happening on the page to where we're supposed to be going in our little journey to save/destroy the world, depending on what mood we're in.

I've written a blurb, too, although I'm going to have to play around with that for a while, because I'm not entirely sure what I've done is the way to go. This has been my 'difficult' fifth book, but I want to position it right, not least because it has potential for controversy.

Other than that, it all feels a little strange. You've suddenly got time on your hands and Mr Head isn't up in the clouds thinking about situations and people who don't, well, exist - yet whom you have given reality. It's a bit like waking up in a strange bed - a moment of 'where the hell am I?'

I put a book project aside to write A Simple Irish Farmer (which a friend who's 'big' in publishing says is a crap title. She's kindly offered to come up with a better one, which is nice. I can't say I've been very good at titles, tell the truth. Olives has me competing with (and losing to) Crespo on Amazon, Beirut and Shemlan are hardly inspired, either, so now I'm going to take some time and advice on getting this one right) and now I'm going back to it. I'm  not going to rush, but take some time to enjoy the peace and quiet.

But I can't help myself. I'm away writing once again...


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Emirates LitFest Sell-Out Shock Horror!


I'm on a panel at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Friday with Orion Publishing Director Kate Mills and head of Norwich Writer's Centre Chris Gribble on 'How to make novels fly'.

It's not about taking Dorothy Parker's advice seriously* so much as creating books that people want to read. What is it that makes a book marketable, what's the 'secret sauce' that makes readers want to pick your work up and actually, you know, invest in it.

Sound interesting? Tough, bud - it's sold out.

For the first time, I'm also at the LitFest Murder Mystery Dinner vent on Friday evening, which I've never been to before. That's going to be funny, a table of unsuspecting rubes is going to be expecting someone famous and interesting and they're going to get me instead. Ha.

This, too, has sold out.

On Thursday evening, from 5pm-7pm, I'm doing a session on how to make a book - how to write one, edit one, find a publisher or DIY one. It's a sort of 'Shakespeare in 60 seconds' version of the three 2-hour workshops I usually take to cover these topics.

This, believe it or not, has also sold out.

However, it's not all bad news. I have complimentary tickets to the latter, so if you have great need and have been denied the seat you wanted to be raved at for two hours by a clearly unstable person, hit me up at @alexandermcnabb and we can arrange a ticket for you. 

It's going to be a busy end to the week. I got a radio interview Wednesday, a school appearance at Wesgreen School in Sharjah on Thursday (undoubtedly resulting in the usual scared kids and shocked faculty. Hey ho!) and I'm keynoting at Amman's Disrupt!/Books!/ workshop/conference/hackathon event Thursday evening too. 

I almost feel like a real author...

*"This is not a book to be tossed aside lightly, but thrown with great force."

Saturday, 28 February 2015

A Simple Irish Farmer Is Finished.


I have finished writing A Simple Irish Farmer. And I am glad. It's undoubtedly been the most arduous project of all the books I've completed, although Olives took many more years to become complete and Beirut and Shemlan both underwent major re-writes post-completion.

One of the things that has made this one harder is likely my clearer and sounder understanding of what the hell it is I'm trying to do here. Actually following the advice I dole out so glibly when I do workshops and presentations on writing and editing. There have also been some major changes taking place in my life alongside the book project, which have been a little distracting, to say the least. And, yes, I'm going to go on about the Dunning/Kruger effect again.

I started the book a year ago, almost to the day. There have been weeks when I haven't touched it. Days when I wrestled with it and was tempted to ditch the whole thing. Gnawing angst, delirious joy, certitude, doubt. All of that. A real roller-coaster. Right now, I'm quietly satisfied.

I'd like to pause and thank Fred Venturini here. I've no idea who the hell he is, but he wrote one of those 'Five Things You Must Do When Writing A Book' sort of articles/blog posts and, rarely for me because I usually avoid them like the plague, I read Fred's.

Four of them were the same sort of advice everyone else has to give, but his fifth point was 'Whatever you do, finish the book. Don't get involved in side projects, start something else or otherwise kid yourself. Hunker down, man up and just finish the damn thing'. I'm paraphrasing and you'll clearly see Fred's outraged howls in the comments to this post at some stage.

But I printed out the word FINISH in big capitals - and Fred's name underneath so I wouldn't forget where the advice came from - and hung the piece of paper on the blind in front of my desk. And then I set out to do just that. Every time I wanted to nip off to Twitter or exfoliate my Pinterest, I'd look at that word and get back down to it. And it worked.

Thanks, Fred. Really thanks.

Now what? A big fat edit. Beta readers. Agents. Depending on the outcome of that process, publish or self publish. I've no problem doing the latter, but I'd clearly prefer the former. If the latter, I won't be doing a local print run again. And I'm really not sure how much energy I'll be putting into promotion, either. I have the feeling the book will be controversial, which I'm not really looking forward to, to be honest. But that's a long way down the road.

But we'll see. Meanwhile, onward with the editing!

* The image is an Easter Lily badge, traditionally worn by Irish Republicans in the same way Brits wear a poppy. It's mine - Sarah got me one and I had it laminated into a bookmark.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

I've Finally Sold Out To... Well, You!


Olives - A Violent Romance and Beirut - An Explosive Thriller have sold out of their print editions.

I'm still not sure how to react to that. So I'll just post about it.

I found out from WH Smith, who are providing the books for this year's LitFest (where I am severally appearing), that they couldn't buy my books from Jashanmals.

I naturally asked (gently and politely as always) the Jashanmal gang what gives and the response was that they don't have enough left to fulfil the order. There are about 5 'clean' copies of Beirut and a few more of Olives, mostly on the shelves in their stores. They're clean out at warehouse except for about 60 shop-soiled copies that are 'unsaleable'.

I've got a few copies at home. But that, basically, is that. Experiment over. We've sold out, people.

Shemlan: A Deadly Tragedy never did have a UAE edition and was always an online-only book, orderable as ebook or print.

Now, you can clearly still buy all three books as ebooks for Kindle, iPad, Android et al - and if you love print more than anyone loves print, you can also buy all three books in print from Amazon, Book Depository or, on order, from any bookshop in the world by quoting their ISBN number.

But the UAE edition wot I printed myself in the thousands, the booky books you could nip off to Kino's and carry away in a placcy bag, they're no longer available. That's it. Gone. Finished. Pining for the fjords.

I really couldn't do this without posting the 'buy' links for any lazy sods that haven't yet done the decent thing yet....




:)

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Fish And Superfish

I don't know if you've seen the broohaha, but there has been an almighty spat between members of the security industry and PC manufacturer Lenovo, which has perhaps unwisely been loading its consumer PCs with nasty little adware add-on Superfish Virtual Discovery.

Superfish behaves very badly indeed and basically renders any system it's installed on very vulnerable indeed to attack because of the way it uses security certificates to insert its own ad results into users' browsers. Many have questioned quite why Lenovo would be stupid enough to sell its users down the river for what can be only a miniscule contribution to revenue. This article on cnet is probably the most reasoned in tone - as you get up the security value chain, the screams and howls get impressively loud.

Anyway, I removed Superfish using the removal tool Lenovo was so achingly late to bring to bear on a problem it clearly had thought it could bland PR its way out of.

And this was the result. Which made me laugh a lot. We fixed the problem we gave you and now there never was a problem to start with. I'm glad I used Norton first to detect that, yes, I did have a problem. And pretending it's gone away, Lenovo, won't make it go away.


This dialogue box, to me, reads like the result of a battle between engineering and PR...

If you have a Lenovo PC made since last August, not a Thinkpad, but one of the consumer brands like Yoga, you might want to nip over here and run this here doohickey...

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Of Writing Books And Vicissitude

English: Image of a Viking Modular SATA SSD in...
An SSD in the wild.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have a new computer. It has a 4k screen and is basically very cool indeed. And then out of nowhere the other day that lavish and exquisitely detailed screen went green and the machine died and refused point blank to subsequently undie. It said it didn't have a boot device. The BIOS wasn't seeing the SSD - the solid state hard disk. This, in case you haven't realised by now, is really not very good news at all.

I sat staring at it, screaming inside. My book was on that thing. My novel. The new one. The one I've been fighting so hard to finish.

I have been writing A Simple Irish Farmer for a year now. That's not strictly true, I've had long breaks when I haven't been able to bring myself to face it, struggles with Mr Dunning and Mr Kruger and then (much shorter) runs of correcting what it was that was subliminally bothering me and getting back to work again. And then hitting another brick wall.

People often ask me about writer's block and I've always tried to be helpful but never really suffered myself. Now I'm an expert.

Why this book? Maybe because it's not a Middle Eastern book, maybe because I'm much more aware of what I'm doing as I work now. Maybe because there have been a number of changes taking place around me. And maybe because I'm setting myself a higher standard. There have been other factors, not least of which is everyone's insistence on telling me that there's no demand for books set in Ireland. Apparently the only place in the world that's nearly as unpopular as the Middle East among publishers and editors is Northern Ireland.

'Write a book set in Tuscany,' a best-selling friend told me. 'They holiday there. They understand Tuscany.'

I had another major knock-back when I interviewed a former IRA member last summer, realising that the aim I'd had for the book wasn't really coming through. I'm happier now, but the realisation hit me for a several weeks and had me unable to pick up my keyboard and set to. I'd tinker like an overfed cat playing with a dead gecko. For the last couple of months, though, it's been good. I know where the ending's going, my characters are dancing in spirited unison and a couple of hard edits have exposed the issues and corrected things.

I've been so busy, in fact, that I hadn't made the time to do something I do obsessively with my WIP manuscripts. I hadn't emailed it to myself - my version of making a backup - since the first week of December, in fact. I usually do that every couple of days when I'm working.

Three months' work, about 16,000 words and a lot of editing - on screen and by hand. At least two full edits of the 60,000 word MS. All gone.

I sent the machine off to be repaired and to have the data recovered. And found out that's the bugger with SSD's - when they go wrong, they go very wrong indeed. It's not unusual to see an SSD drive 'brick' and take your data with it. All of it. And that's what mine has done.

I started work again today. It all feels very Sysiphean, tell the truth. But if I do one thing, I'm going to finish this damn book if it kills me. Which, on current showing at least, it may well do.