Tuesday, 25 October 2011


Poster from the United Kingdom reading "K...Image via WikipediaBack in the distant mists of time, I published magazines as a day job. It's what originally brought me out to the UAE in 1993 - I set up a publishing operation based out of pals' offices (and under their trade license) in Ajman.

I produced a computer magazine which was something of a pioneer - it was a reviews magazine, something the region didn't have at the time. We brought PCs, software and other IT equipment in from international and local companies alike and speed tested them, prodded them and otherwise evaluated them for the elucidation of a grateful readership.

We used desktop publishing to produce the magazine. This meant that I brought a PC with me out from the UK and was able to write, do all the make-up and prepress work then just spin the whole lot out to camera-ready pages of 'bromide' at a bureau. Even 'bleeding edge' DTP users (and I was one: I can tell you I spilt a great deal of blood)  hadn't got the hang of colour scanning back then, so the printers still had to scan the images into the ready-made areas defined on the pages.

This meant that I had, quite literally, a publishing house on my desktop. This was to cause a great deal of consternation when the Ministry of Information shut us down.

We arrived at the office one morning to find it sealed with official tape. We'd been closed down by the Ministry! We high-tailed it down to the Ajman MoI offices (which at the time were near where the Kempinski is now) only to find it wasn't on their account - it was a request from Dubai. So off to Qusais to the Ministry of Information building there to try and find out what it was we'd done to deserve getting closed down.

We'd reviewed a computer. Not any old computer, a really bad local OEM job. It was an unserviceable unit when it arrived with us and we had (with charming naiveté) said so in the magazine. Trouble was, the bloke that owned the computer company had a relative who was a Big Bug at the (you guessed it) Ministry of Information. We were in very, very big trouble indeed.

I remember the meeting I had with the first of a succession of Men With Very Big Desks, my nose pressed against the edge of a glass-topped expanse the size of an aircraft carrier as I was served gallons of zaatar and fruit teas in custard glasses. He wanted to know where was the editor and I told him it was me. And where was the publisher? It was me. Where did we publish? From the office. But what about staff? Erm. Me. And my ad sales guy. What about graphic artists and journalists and editors and men to do layouting and typesetters? Me. He was fascinated. Publishing without a publishing house was something he just couldn't get his head around.

I realised, with growing glee, that the bookshelves lining his office were stacked with Forbidden Fruit. Jackie Collins featured in the collection in a big way, Erica Jong and Molly Parkin tucked up alongside her.

We worked from home as the problem was thrashed out, our sponsor being relatively floppy about the whole thing until someone from the other side insulted him personally. He suddenly turned into a whirlwind of epic proportions, a Tasmanian Devil on crack with a revenge fixation that made Charles Bronson look like the tooth fairy. The whole thing was sorted in seconds flat after that.

I found myself in Qusais again yesterday and today, entering the same building as I had all those years ago to have sentence pronounced on me and my publishing company on a desktop. This time around it's a great deal more pleasant in there, lighter and more airy, the people smiling and helpful. It's called the National Media Council now.

The lady I talked to yesterday looked with mild horror at the memory stick I held up when she asked for my book. Mildly incredulous and laughing embarrassedly, she pointed out that they needed two sets of printouts on paper.

A book on a memory stick! I mean, whatever next? A publishing company on a desktop?

I delivered tottering stacks of manuscript this morning, a step necessary for those seeking 'permission to print' a book in the UAE. Let's see what happens now.
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1 comment:

Mich said...

Ahhh... sweet memories of desktop publishing! We started ours in an office off High Street Ken in 1985 with a Mac, Pagemaker, Word and a Kodak! Good luck for the book :-)

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