Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Olives and The Book Club

English: Italian olives
Image via Wikipedia
The Expat Women's Book Club meets regularly at Paul Café in Jumeirah's Mercato shopping mall and had decided to 'do' Olives - A Violent Romance as their book choice having scanned through a list of the books that are to be at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. We made contact on and before I knew it, the day had come when I was to 'Come at 8.45 so we can meet at 8.00 and have some time to dissect your book before you arrive.'

That sounded ominous...

I duly rocked up to find a group of about 12 ladies in a secluded corner of Paul (I didn't actually count, I thought it might have looked rude, you know?) with copies of Olives strewn around the table. I pulled up a chair and got ready to hear The Verdict.

'Right,' said Mary-Anne, who had organised the meeting. 'First I should tell you we really enjoyed it, so you can relax on that score...'

The rest of the meeting was bliss - an hour talking to people who had read my book, enjoyed it and wanted to ask questions about it. What more can life offer someone who's written something? Why did this character do this? Why did that happen? Why does Aisha wear red underwear? Who are the baddies? Why doesn't Paul flee the country? What's the publishing process been like? What will I get up to next?

The time flew and I found myself having to think about my own book in a way I hadn't before, seeing it through other people's perceptions of the characters and the plot. It was a strange and very rewarding experience, I can tell you. On one occasion I got caught out not knowing an event had happened in the book one eagle-eyed reader had asked me about. Oh, blushes!

Here, as a result, are five things you likely didn't know about Olives:

1) Paul is mildly OCD
Paul's got a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder in his makeup. He's always counting steps to see if they'll be an even number, because if they are this or that thing will be alright. There's a slight echo of that in Aisha, the girl who thinks of olive trees as serried ranks of courtiers as she walks through them. One reader suggested I might have been better calling the book, 'The Olive Princess' which I actually fervently agree with - it was a decision I nearly took at the very end of the process (the book's working title has always been Olives) and didn't.

2) Paul becomes a smoker in the book
As the book progresses, Paul takes up smoking. The Jordanian member of the club was hugely amused by this, knowing how prevalent smoking still is in Jordan. It's also symbolic of Paul's increasing 'Jordanisation' in the book.

3) Anne is Merrie Englande
Paul's girlfriend Anne is a metaphor for England and its pull on Paul as he adjusts to a new life in a strange country. One club member looked at Anne's part of the story from Anne's perspective which, I confess, I hadn't been conscious of doing myself before. Lucky, then, it all worked for her! Anne's role towards the end of the book really represents Paul's determination to follow his course and finally take sides once and for all.

4) Paul's dilemma is TE Lawrence's dilemma
To love what you betray and betray the thing you love - Lawrence tried to balance loyalty to his country with loyalty to the Arab cause, whilst the conflicting purposes of each ensured he betrayed both. It's one reason why the book references Seven Pillars of Wisdom and, specifically, the dedication. I actually contacted Lawrence's estate and got their blessing for the quotes, by the way. They're out of copyright. Similarly, the Mahmoud Darwish quote is fair do's, qualifying as 'fair use'.

5)No, I don't identify with Paul
I think as 'the Brit' in the book, there's a tendency for people to ask if there's any of me in him and my answer is invariably 'I hope not'. There's been quite a lot of 'I don't like Paul' feedback, but I think that might be missing the point a little as you're not actually supposed to like him - I know this was me making life difficult for myself. Paul, as blogger Sara pointed out with a precise nail/head occlusion, Paul is the side of all of us that we know is there, but would prefer to think isn't - that we'd be braver, wiser and more true to ourselves than we actually are. He's young and callow and emotionally a little inept. There's actually a lot more of me in 'bad guy' Gerald Lynch. My reader for Beirut (my next book, which is a much 'harder' thriller and whose main character is our Gerry) complained, calling Lynch 'A violent, unpredictable drunk'. My response was 'yes... and?'.

Mary Anne was evidently somewhat perplexed by the juxtaposition of the evil Lynch with the witty, urbane and charming* young man sat beside her. What can I say?

I'm not going to make such a big fuss about every book club meeting, don't worry (oh, long-suffering reader), but this was my first. And I owe everyone there a huge vote of grateful thanks.

* Would you be sick quietly, please? Thank you.

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Oussama said...

The joys and tribulations of being famous or maybe infamous ...... enjoy.

DaddyBird said...

Ah! I was right! I had you pegged as the template for Gerald Lynch! ;-)
What? He's in the next one too? Of all the people to survive the first book and make it into a second, it had to be him?? :-P

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