Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Olives - Creaky Old Blog Final Post Shock Horror

Fran├žais : Olives vertes
Fran├žais : Olives vertes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm feeling a tad guilty - the Olives Blog is looking a little creaky since I finished my run through the book with excerpts and commentary on its content.

Moving on to publish Beirut - An Explosive Thriller rather took the place of promoting Olives, including updating the blog. But then I'd already shared pretty much all there was to share about the book and its characters.

You can find out more about Olives - A Violent Romance here at the Olives Website. And there's loads to discover about Beirut - An Explosive Thriller here at the Beirut Website. I warn you, they're very different books indeed!

Now I've published Shemlan: A Deadly Tragedy, the last book of what I ended up calling The Levant Cycle - three books that take place in the same timeline and the same part of the world. You can find out about Shemlan here.

For updates and news, you're probably best catching me at @alexandermcnabb. I'll be more than happy to answer questions, chat or answer complaints from people whose family name appears in my books or who think Jordanians don't drink or make love or whatever other cosy myths my books have inadvertently shattered. Alternatively, there's always www.alexandermcnabb.com!
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Monday, 17 September 2012

Sabra and Chatila

I shook my head as I looked up at Daoud. ‘But they killed Israelis. Innocent Israelis.’ 
Daoud had walked away to stand by the ornate dinner table under the chandelier, his back to me.  ‘What? And the infallible Mossad never makes mistakes? The wonderful Israelis would never harm civilians? Have you never heard of The Stern Gang, Paul? The Haganah? Ain Helweh? Sabra? The history of Palestine since the Naqba has been of Israeli killing, of Israeli cruelty and Israeli callousness. Thousands died in Gaza, Paul. Do you think they lost a second’s sleep over a couple of bombs and a few dead Arabs? Do you? Killing is a potent drug, Paul. Kill a few Arabs and you’ll maybe have less of a conscience at sacrificing one or two of your own.’
Olives, Page 221

Thirty years ago yesterday, Phalangist militia were let into the Sabra and Chatila Palestinian refugee camps by the occupying Israeli military. It took them 62 hours to mow down some three thousand men, women and children. The camps were guarded throughout this time by Israeli soldiers.

An excellent eye-witness account of the aftermath is to be found in Robert Fisk's seminal 'Pity The Nation - Lebanon at War'. It's not pretty reading.

A little over thirty years before that, soldiers from another country guarded the gates of camps where innocents were murdered. And no, scale doesn't stand as an excuse.
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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Into The Dark

Many years ago, in 2005, I was proud to be one of the sponsors an artshow called 'Into the light', which protested the Amman bombings. Today, Jordan's internet was plunged into the dark in a very different, but just as important protest.

Bloggers and website owners in Jordan are protesting the amended Press and Publications Law, putting up a black 'interstitial' page which reads, "You may be deprived of the content of this site under the amendments of the Jordanian Press and Publications Law and the governmental Internet censorship."

You can take a look yourself by popping over to pal Roba Al Assi's blog here - one of hundreds of sites in Jordan that have gone 'dark' for the day. You can click through to a pretty pissed off post behind the tarpaulin.

They're not kidding, either. The law appears to make the classic mistake, not unlike ongoing Lebanese efforts to bring the Internet into a media law, of confusing the web with print media. Under the law, websites (so badly defined it could include social media, blogs or any other online property) would be forced to join the press association, appoint an 'editor in chief' (a role with some very defined responsibilities) and also opens the door to blocking websites, something Jordan has very laudably avoided doing.

A moderate country with the most competitive telecom market in the region, tremendous intellectual capital and an important regional centre for ICT, IP and software/web development, Jordan's smart and technically capable young people deserve better than muckle-headed legislation hewn from granite by politicians who wouldn't know a website from a wombat.

Let's hope someone noticed how dark it got today...

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Reviews. Cool. An Olives Update.

The reviews continue to trickle in, the latest from book blogger Julie Weight is linked here - a very kind five stars *ker-ching*. It'd be nice to think that all these positive reviews would result in a cascade of book sales, but that's simply not the case.

Olives - A Violent Romance has now sold over six hundred copies which, although miniscule, puts it in the 'two percent' - 98% of books in print sell less than 500 copies, and we're talking mainstream published books here, not just indy or self published books. Of that, something like four hundred sales have been the printed 'Middle East edition'.

So 600 copies is something of a result. I'll post an update on the great self publishing experiment on Olives' first anniversary, but by this stage it's clear that a lot of social media promotion (Over 6.000 Twitter followers and a popular blog do not for massive book sales make, at least in the Middle East), mainstream media coverage and positive reviews are not, in themselves, enough to make a book 'take off'. What does it take? If I knew that, chaps, I'd be off doing it...

Meanwhile Olives has gone on sale in India for Kindle users now that Amazon.com has opened up to India. For some reason, Amazon only supports the 35% royalty rate for Indian Kindle sales, so I've taken the opportunity to drop the cover price there to $2.99 on the grounds it's now more affordable to Indian readers.

The manuscript of Beirut - An Explosive Thriller has come back from its editor, the urbane Robb Grindstaff, with lots and lots of changes so I suspect that'll keep my head down over the next couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to this one, because if Olives got blocked in Jordan I can guarantee you Beirut's gonna get banned in Beirut! The manuscript is also with the UAE's National Media Council for review and I can't even be sure it'll be passed to print in the UAE...

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Amazon. Uncool.

The International Edition of Olives is not available to buy right now thanks to a very annoying screw-up by POD platform Createspace. What's particularly annoying is this has been the case since May - Createspace quietly blocked the book as it has the wrong ISBN number in it. The fact that the ISBN number in the file is the right one makes the move all the more frustrating. Making things worse, parts of my account appear to have been reset, including expanded distribution.

Once I get the problem sorted out, it'll take 4-6 weeks to repopulate all the expanded distribution outlets. If you're desperate in the meantime, Amazon has two copies left in stock here.

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Saturday, 7 July 2012


I was mooching around Amazon yesterday and stumbled across these, a feature I hadn't seen on amazon before - an automated review picker that highlights reviews that make similar statements about Olives. They put a smile on my face, I can tell you!

McNabb does a great job at building a relationship between the characters and the reader from the get-go which continues to develop throughout the story.  

JGibbons  |  3 reviewers made a similar statement

Sunday, 1 July 2012

A Star Review

"McNabb turned to self-publishing after 10 years of submitting his work to agents and publishers had earned him nothing more than 250 rejection letters. And it’s lucky for the public that he did."
India Stoughton writing in the The Daily Star
 Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star reviewed Olives - A Violent Romance this week which is nice, especially as I'm taking myself off to Beirut for a quick trip to attend GeekFest Beirut 5.0 and do a little visiting in preparation for book three of the cycle of books that Olives triggered.

Book two is Beirut - An Explosive Thriller, which is currently in its final edit as well as with the UAE's National Media Council to obtain its 'Permission to print'. I'd planned to publish Beirut in November, but will likely bring that forward to September/October.

Book three of the cycle (They're not a trilogy, they're very different books indeed. Olives is a novel, where Beirut is a testosterone-soaked international spy thriller. Look at it as my feminine side coming out) was called 'Hartmoor' until I found out about Sarah Ferguson's hapless pot-boiler of the same title. So it's probably going to be called Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy.

"McNabb does an excellent job of making Stokes an unreliable narrator. He is ill-informed, breathtakingly tactless and uniformly self-serving. Though he feels he has no choice in capitulating to Lynch’s demands, as he is drawn ever deeper into violence and intrigue, readers may find themselves asking why he doesn’t just leave Jordan while he still can.

Stokes’ actions make the situation worse at every turn, endangering everybody around him. Though he thinks himself an adroit double agent, it is clear to the reader that he’s being manipulated by those who know exactly what he is doing.

His cluelessness is rendered ironic by Aisha’s mocking nickname for him: “The Clever Brit,” and other Arab characters’ repeated references to the “cunning British.”
Adroit with dramatic irony, McNabb cleverly ensures that the reader sometimes has a greater grasp of what’s happening than the hapless Stokes, who initially knows very little about the Middle East."
The Star's review (linked here for your listening pleasure) is pretty positive, all the more appreciated given the paper's reputation for fiercely critical reviews. But reviewer India Stoughton does take grave exception to Olives' cover - to the extent the headline of the piece is 'Don't judge a book by its cover'.


I love the cover Lebanese graphic designer and artist Naeema Zarif created for Olives. Naeema is the talent behind GeekFest's distinctive iconography. Naeema's work on the various GeekFest posters have increasingly taken on the style of her own art – a distinctive series of images consisting of a range of juxtaposed elements creating a whole that makes your eyes flit around trying to decipher what’s going on in the resulting melange. There’s often a great deal of wit, subtlety and game-playing, but Naeema is a natural tease and likes to leave the viewer to try and sort it all out rather than giving the game away.

Naeema’s art for Olives, when it arrived, blew me away. It’s utterly not what I expected, and yet seems so, well ‘right.’ It also, critically, works well as a thumbnail – today’s book cover needs to work as a booky book cover, a Kindle book cover (in colour as well as mono, BTW - don't forget the Kindle Fire!) and also as a thumbnail for Amazon.com and other sites. It’s no surprise the cover of Olives consists of a number of elements. It’s a mash of images that come from Naeema’s reading of the book, there are elements resonant of multi-theism – Amman’s citadel is in there (look for a shape a little like ‘in’ at an angle across the cover), there is the earth the olives come from, the land and its importance are such an important part of Olives. The blues of the Mediterranean sky and the water are there, too. And so is parchment, a symbol of the unravelling peace the book is wound around. You’ll be hard put to find ‘em, but there are even some olives in there. Together, these things all speak to Olives – to the fundamentals that underpin the book. And behind the title, in faded characters, Mahmoud Darwish’s famous words – which form the frontispiece to Olives: “If the Olive Trees knew the hands that planted them, Their Oil would become Tears.”

It’s a remarkable piece of art and I’m very proud to have it grace and represent my work Being able to select who designs my cover is, of course, a huge privilege open pretty much only to self published writers - publishing companies don't consult authors about their covers, that's a marketing decision and one not to be made by a mere scribbler (or 'content producer'). I suppose you get an option once you sell your first million copies or so, but I know a number of published authors who were told, 'This is your book's cover, matey', which was the beginning and end of the conversation. I'd always hoped if I landed a contract they'd let me at least pitch Naeema's hat into the ring, but I sort of knew that was a forlorn hope. But now I'm in control, I get to have my cake and eat it.

At the end of the day, any review is subective and opinion. I'm just sorry they liked my work and not Naeema's, because I'd honestly have preferred the review to have been the other way around.

Anyway, Naeema's working on the cover of 'Beirut - An Explosive Thriller' as we speak...
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Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The End Of Free

So the great Olives review freebie coupon has run out. Nothing remains to be done save wait for the reviews.

Book reviews are a wonderful thing. They're a little like book club meetings, I find, in that you get to experience other peoples' perspective on your writing. They're obviously less interactive, which is sometimes a shame as you find some point or another in a review where you want to say, 'Sure, but if you take this and that into account, surely that thing makes sense?'.

I recognise I have been extremely fortunate in the reviews Olives has gained so far (a sample are given here) and cannot help but be proud of the book's Amazon and GoodReads average ratings above four stars. All the book's reviews have been positive apart from one early review that was a 100% stinker. That review did me a favour, in fact and toughened my hide nicely. Fortunately, it was a lone, bile-flecked voice snarling in the wilderness.

So what's not to like in Olives? As we've seen, some commentators have been a tad sniffy about the booze and sex content, which has rather amused me as I've been hooning around the Middle East long enough to be confident in my portrayal of a sophisticated Abdoun family. A lot of people haven't liked Paul, but that's fine as you were never really supposed to. As I said to Time Out Beiirut's Mackenzie Lewis: "Poor Paul isn't much of a hero - he's the bit of us we'd all rather wasn't there'.

This coming round of reviews will be interesting, though, as most of the reviewers aren't Middle East based and likely will have no affinity for the region. So quite what they make of it all is something I am more than keen to find out.

Their opinions are important - today's readers are guided strongly by word of mouth and shared opinion. If Olives is going to have a chance of finding a readership outside of the region, it'll need reviews. What the reviewers' opinions are is, of course, entirely up to them.

Friday, 1 June 2012


My father has slipped from us all, his mind increasingly leached away by dementia. My one enormous regret is that, back when he’d have understood what I was on about, I couldn’t have put this book in his hands and said, ‘Hey, Dad, I’ve written a book.’.   This is for him anyway.

Olives, the book's dedication.

He died peacefully this evening.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Olives for FREE!

So here's the deal. You undertake to review Olives for your newspaper, blog, YouTube or school magazine. Wherever you have an audience. You undertake to give the book a sincere and honest review.

In return for that undertaking, here's a review copy of Olives. It's free, it's yours to keep and there is no obligation implicit in the gift other than that above.

You go to this here website, Smashwords, and you enter this here code: GK45A. You download Olives - A Violent Romance for free as an e-book for Kindle, iBooks, Sony, Nook or PDF file. The code will be valid until 18/6/2012.

If you'd like to tweet me your review (or just chat), it's @alexandermcnabb.

Enjoy the read!