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 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 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!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Back from Florida

In case you might be interested, here's a link to the 'True Talk' radio show on WMNF radio in Tampa, Florida. Show host Samar Dahmash Jarrar gave me a grilling about Olives - A Violent Romance, the great naming debate, sex, alcohol and the motivations of writers. It was a fun, freewheeling discussion which I, for one, enjoyed immensely.

I start warbling about 28 minutes into the podcast, BTW. 

The first question: "Why on earth did you pick a name that would be like Kennedy here in the USA?" is one we've seen debated quite a bit on here. We talked about treading the line between the participants in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, making the Middle East somewhere people want to find out a little bit more about and dig below the surface of the headlines. We talked about the Arab reaction to Olives, too, crossing the border into Israel, being a European in Arabia and lots more besides... Fun...

Friday, 25 May 2012

Florida Here We Come!

WMNF Radio is a community station in Tampa Bay, Florida. Fridays at 11am they have a program called True Talk that focuses on the Middle East and the Muslim World and later today that's precisely where you'll find me, talking to host Samar Dahmash Jarrah and co-host Ahmed Bedeir about Olives.

More details on True Talk are linked here and here's the link if you want to listen in tonight at around 7.30pm Dubai time.

I met Samar when she guested on the radio show I used to co-host with diminutive blonde bombshell Jessica Swann on Dubai Eye Radio. We've sort of kept in touch since and have been meaning to do this for a few weeks now.

It's all part of 'Olives Over America', something of a focus on the US for me over the coming weeks, with a number of US book bloggers reviewing Olives - A Violent Romance. That's going to be something of an acid test as the book will by no means  be playing to a home crowd!

It'll also be interesting to talk to Samar and get an Arab-American perspective on the book. Do feel free to join us later! :)
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Sunday, 20 May 2012

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews

One of the interesting aspects of The Great Collapse of Publishing is being a heavy reader who doesn't quite know what to read next. How do you tell if a book - especially a self-published one - is great or simply rubbish.

I say especially self published, but I've had a couple of recent disappointments with big publisher works. However, self published books are a little like the girl with the curl right in the middle of her forehead. There's nothing worse than a badly written, sloppy book that's all over the place and has wooden dialogue, a tenuous plot and scrappy characterisation unless it also hasn't been edited.

You don't want that on your Kindle, believe me.

This has led to the rise and rise of the book blogger, as well as communities such as GoodReads. All that commentary can help a reader sort the wheat from the chaff. Except it's a jungle out there - the explosion of new material that self publishing has opened up to the market has not only meant a new richness of choice and diversity for readers, it has led to a bewildering number of voices crying out into the wildnerness, "Me! Me! Read my book!"

The end result has been a universe of book bloggers out there with months-long TBR lists (To Be Read), constantly harried by authors and being pressured to respond to a constant swathe of imprecation. Let us not forget, back in the Bad Old Days those most egregious of gatekeepers, literary agents, got 40-50 submissions a day (still do, in fact. In the US a big agent can pull 200 submissions a day).

Now book bloggers aren't quite getting as bad as that, but it's on the rise and fast, at that. Soon they'll be getting pretty choosy about which books they take on board - a number of more influential book review blogs actually put new submissions on a list for reviewers to take on if they like the look of them.

Olives has had some lovely reviews (some collected here on the book's website, along with the fabby Time Out Beirut interview), especially  on Amazon and GoodReads. But I'm off seeking more, so spent much of the weekend chasing around the world after book bloggers.

Funny, but I can see that same wary look in their eyes I used to see in agents' when I came into the room...
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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

May 15th

The conversation turned to Palestine in the past, to al nakba, ‘the catastrophe’, the formation of Israel in 1948 and the end of the British Mandate in Palestine. When I asked Ibrahim whether he had ever gone back there, his bushy eyebrows shot up in astonishment.
‘Go back? Of course we go back! As often as possible. It is not always easy.’ He laid his forearm on the table as if he were about to give blood, palm up. He looked across at me. ‘Sometimes they are like this on the border. Sometimes like this.’ He balled his hairy hand into a fist. ‘When it is like this you are turned back or made to wait for hours while they play with you. Sometimes before they make me kneel on the path in front of them. That is hard for a man like me. I am old, I have become used to having the dignity, you know?’
Olives, Page 44 

This year is the 64th since the creation of the state of Israel and the resulting displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from their land. I've already posted about it over here and won't repeat myself but it's sort of key to Olives - A Violent Romance and so I couldn't let it go past without comment!

Monday, 14 May 2012


Olives - a violent romance is the 'top featured' book over at eReader Daily News this week, a promotion which will hopefully be the start to finding a US audience for this most violent of romances!

The smashing news is that I've had to drop the cover price of the book to meet eReader Daily News' criteria, so this week you can buy Olives for your Kindle for just $4.99 by clicking this here handy link:

And as if that weren't enough, I've given the Olives website a bit of a spruce up to include some of the reviews of the book that have appeared in various media, linked here. I've also included a link to Time Out Beirut's interview with me about Olives - and, for your reading pleasure, gladly reproduce it here.

There are more interviews in the pipeline, too. It's lucky I'm no shrinking violet, isn't it? I genuinely feel sorry for writers facing this brave new world of self publishing who don't have an appetite for the promotional side of things, because dragging your weary carcass out there and pushing yourself at people is pretty key to finding even a small readership.

Smashwords' guru in chief Mark Coker has published a guide to e-book marketing which is both sensible and useful - it's linked here if you're interested. One of the many excellent points Mark makes is that you can push as many rocks up as many hills as you like, but at the end of the day the monster of all marketing tools is word of mouth.

That doesn't mean you don't have to do marketing for your book - it's an absolute necessity in my humble. But it does mean that once the ball is rolling, it should (if your book has 'it') gain its own momentum. At what stage that happens is, I can tell you with much personal experience, anyone's guess!!!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Technology Troubles

   Aisha pushed her chair away and stood, stretching. She leaned on the back of my seat. ‘This is really good, Paul. People are going to love this.’
   I grinned. ‘Thanks. I hope so.’
   ‘Zahlan’s concerned it’s all on dead trees. You know that, right?’
   I nodded. ‘Yes. He made it abundantly clear. He wants an online version as well as what he calls “more interactivity” but that wasn’t really part of the plan. We did discuss that carefully with Mr Shukri when we signed the deal.’
   Aisha sat back down, this time sideways with her legs crossed towards me and taking sips of coffee, her red nails rich against the white and gold porcelain. ‘Yes, but Shukri’s old school. He wouldn’t know the Internet if it came round and bit him on the ass. I think your Robin sort of took advantage of it. But Shukri’s gone now. Zahlan’s in charge and he’s shaking things up. He’s very good you know, Paul.’
Olives, Page 24
When Olives - a violent romance was first written back in 2004, the Internet in the Middle East was less than ten years old and there was little sense in having a website for a contract published magazine. Of course, time changed that and Jordan has been at the very forefront of the region's online development - Jordan's got the most competitive telecoms sector in the region and punches well above its weight when it comes to software development, fostering startups and generally creating intellectual property.

It would be inconceivable to have such a project today without a website, yet there are still 'Shukris' in the woodwork, old skool types who would let a sneaky beast like Robin sign up a magazine contract with no online element.

And so Paul has to, as the Minister puts it, 'go the extra mile' and produce an online asset from his magazine to smooth the waters with new boy on the block Abdullah Zahlan.

Friday, 4 May 2012

How Much Is That Olives In The Window?

I have never pretended to actually understand Amazon's expanded distribution - I just signed up for it and sat back to wait and see what would happen.

What's happened is you can now buy your very own copy of Olives for just £888 from bookseller invise-uk. At that price, you' think they'd chuck in free delivery but no,  that's an extra £2.80.

Given you can snap up your very own copy of this violent romance for £9.93 from the Book Depository including free shipping to over 100 countries around the world (including Jordan where distributors are too craven to stock the book), you'd be forgiven for wondering quite what invise-uk is offering to sweeten the deal. A case of Cristal, perhaps? A diamond-studded cover?

Given the Book Depository pricing actually undercuts Olives' price on the shelves in the UAE, Delhi, Bahrain and Lebanon (where the Middle East Edition is on sale), I thought the least I could do is out-do Invise.

So here, ladies and gentlemen, is your chance to buy Olives - The Dubai Edition.

What do you get?
The Dubai Edition of Olives is enhanced by a fine, etched, 18-carat gold cover and printed on fine vellum in a signed, numbered edition of no more than ten copies. Each copy is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity and a calligraphy of the quotation from Mahmoud Darwish which also graces the back cover of the edition. We are pleased to confirm that a box of Patchi chocolates and a bottle of Roederer Cristal champagne will accompany the book on delivery

There will also be sparklers.

All for a mere £1001.

Take that, Invise-uk!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Narratives in Action

It was a sunny, warm day yesterday so I cannot, sadly, attest to whether the rain in Al Ain stays mainly on the plain, but there's a brand new multi-carriageway lump of blacktop replacing the 'old' Al Ain road that spirits you straight to the airport and, if you know what you're doing, the 'crescent' building at the heart of the United Arab Emirates University's Maqam campus. UAEU is a big university, people, very big. And brilliantly well equipped, at that.

I was there to speak to an audience of students (and a smattering of faculty members) as part of a two- day workshop organised by the Department of Philosophy, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Deanship of Libraries of the United Arab Emirates University, in collaboration with Université Paris Sorbonne Abou Dhabi, titled 'Narratives in Action'.

I attended the morning session and was glad I did. A fascinating talk by philosopher Dan Hutto explored how we use language and narrative to guide our interactions and behaviours within a social context. Steve Bird examined how language 'primes' us and outlined a fascinating new research project he and colleague Sami Boudelaa are undertaking to explore the relationship between language and  cognition. Further examinations of language, narrative and their effect on human behaviours came from Massmimiliano Cappuccio, Hosny Mostafa Al Dali and Fama Zohra Sai.

And then, after lunch, it was my turn. Given the event was billed as an 'interdisciplinary workshop' and I clearly have no discipline to offer, I outlined to a hearteningly full room how to write a book. As I pointed out, writing books is easy - all you have to do is put together 100,000 words. The order you put 'em in is, of course, the kicker.

My advice was loosely based on this here post over at Fake Plastic Souks, 'How to Write a Book' which I wrote as a follow-up to my earlier 'How to self publish in the UAE' post on that self-same blog. I was delighted to come across at least one young lady who is attending UAEU's creative writing course, which is held in Arabic. I did all I could to exhort the students to take up writing for themselves and publishing for themselves - there's never been a more exciting time in publishing as writers can now find their own outlets for their work as I, indeed, have done myself - and very glad I am that I done it.

I had fun, although I'm not sure how the audience processed all. I had to skip right afterwards and return to the devastation that is McNabb Mansions now the AC men have been in for the past three days. But that, as they say, is quite another narrative...

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Book Clubs

I love book clubs. It's daft. They buy your book, invite you along to their meeting, talk to you about your work for three hours and then thank you for coming. It's such a selfish pleasure, it's not true!

Patricia invited me to her book club a while back, the meeting seemed miles away and then suddenly it was upon us, this club meets monthly at each other's houses in rota - the hostess picks the book for the next meeting and Patricia picked Olives. And so I found myself in a taxi in Dubai's Al Safa area trying to find the (rather lovely) villa of a lady called Emma. We were ten in all, I was the only chap - but that's book clubs for you, the pastime seems to be dominated by the fair sex. I can't say that spending an evening eating, drinking and talking about my book to a group of interested ladies is the worst way to pass time.

And so to Olives, which all professed to have enjoyed immensely. The group had read Sarah Abulhawa's 'Mornings in Jenin' previously, which all had also enjoyed, and it came up in the context of books that highlighted the conflicts of Palestine being all too rare and eye-openers, particularly for the European members of the group. Paul was the subject of great debate, his motivations and personality coming under the spotlight, as did Aisha's behaviour and that of her family. Unusually, a great deal more sympathy for Paul was expressed than I usually hear - as well as a deal more cleverness invested in decrypting the names of the characters in the book than ever went into naming them!

As the evening went on we sat around a table in the garden (the weather in Dubai being just about perfect for that kind of thing right now) and talked about the water issues in Jordan and the West bank, publishing and bibliophilia in general. Was the water issue based on research? Could Daoud's scheme be considered realistic? Would Nour really have been so approving of Paul's relationship with Aisha? Why would Anne even bother her head coming out to visit Paul? Is there a 'real' Aisha anywhere? We talked around all of these, as well as morality, alcohol, pre-marital sex and all the other stuff you find to talk about when you're chatting about books.

A truly convivial gathering, in short, with a group of people representing a uniquely Dubai mixture of nationalities and viewpoints.

I love book clubs...

Monday, 23 April 2012


Today, April 24th, Armenians around the world mark the Armenian genocide, still so shamefully unrecognised by the Turkish government. I posted earlier how the Circassian genocide had resulted in Amman's population of people from the North. Similarly, there's a big Armenian community enriching the city.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The BBC and Olives

During the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature I filmed an interview with BBC World's Ben Thompson, intended to be part of a 'package' on self publishing in the Middle East. I'm joined in the piece by various luminaries of the Middle Eastern publishing scene including distribution guru Narain Jashanmal, translator and e-publisher May Habib and author Dania El Kadi, I do an excellent impersonation of a slightly more careworn and dissipated Alistair Campbell.

As you'd expect, I used the opportunity to point out that authors are Doing It For Themselves as publishing houses become ever more risk averse. That's certainly the case for me, saddled with a book that has been thoroughly enjoyed by the hundreds of people who have read it so far and yet which 'traditional' publishing feels is too risky and not a commercial proposition they could invest in.

That book would still just be a load of charged particles on an oxide-coated aluminium platter if I hadn't decided to self publish it. After some 80-odd rejections from agents (and my own agent deciding he couldn't sell it), I am very glad I took the plunge.Olives has given a great deal of enjoyment to many people and every sale, review and Tweet of 'I enjoyed #Olives' adds to my delight and conviction that it was the right decision to take.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

How To Find Your Own Aisha

Today brings that most welcome of things, a guest post. Roba Al Assi is the lady behind popular Jordanian blog And Far Away and someone whose zeal for creativity and ready eye for the unusual and offbeat often provoke a wry smile and have not infrequently led me to explorations of things I would not otherwise have considered...

So, do you have a mini-crush on Aisha Dajani from "Olives"? The news is good. Given Amman's size and societal norms, you can follow these ten easy steps to meet your very own Aisha. The trick is to see how the people of the city are connected to one another, and filtering them out to the Jordanian woman of your dreams. Just make sure that you don't caught up in, ahem, espionage.

1. Spend a lot of time at Turtle Green. After some time, you’ll get to catch all the familiar faces and how each is connected.

2. Catch events at Masrah Al-Balad. Get surprised at how many new faces there are. Learn them.

3. Grab your drinks at La Calle, After Eight, or Negresco. Keep in mind that Books@Cafe, contrary to popular belief, attracts several crowds, some of which an Aisha will not take part in.

4. Befriend some of the Bakaloria crowd. I won’t mention names, but I can say this: they’re usually not to be found in La Calle, After Eight, or Negresco. Go to richer, darker, less fun places to find them.

5. Keep an eye on events happening at Rainbow Theatre, Makan, the Royal Cultural Center, and the RFC. Sometimes, there’s an Aisha-crowd magnet of an event.

6. Don’t be caught dead in a place that serves argeeleh.

7. Take a walk in l’Weibdeh or Abdoun.

8. Become a leftist, and attend leftist activities and events.

9. Have very strong opinions about how Amman is losing its soul to pseudo-modernity.

10. Attend pro-Palestine, anti-nuclear, and anti-corruption demos.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Jordanian Water Privatisation

Aisha’s soft touch was a little thrill as I helped her off the conference shuttle bus, the exhaust fumes making me squint up at her as the warm light caught her fine features. It was a hot Dead Sea day and I shifted uncomfortably in the unfamiliar confines of a suit. She glanced at me as her high heels hit tarmac, a flash of white teeth at my discomfiture.
   ‘Come on, let’s get you installed in the press office so I can find Harb and Zahlan.’
   We walked into the King Hussein convention centre, more buses pulling up behind us as conference visitors streamed in from the hotels along the Dead Sea coast and from the public car parks down the road. The keynote speaker, Harb Al Hashemi, Jordanian Minister of Natural Resources by the Grace of God, was also, Aisha told me, going to announce the result of the privatisation. The evaluation committee had reviewed the financial offers of both bidders and made its choice. Harb would reveal all.
Olives, Page 243

The privatisation of Jordan's Water Network in Olives is a fiction, although the critical water shortages Jordan is facing is a very well researched reality. The Israeli 'security wall' does, indeed snake around fertile land and springs, deviating significantly from the '1967 border' by kilometres just to snag a juicy well or spring. In a region where water - the stuff of life - is severely scarce, ensuring a steady supply is existential. Even when that supply comes at the expense of your neighbour or, if you prefer, your 'partner in peace'.

Ariel Sharon did indeed threaten to take Israel to war over the damming of the Litani River and Israel did take control of Lake Tiberias in the 1967 war, securing the massive reservoir. There are underground aquifers leading into Tiberias, a number of earthworks exist today that date back to Roman times, the Qanat Romani of Jordan, mostly concentrated in the North of the country.

But the privatisation is makety-uppity - you can blame it on the fact I was working with the Jordanian Ministry of ICT on a number of privatisation projects at the time I was writing Olives, including the privatisation of Jordan's telecoms sector which stands today as the most competitive in the Middle East -  precisely because of that privatisation programme. And the Ministry of Natural Resources is also, sadly, a fiction.- the water issue belongs fairly and squarely to the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation which is embarking on a number of schemes almost as breathtaking in scope as Daoud Dajani's in Olives - including the controversial Disi project, which will pump water hundreds of kilometers from Wadi Rumm up to Amman.
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Saturday, 14 April 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.
The dedication in Olives

I can't really  say when it became obvious my dad was suffering from the slow erosion of memory that is vascular dementia. He had always seemed a little bit mad to me - when I was a kid he used to drive me to embarrassed stage whispers of "Dad, shut up would you?" as he ambled through department stores whistling or singing silly little songs. He would talk to absolute strangers, making quips and generally laughing his way around the place.

I know I inherited his sense of humour and I'm very glad of that. I dread to think what else I've inherited.

He was an inveterate doodler, every birthday card I ever had from my parents featured a version of the wartime cartoon character, Chad cracking a 'Wot - another year?' type gag. Going through his papers, I found a cartoon typical of his style in a letter and was shocked to find it wasn't his - it was my grandfather's, a cartoon to my brother nestled in an impossibly formal letter to my mother sent in the 1950s. The doodle illustrated a brilliant nonsense poem that involved a cassowary and a missionary, a piece of pure Thurber.

It really hit me four years ago. We were walking through Camarthen when he declared to me he could remember when this was all countryside on the outskirts of London. He was back in Linden Avenue, the street in Wembley he was born and grew up in. We walked through the bustling Welsh town centre together and he pointed out landmarks to me from his childhood in another town eighty years ago, back when you'd still see steam-driven traction engines on the streets.

Two weeks ago we flew to the UK, our only purpose to take my father in to a care home.That's why I was going through his papers. We sat in the kitchen together the evening he went, my inconsolable mum weeping as I sorted through bags of his old letters, photos and other stuff.

He wouldn't go the first time around. Confused and disoriented, as he always is when he's woken up from a snooze, he got as far as the front door with me as I lied to him. Opening the door meant a gust of cold air and a sight of the vile weather outside. Declaring 'This isn't me', he insisted on going back inside, dropping down onto his comfy chair in the lounge and refusing to budge, blinking owlishly as he asked where he was and who we were. We tried again the next day, taking him in the car as I dropped my mum to the hairdresser then drove on to the care home. She didn't have the strength to do it, wouldn't lie to him. It was to be a full week before she could even contemplate going to the home to visit him.

I walked him, together with a pretty nurse, through the TV room with its complement of empty-eyed old ladies and then the dining room and into the lift to the first floor. I took him as far as his bedroom and then I couldn't take it any more and fled to fetch his bag of clothes from the car. The long, shuffling walk punctuated by his constant exclamations of 'Oh dear' had taken twenty minutes. Not once had he looked around and stopped to ask where we were.

I was tormented by the thought we'd got it wrong, that I had consigned him to a lonely prison where he'd be locked in a darkened room, helpless and howling for my mother, his companion of sixty two years and latterly his carer - to the point where her own health had suffered.

He didn't miss a beat. He has not the faintest clue where he is or who the people around him are. He's warm, secure and fed and functioning at that basic, animal level. He's able to experience, but has no memory of his experiences. As it shuts down, his mind isn't even able to dredge up the old, embedded memories of his childhood or his wartime in the marines so carefully documented in the schoolbook I found in those dusty plastic bags. He doesn't remember Linden Avenue any more.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Olives Launches In Lebanon

It was Lebanese bibliophile community The Cube's first anniversary last night and many people did gather at charming little drinking spot Knock On Wood in funky Hamra for a meet-up, book-swap and readings from myself and Lebanese poet and writer Pascal Assaf.

I gave a quick talk about how publishing works and why I spent years banging my head against the brick wall of conventional publishing before taking matters into my own hands, then gave a reading from the book (the scene where Aisha takes Paul house hunting). Standing around chatting afterwards was a pleasure that segued nicely into a slightly later evening than I had planned as a number of reprobates from Dubai visiting for ArabNet joined us and proceeded to demonstrate quite how much fun Hamra can be.

Coincidentally, The Cube's review of Olives - A Violent Romance went up yesterday as well.

A great big thank you from the bottom of my heart to the Cube Crowd - lovely people with a passion for reading they share on the website and in their meetings, which manage to circumvent the 'traditional' book club format of 'dicatating' what people should read for each meeting.

And now it' off to Librairie El Bourj in Beirut's Place Des Martyrs for the 'official launch' of Olives in Lebanon. There's been quite a bit of interest in the book, particularly in face of the little controversies around the book's content, each of which is no controversy at all, but people do love a little drama, don't they?

Monday, 26 March 2012

Self Publishing Is No Shame

It’s strange to have to report this, but I have to say I have had absolutely no negative reaction to the fact I decided to self publish my book.  I’m four months into the Olives – A Violent Romance project (Olives launched at the TwingeDXB Urban Festival on the 10th December 2011, but wasn’t widely available in bookshops until February) and I have since not had one ‘We’re not taking you seriously, mate, you’re self pubbed’ from anyone.

Not one.

I’ve had a number of reviews now from a variety of ‘mainstream media’ as well as blogs. I've even been invited to attend literary festivals as an author. My review in Read Magazine (it's on page 14) this week actually made reference to the fact Olives is self-published. But it didn’t stop them taking it as a review book.
When an author self-publishes his or her first novel, there’s a sense of apprehension when choosing to read it. If it wasn’t picked up by the publishing houses, it can’t be that good, can it? Happily, though, Dubai-based author Alexander McNabb puts those fears to rest with his first novel, Olives.
The extremely well-written story follows Paul Stokes, an English journalist sent to Jordan to work on a government magazine. Immediately, he’s plunged into trouble, though he’s promised help by his friends at the ministry, including love interest Aisha and her family, and shady British embassy agent Gerald Lynch.
The story twists and turns as both sides vie to influence Stokes, but what really impresses is McNabb’s ability to offer a balanced view on the tensions in Jordan—he really has done his research. This makes Olives an educational read as well as an enthralling and entertaining one.
The review, apart from being very kind (thank you, chaps!) raises an important point. Self published books used to be awful things. I actually bought one of those ‘first generation’ vanity books as part of my research on the third novel in what you might choose to view as ‘The Olives Cycle’, which is about a retired British diplomatist with a Middle Eastern career behind him. What better source for inspiration than the memoirs of real retired British diplomats? The book I bought shall remain nameless for fear of shaming its author, but it’s a dire, dreadful and colourless career that plods through those pages. Which was fantastic for me, because that’s precisely what I wanted. Anyone in their right minds who’s not researching a novel about a British diplomat in the Middle East would quite rightly take this particular book and fling it from Beachy Head. With lead weights attached, I might add. It’s typical of its type, a book that should never have been imprinted on dead trees.

But that was then, this is now.

The fact is today's publishing industry is fighting in an increasingly difficult environment. The march of e-books and online retail have cracked the model the industry is comfortable and the changes are forcing publishers to take decisions based on mainstream appeal with minimal risk. So if you're a TV celebrity publishing a book, you're in. If you don't fit comfortably into 'three for two' supermarket dump bins or your work will require marketing to reach its audience, you're out. Adding insult to injury, this is an extract from one of the 'big six' publishers who declined my agent Robin's cunningly worded invitation to take on 'Beirut', my second serious novel:
"There are lots of elements to it that I like – there’s an austere, almost Le Carre feel which I like and the author can clearly write. The dialogue and plotting stood out for me in particular. I’m afraid though that it is – for my purposes – a bit too low-key; the ‘commercial’ bit of my job title requires me to pick out titles which are going to appeal directly to supermarkets and the mass-market, and I feel that this would be too difficult a sell in that context."
QED, no?

As more authors take control of their back-lists and self publish them and more mid-list authors lose patience with the way they are being treated by publishers and go it alone, we are seeing a remarkable explosion of talent available to us. The sheer choice now open to readers is not only breathtaking, it’s also confusing.

Authors are having to learn new skills in order to stand out in this brave new world of almost limitless choice. But there are also new opportunities – as more books see the light of day, we need more freelance editors and cover designers. People are finding that skills in formatting and page design can actually find a new market – and there’s a new demand for reliable, competent book reviewers, too – because we all need help in sifting through that new wave of choice.

There’s a tremendous opportunity out there based on this movement, an opportunity to let people’s talent find its way into other people’s hands freely and without restriction, for writers to find global audiences without the huge burden of print and distribution and the risk-averse, highly strictured gatekeeper mentality that traditional publishing applies.
Reviewers and the like will take their cue from your approach rather than your origin. Is the pitch well-written? Does it sound plausible and even interesting? If so, they’ll agree to take a look, believe me. They will then, also believe me in this, take their own sweet time getting around to reviewing the book. But gone are the days when self-published books are automatically anathemised.

In fact, most people’s reaction to the fact I self-published Olives has been ‘Good for you’. Not only a pleasant surprise, but yet another reason I believe I was right to take the plunge.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Talking of Olives

Emirates Airline Festival of Literature supremo Isobel Abulhoul kindly invited me to join her Talking Of Books radio show on Dubai Eye, the UAE's leading talk radio station yesterday and spend an hour talking of Olives, which the Talking of Books team had selected as their Book of the Week. Which was something of a yay, to say the least!

We chatted about self publishing and the merits of Kindles for a while, before moving on to talk Olives. Everyone had enjoyed the book (hence book of the week, I guess!), which is always nice, although Isobel considered Paul Stokes to be a coward. I pointed out, as I often do, that Paul's not supposed to be a likeable character as such (Look at Meursault in L'etranger or Pinky in Brighton Rock. Likeable? Not). Paul represents, to a great degree, something in all of us we'd prefer not to think is there. We'd prefer if we were better than that, made better decisions than that. But I suspect there's a bit of Paul in all of us.

One of my hosts was interested in why Paul, a passive character in the main, lashes out at the policemen at the start of the book, which was a good point but then Paul has a tendency to lash out - he does at Anne later in the book, at Aisha as well after Daoud ticks him off with a 'hands off my sister' chat in the garden and, indeed, at Lynch which is, of course, a mistake on Paul's part.

Co-host John MacDonald seemed to find Lynch more interesting, which is really how it should be. I was fascinated to find myself charged with giving Brits a hard time in the book, between Paul, Lynch and Anne, and even poor old TE Lawrence, it was felt that I had trotted out some very flawed people to represent perfidious Albion. I did what any sensible author in my position would have done and pleaded guilty.

Everyone found the water issues raised in the book fascinating and hadn't been aware of the scale of the problem, which was great to hear as one of my aims with Olives was to heighten awareness of that very issue as well as that of humanity and identity in the face of glib news headlines.

Amusingly, the team had previously interviewed self-publishing poster child Amanda Hocking and had found her monosyllabic, disinterested replies shocking, cutting short the interview. I can just see her replying to every question with, like, 'whateverrrr'...

It’s going to be a busy week for Olives, with a review published today in Read Magazine, while later in the week I have two readings in Beirut. Before then, I have a brace of interviews about the book.

I do feel sorry for authors who would rather focus on their writing and not have to get involved in the relentless mill of publicity. I’m no shrinking violet and I’m finding the constant attention-seeking wearying at this stage. And yet I’m grateful for each new opportunity, not only to talk about my work (which will never pall, I’m sure) but to get word out there about, hopefully interesting people enough to get them to pick up a copy, either online at Amazon, B&N or iBooks or at their local bookshop where they can now order Olives under its Createspace ISBN-13: 978-1466465718
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Friday, 23 March 2012

OIives Reading in Beirut

I'm doing a reading for Lebanese reading mad people's website/community The Cube on the 28th March and then on the 29th at Librarie El Bourj there'll be a talk, reading and signing session. Do feel free to join us there!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

GeekFest Sharjah Is An Olives Free Zone

There’ll probably be a collective sigh of relief at this – GeekFest Sharjah 1.0 takes place tonight at the Al Maraya Art Centre located at Sharjah’s delightful canal-side Al Qasba and it’ll be an Olives Free Zone. No readings, no talks about the book and not a copy on sale.

GeekFest is an offline gathering for online people that takes place sporadically around the Middle East and features geeky talks, demos, workshops and other fabulous things. There have been GeekFests in Cairo, Damascus, Amman, Beirut, Abu Dhabi and, of course, Dubai - and GeekFest Jeddah is to take place next month. It's something I didn't set out to start and have never attempted to organise, it's just sort of happened. You can find out more here.

Instead I’ll be giving a talk about Sharjah’s history, particularly the role of Imperial Airways, which used to form part of the global network of air-routes that tied together the British Empire in the years before World War Two brought that very Empire to its knees and closed that rich chapter in history.

In the 1930s, massive Handley Page biplanes took off from Croydon Airport and carried their passengers around the world in journeys that took days, compared to the weeks and months that sea and land journeys used to take. Documented in the important 1937 documentary film Air Outpost, these leviathans of the sky landed in Sharjah for an overnight stay at Mahatta Fort, today preserved as a museum in the centre of modern Sharjah. It's a little known fact that the road by Sharjah's 'Saudi Mosque' is, in fact, the old runway. I've long been fascinated by Mahatta and its history, so thought I'd share that tonight, as well as screening the original film.

And not an olive in sight! :)
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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Palestine Nights

   Reaching the kitchen, I finally appreciated the situation my curiosity had put me in. Whatever happened outside, if anyone found me outside my bedroom, their immediate assumption would be that I had been with Aisha. They’d make mincemeat of me, let alone the consequences for Aisha. The Jordanians still have honour killings, the families of girls who’ve disgraced them closing ranks to protect the brother or father who kills her in a rage. What would they do with me, the lone Brit somewhere in the country between two of the most infamous flashpoints in the West Bank? I stood in the dark kitchen, the moonlight shining through the window casting cold bars of light across the wall. I was sweating so much I had to wipe my forehead.
Olives, Page 174

I’ve had readers wondering how Paul could ever have got close enough to Aisha to have a relationship with her, which always puzzles me. It’s by no means easy for him, early on he gets a ‘hands off my sister’ talk from Daoud and yet it’s reasonably clear that the women in the family approve of Paul more than Daoud does. Aisha’s grandmother Mariam comes down on Paul’s side too, yet Paul is acutely conscious of the cultural issues at play. Warned early on by his friend Lars, the man who lives upstairs, about the jealousy of Arab men, Paul knows that his situation, when he goes walkabout in Palestine at midnight, is a fraught one.

And yet Paul is driven by curiosity, trying to get to the bottom of whether Aisha and her family are somehow involved in terrorist activities. He suspects, but he dare not believe the woman he’s falling in love with could indeed be involved. He’s torn, his suspicions constantly being pushed by Gerald Lynch and yet his feelings for Aisha leading him to doubt what he’s hearing.

Pulled this way and that, torn by his loyalties, Paul has to make the right decisions if he’s to make it through.

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The Olive Princess

Pic:Sara Refai

 Aisha held out her hand to brush against the leaves as we passed them. ‘I used to play in these olive groves as a child. They were monsters or soldiers in my army, sometimes they were courtiers in my court,’ she said, smiling.
   We crested the hill to confront the shocking scar greyly dominating the green-flecked earthy brown landscape. The Israeli security wall.
Olives, Page 168

Olives – A Violent Romance came within a whisker of being titled ‘The Olive Princess’. Although the book’s working title had been Olives for seven years, I was keenly aware that the book title was an SEO disaster (SEO, for non-geeks, is Search Engine Optimisation, the science of Getting Found By Google). Sure enough, if you search Amazon for ‘Olives’, you get those smug bastards Crespo and a load of Mediterranean cookbooks before you ever come across any violent romances.

I wobbled for a while, but got talked down off the ledge by friends who’d always known the book as Olives and who thought ‘The Olive Princess’ looked like chick-lit. And so it was to be.

Aisha’s little game of pretending the olive trees were her courtiers is both a connection to her heritage and to Paul. The olive trees of Palestine are a potent symbol of the past, of their heritage and of their identity for Palestinians. Tens of thousands of these magnificent old trees have been uprooted by the Israelis in land clearance for the ‘security wall’ as well as in the clearance of Palestinian land for Israeli settlements (they live hundreds of years and it’s possible that many of those uprooted trees were there in Jesus’ lifetime). The trees remain critically important to many Palestinians, who farm them for the fruit and the oil they give.

There’s no taste in the world quite like unfiltered ‘first cut’ olive oil from Palestine.

I was at St. David's cathedral in Wales over Christmas and found a number of olive-wood Christian themed souvenirs in the cathedral gift shop. I had to check and, sure enough, they were made in Israel. The irony bore down on me like a physical weight.

While the connection for Aisha is to her heritage, the connection with Paul is loneliness. As a child, Paul used to play alone:
“...pretending trees are tanks and sheds are submarines. It had left me with some funny habits, including one of predicting outcomes through random events. If the red car lets me cross the road then I’ll get off with Sonia Smith.”
And so Aisha’s olive courtiers are an imaginary childhood game she shared in common with Paul, two lonely children who found company in each other against all the odds.

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Sunday, 18 March 2012

You Like Arabs?


   He handed Aisha’s passport to me, but when I went to take it he kept his grip, leaving me leaning forwards, unbalanced over his desk. We stayed that way for a second before I managed to find my balance again, my hand still on the passport. ‘You like Arabs?’
   His eyes held me and I looked back at him, furiously trying to think of a response. ‘I’ve liked the people I have met since I arrived in Jordan.’
   ‘So you think we are bad people then, Paul Stokes? That we should be drive into sea? You agree about this?’
   I let go of the passport as I sensed the traps lying in wait all around me, refusing to play a tug of war with him over the document. I tried to keep my voice mild and neutral as I responded, but I found it hard to focus, the phrase tug of war in my mind stopped me from thinking properly. I wanted to go to the toilet.
   His question had been put in a mild, almost offhand way, but at the same time it went directly to the heart of what many of the people I had met in the Arab World thought. That the Israelis didn’t belong here, that they should never have been allowed to come here.
Olives, Page 158
Where do you start? Poor Paul, young and innocent he finds himself exposed to the realities, the human elements, of the conflict he had skimmed over in TV reports, a news addict channel hopping the news networks. And now he’s in deep, caught between the Arabs and the Israelis, unsure who the good guys and bad guys are anymore, unsure about what to believe because all around him people believe such very different things.

It'll be 64 years this year since 1948 saw the founding of the state of Israel and the beginning of this latest chapter in the history of that famously 'invented people', the Palestinians. That history is intertwined with the history of the country that became a home to so many: Jordan. While the Palestinians of Lebanon still live in a state of semi-recognition, effectively treated like 'Bidoun' (stateless people), those in Jordan have been allowed to settle, take up Jordanian nationality and, in many cases, prosper. Those left behind in Gaza and West Bank are arguably not as fortunate, living a restricted life under occupation. And yet many of those who left still feel a deep link back to the land their families came from - another theme explored in Olives, with the olive grove kept in Abdoun by the fictional Dajanis of the book serving as a constant reminder of the farm they still hold in the West Bank.

I’d like to recommend a book to you, particularly if you find yourself intrigued by the subjects Olives touches on, take a read of Pamela Olsen’s Fast Times in Palestine. It’s a candid, well-written and very readable book that looks at everyday life in the West Bank and it will probably make you quietly angry.

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Jordan's Water Shortage - A Grim Reality

   ‘Paul, we have found new ways to gain access to deep water resources that will help to rebalance Jordan’s position on the water map of the region. We’ve been using some of the most sophisticated deep geophysical mapping systems in the world, systems developed to explore for oil and gas in the Gulf. Because of our partners, we can combine that ability to see further underground than ever before with cutting edge French micro-boring technology. We know where the deep water is and where it flows and that it flows through Jordanian land. We can tap into those aquifers before they rise across the border. You see? We can keep our water, we can seize it back from them.’
   I was taken aback by the fire in Daoud’s voice. ‘Can you make it work? I mean, you’ve not only got physical constraints but political ones too.’
   My question merely fanned his passion. Daoud’s hand was on my shoulder as he leaned forwards, his eyes locked on mine and his fervour drawing me in.
Olives, Page 136

As I’ve said before, the Jordanian water shortage aspects of Olives – A Violent Romance are based on reality. Daoud’s aquifers idea was sparked by the existence of a network of Roman aquifers in the country to the north, the ‘Qanat Romani’. There are also a number of deep underground springs that do, indeed, rise into Lake Tiberias. So why not drill deep and tap these springs before the water leaves Jordanian territory?

Of course, the scheme would not meet with approval from ‘next door’, which is core to the events in Olives – Daoud’s scheme is either brilliant or criminally irresponsible, depending on your point of view. Certainly, such a scheme would never be endorsed by a reasonable government. But then we’re looking at a government with its back to the wall here, the water shortage so compelling they’d grasp at any solution that addressed the drought.

The Jordanian water shortage is a very grim reality -the Fourth World Water Development Report (WWDR), recently released by UNESCO, projected that by 2022, Jordan's population could exceed 7.8 million, raising water demand to 1,673 million cubic metres (mcm), and pushing the water deficit from the current 457mcm to 659mcm within a decade.The report itself is linked here and it's a grim read for many Middle Eastern countries - Jordan being one of the most deeply affected by the heady combination of a growing population and diminishing resources.

Here’s a slice of the evidential ‘back story’ from Olives, the introduction to a news feature filed in the Jordan Times under a pen name by one Paul Stokes at the behest of Ibrahim Dajani.

  When French geologist André Sillere started to map the locations of ancient Roman aquifers, the Qanat Romani that dot the landscape in parts of North and Western Jordan and Syria, he little realised that his actions would lead to a tragic chain of events that culminated in the infamous Amman night club bombing in which fifteen people lost their lives.
  Sillere had evolved a theory that there were previously unrealised deep underground water sources in Jordan and he approached Jordanian businessman Daoud Dajani with the idea of tapping them. It was Dajani’s funding that allowed Sillere, supported by technical experts from French water company AquaPur and Jordanian company Jerusalem Holdings, to put his theories to the test and prove the availability of significant new water resources that could provide Jordan with critical relief in its search for solutions to the country’s water crisis.
  But the scheme, part of Jerusalem’s upcoming bid for the Jordanian Water Privatisation, potentially means that Israeli water resources would be depleted. And Israel’s reaction has been both swift and deadly...
In fact there is a an extensive system of well-documented aquifers in the North West of Jordan, the 'Basalt aquifer' shared between Jordan and Syria. Daoud's aquifer scheme is actually surprisingly possible.
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