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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Friday, 16 March 2012

Byzantine Bidding - Jordan's Government

‘Paul, we’re going to be fair to the bidders, but the Jerusalem Consortium has some big innovations to bring to the table, including ways of recovering water that will benefit both Jordan and our friends in the West Bank. It’s hard to compare the two bids as apples to apples. One is visionary and brilliant and one is professional but doesn’t address our longer term needs.’ He tapped the desk for emphasis. ‘But these bids will be treated fairly and openly and honestly by a committee tasked with evaluating them.’
Olives, Page 128

I have been involved in such processes myself, responding to tenders, presenting to evaluation committees and the like. It’s a skill in itself and rarely less than entertaining, particularly in Jordan. On one occasion I remember the bid evaluation committee starting to argue with each other, our team presenting our bid in Arabic increasingly ignored as the argument raged with increasing heat until one member of the committee left the room, red faced, his hands sweeping the air as he shouted ‘Ana falah! Ana falah!’ ('I'm a peasant'). I never managed to quite work out where that all came from.

The red tape involved in dealing with government entities (including NGOs and semi-government organisations)can be choking and I often find myself wondering quite whether the process is quite as ‘fair, open and honest’ as the process was originally intended to ensure. Part of the issue is that the process itself favours those who have mastered the arcane art of actually managing the process. There are people in Amman who exist pretty much on their ability to scout these contracts out and negotiate the many, various and occasionally incomprehensible hoops that you're expected to jump through.

Permeating it all is the ever-present spectre of 'wasta' or influence, contracts being awarded to companies owned  by cousins and the like.

It can get pretty Byzantine.

Arab Hospitality

 Chai Nana - image:Nicholas Malfait

Abdullah Zahlan had arranged my meeting with the Minister the next day, so I found myself sitting on the leather sofa outside Harb Al Hashemi’s office, drinking a little gold-rimmed glass of thyme zaatar tea as I waited for the big panelled doors to open. When they did, a little grey-haired man in a blue-grey suit shot out, a pile of papers clutched in his arm as he paddled a fussy wave of effusive thanks and effendi’s to Al Hashemi’s crisp, efficient secretary, who ignored him.
   ‘You can go in, now, Mr. Stokes.’
Olives, Page 127
Formal meetings in the Arab World often still involve little gold-edged custard glasses of ‘chai’ in various forms, from ‘chai suleimani’, a sweet bronze-coloured infusion of tea, almost certainly Lipton to ‘chai nana’, tea with fresh mint steeped in it. And then there are the herbal and fruit teas you come across, most frequently ‘zaatar’, or thyme. I remember ginger tea waiting in Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s majlis, deep-pile carpets and mirrored walls all around me. And long, painful waits for short, painful meetings at the Ministry of Information in Dubai filled with a variety of teas brought to me in a procession of diuretic little delights. Those were the meetings back in the early ‘90s when I had fallen foul of someone with wasta, something that can’t, thankfully, happen in the same way to writers in the UAE today. Or to their kidneys.

In Saudi Arabia and Kuwait you’re just as likely to be offered ghawa, green unroasted coffee flavoured with cardamom and served in little cups from a long-necked brass coffee pot or, more likely these days, a long brass-necked coffee pot shaped thermos. It’s polite to accept a refill or, at most, two and then pass the cup back with a little waggle to signify you’re done. Two fingers over the cup will do instead of a waggle.

It's a little ritual that's tied into the age-old Arab traditions of hospitality that still dictate how you're received as a guest, whether it's sitting in a Jordanian government minister's waiting room or encountering a family while offroading in the Omani mountains and being invited into their home to share coffee and dates. Coming from a culture that's instinctually distrustful of strangers, it never fails to amaze me.
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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

How It All Started

‘We are already soaked. How can you get wetter than this?’ she retorted, pirouetting in the rain and laughing, her face held up to the sky so the droplets glistened on her cheeks in the streetlight. She span, dancing to her own rhythm, laughing and beckoning to me. I grabbed her hand and tried to pull her towards the house. She held back, her face radiant with laughter.
Olives, Page 125
This is where it all started. Listening to George Winston’s stunning Winter into Spring one night made me think of a girl dancing in the rain. Why a girl, I don’t know but the track, either February Sea or Rain brought the image clearly to my mind (both of the tracks are linked above - take a listen, they're really worth it, believe me). And somehow I knew she was walking down a street in Amman’s First Circle, or Jebel Amman, area.

The next morning I had a book in my head, all laid out like blacktop in the desert, possibilities snaking out of sight among the dunes and shimmering in the sunlight. I dashed it all down in four weeks and then started the long haul of learning how to write books (which, you could argue, I have by no means finished), rewriting Olives as I went, adding bits and taking bits away as I added and deleted characters and whole scenes.

The book was always around the core theme of Paul and Aisha and his journey to discover whether she and her brother are the good guys or not – and it always had that core element of Paul trying to find out if he was somehow linked to the outbreak of terrorism that seems to follow him around. But it was in many ways, and has been through several iterations, a very different book.

All the way through the changes, that girl dancing in the rain has been in there – not on purpose, but just ‘there’. It wasn’t until the book was finally done and I started to think about its genesis I realised how important she was to the book and also discovered that her dance takes place pretty much in the middle of the book – a complete coincidence.

Why would you dance in the rain? Because perhaps you’re happy, just a little crazy or just too wet to care anymore.

And, of course, in so many ways Paul and Aisha have also reached that point in their lives...
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Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Jordan's War for Water

 ‘It’s in the Israeli’s interests to stop us exploiting new water reserves. They need us struggling with inadequate resources while they get fat on the water they’ve taken from us over the years. As I told you before, Paul, I mean to take our water back. And as you can imagine, they’re not going to be happy about it.’
Olives, Page 204

The struggle for water resources underpins Olives, a privatisation project is in place and two consortia are bidding to take over the country’s water network. The privatisation is a fiction, of course, although Jordan has undergone a number of highly successful privatisations, not least of which was the privatisation and liberalisation of telecoms in the country, resulting in the most competitive and sophisticated telecommunications market in the Middle East.

Why would you privatise the water network? Because Jordan’s lack of water is compelling and ever-worsening. A massive, and somewhat visionary, project to pipe water from Wadi Rumm up to Amman is underway but it once again depends on tapping known – and finite - natural water resources. The Dead Sea is receding at a rate of up to four feet annually, the huge lake losing something like two billion gallons of water a year as the torpid Jordan and the rivers, streams and rills that feed it upstream are diverted to meet the needs of the increasing populations of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel.

The Dead Sea problem alone has triggered enormous efforts to find some way of remediating the damage – quite apart from environmental impacts, a significant tourism industry has grown around the huge saline lake that sits at the world’s lowest point. There’s a lot of talking going on, but they’ve been talking about it for years.

Across the board, Jordan simply doesn’t have enough water – estimates vary as to when the country will hit crisis point.  In reality, the government is acting where it can, but you can only do so much with what nature’s given you.

That’s why the fictional Daoud Dajani’s water scheme in Olives is so divisive. In tapping underground aquifers that feed into Tiberias, Daoud will bring fresh water to Jordan but his proposal will mean Israel’s water would be depleted and turned saline.

Is that an act of terror? Or is Daoud guilty of other acts, driven by his conviction that Israel has ‘taken too much’?

Monday, 12 March 2012

Arabian Nights

   His voice was matter-of-fact. ‘There are many blue cars in the world, Paul. There are many meetings between men at night in Palestine, because the Arabs love the night. They like to plot and scheme, to talk about ideals and the perfection of the world. Now and then their talk turns to action, but rarely. Mostly they talk and dream, drink tea and smoke argileh. It’s their tragedy, the Palestinians, to dream like opium eaters while their leaders fail them. They leave it to others to act and build better houses around themselves.’
Olives, Page 193
“The Arabs love the night.” I do like that, Father Vahan the Armenian Orthodox Priest being perhaps a tad harsh in his assessment of his neighbours and countrymen. It’s true, though – the Arabs do love the night, a time for families and gathering in places such as pleasure parks and corniches, small children staying up until all hours, running around and squealing as they play.

It’s a habit born, in part, of the hot summer months, when the evenings are cooler. And perhaps it’s a habit accentuated by the customs of the month of Ramadan, when the day is given to fasting and, properly, religious contemplation - as is the night, with prayers through the early hours. But the night also becomes a time of house visits, of food gifts and gatherings, the breaking of the fast at sunset giving way to the ‘suhoor’, a meal that takes place at varying times from about 9pm onwards, depending on who’s throwing it. Here rich foods are eaten, argileh smoked alongside endless custard glasses of chai suleimani and games of tarneeb, the card play that is a passion for so many across the Arab world, battles fought, won and lost every night. Some play for money, but We Don’t Talk About That.

In Jordan, Ramadan nights also become the occasion for performances – I shall never forget walking with friends into a burlesque by Lebanese female impersonator Bassem Ferghali in Amman, entranced by the sheer naughtiness of it all to a boy used to Ramadan in the Gulf, where the evenings are perhaps a tad less riotous.

I thought Father Vahan’s summary of the Arabs would get me into more hot water, but so far it’s just elicited rueful head-shakes. Then I hadn’t predicted any of the elements of Olives that would be controversial in the Arab world (never intended as the book’s original target market, I must say), so what would I know? The name of a fictional family, the morals of a fictional girl and actually talking about the alcohol that is so frequently consumed behind closed doors – these have been the biggies, not passages like the one I quote today.

Which, I suppose, is part of what I love about the region. It’s so bloody Quixotic...
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An Orthodox Greeting

 I sat down on a cold wooden pew, my fingers tracing the worn lines, the smell of wood and frankincense in my nostrils as my breathing slowed.
    ‘Pari lou is.’
   A deep voice. I turned to my right and saw a huge white-bearded figure dressed in black, an olivewood crucifix around his neck. I looked at him, opened my mouth to speak, but couldn’t make the words come out.
   He spoke again: ‘Sabah al khair,’ and, when I still didn’t reply, ‘Good morning.’ I nodded.
   ‘Welcome to our Church. I am Father Vahan.’
   He smiled, his hands held together either in prayer or greeting.
   ‘Forgive me, but you appear troubled.’
   I looked at the richly decorated altar and around at the classical images, glittering Madonnas and Christs on the wooden panels around me.
Olives, Page 191

The Levant is at the core of the three ‘Revealed Religions’, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The latter of these, in every sense, was born in Mecca and Medinah, but it was in Jerusalem Muslims believe the Prophet Mohammed ascended to heaven.

As a consequence, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria are crammed with memories of these religions over the past two millennia and more. There are places sacred to each and to all three. There are places of syncretism and, of course, of conflict and sectarianism.

This is also the land of the Eastern Empire: Byzantium. I have long been fascinated by the ebb and flow of the Eastern and Western worlds as they flowed and clashed around the Eastern Mediterranean, the collapse of Rome, the rise of Constantinople and then the fall of the great city to the Ottomans. Behind it all, the thread of religion is wound around everything, but the Christianity of the Levant is very different to the somewhat pusillanimous, slightly embarrassed and rather, well, British version of Christianity I grew up with.

The Orthodox Churches of the Levant are rather richer than the protestant churches of England, it has to be said.  As, indeed, are the Catholic ones – Eastern Catholicism is beholden to Rome but in aspects of rite and practice is notably more ‘eastern’. So Paul, wandering into an Orthodox Armenian church in Amman would be rather stunned by the splendour of it all even, as he is, beside himself with horror and self-doubt...

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Saturday, 10 March 2012

Olives - Reading and Signing in Beirut

There’s going to be a talk about, reading and signing of Olives in Beirut, at the highly salubrious Librarie El Bourj at 5.00pm on the 29th March 2010. The event will also showcase Lebanese artist Naeema Zarif’s work on the book’s cover and there’ll also be a display of more layered, polymesmeric images teased from the Zarif brain.

I’ve long planned to do this event and, thanks to the support of my friends over at Levant Distribution, especially Therese Nasr, as well as Michel Choueri and Chantal Sfeir over at Librarie El Bourj, it’s now on the cards.

I had always planned the Middle East edition of Olives would be on sale in Beirut and Amman. Finding I can’t get the book onto bookshelves in Amman was something of a blow, particularly as the book’s set in Jordan. No such problems existed next door, though, and Olives is loud and proud on Lebanese bookshelves.

You’ll find Librarie El Bourj on the Place Des Martyrs behind the Annahar building.

There’ll be more information about the event, you can be sure, closer to the date – but if you’re in Beirut, mark your diary and we’ll maybe have some fun together...

Here's the Facebook event page!
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First Routes to Publication Panel at Emirates Airline Festival of Literarture

I had come to do harm. I admit it. There was a tyre lever in the leg of my jeans, the cold metal a comfort to me as I readied to meet The Evil Gatekeeper. Literary agent Luigi Bonomi was responsible for at least one of the 250-odd rejections I have pasted up in the wall of My Shrine with candles lit all around them.

And now I had him, in front of an audience. On stage. A rejected author who had finally, after ten years, thrown up his hands with the publishing industry and gone it alone. An Agent. One Of Them.

Luigi Bonomi is a charming, charming man. We chatted backstage before we went on. I had also interviewed him earlier that day for Dubai Eye Radio. We quickly found we had more areas of agreement than disagreement. By the time we were ready to take to the stage at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, I had shamefacedly slipped the tyre lever into a side-cupboard.

We were joined by Dubai-based author Liz Fenwick, who is publishing her first book, The Cornish House, as part of a two-book deal with Orion and the charming Sarah Hathorn, who at thirteen self published her first book, Alexandra's Mission: Teenagent. I thought Sarah was wonderful, poised, articulate and intelligent - all qualities I know I was utterly lacking in when I was fifteen.

We talked about our stories, how we' each approached getting published and the hurdles we'd faced, the advice we'd give. The audience was clearly peppered with wannabe authors and when Q&A came, Luigi got hit with loads of 'how do we submit to you?' kindof questions. His workshop session on how to submit your work and get it published sold out and a second session had to be quickly cobbled together, showing just how popular this topic was.

And so contrary to my expectations, the session was jolly, funny and sparkled, in no small part thanks to the skills of moderator Paul Blezard. We all shuffled out and sat in our signing chairs, little pennants with our names on them. Sarah and I chatted (we bought each others' books) as the occasional person came up to us to have one or the other book signed. Liz didn't have a book to sign, hers launches on the 15th March. We gazed wistfully at Darren Shan's long, straggling queue next to us.

So that was that. All I can say is if I ever meet Luigi again, I swear I'll be unarmed...

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Talking Of Books

publish #01
publish #01 (Photo credit: mediamolecule)
As usual, my fears were unfounded. I had a blast yesterday talking to pupils from the Dubai American Academy. I took them on a quick run through some proofs of 'McNabb's Mantra' (TM), the Book of Kells vs Caxton's first print; 'hot metal' typesetting vs DTP and CDs vs the iPod. The Mantra?

Quality becomes irrelevant where technology improves access.

I frequently argue with people who say they want to 'curl up with a good book' and couldn't imagine reading without the sensual quality of a book, the feel of the paper, the smell etc.As you may have guessed, I think this is twaddle. I have read more books in the year since I acquired a Kindle than perhaps at any time before (65 books bought and read in 2011). Because the Kindle gives me access to any book I want, when I want it. Instantly. And because it's the words that transport me, not the carrier medium. The quality of a book is in the words and as long as they're legible and the carrier is convenient and pleasant to use, I don't really care what the carrier medium is.

We then segued into the transformation of publishing, how disintermediation is looming like a Balrog over the publishing industry - and how I'd picked this time of Fear and Loathing to try and get published. And then we moved onto self publishing and, inevitably, Olives.

There were no questions at the end, then one timid hand went up. And then they came thick and fast. How had I researched the book? What made me want to write a book in the first place? Is there any money in it? Why did I pick the Middle East? Why 'a violent romance'? My favourite question came last: "You mentioned you hated school. Why?" I got my first belly laugh with my impersonations of my schoolmasters who were, in the main, a thoroughly eccentric lot, but it was an impromptu impersonation of a Sikh crane driver that had 'em howling...

I came away impressed with the Dubai American Academy. It has a massive library and a keen librarian. It's a big school, some 2,400 pupils, but there's a happy, busy vibe to the place I liked instantly. The kids were fun, much more engaged than I'd feared (and nobody threw anything at me) and bright as buttons. During my introduction onstage, I learned that last year they'd had Jefferey Deaver in to talk to 'em, so no pressure there. But I think I'm safe in saying Deaver didn't use the word 'masturbate' during his talk. Know your audience, Jeff. Know your audience.
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Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The School Talk

[Bertie tries to address a girls' school as the students keep making faces at him]
Bertie Wooster: Er, right, yes! Er, well. Erm... oh, ah, yes! Now! Here's something that's often done me a bit of good, er, and it's something that not many people know. [they begin making faces again, and he pauses in confusion] Ah, yes, well, anyway. Erm -- my uncle Henry gave me the tip when I first came to London. Er, "Never forget, my boy," he said, "that -- er -- that if you stand at Romano's in the Strand, you can see the clock on the wall of the law courts down in Fleet Street." Now most people don't know this, wouldn't think it was possible, because there are a couple of hefty-looking churches in the middle of the road, and, er, you'd think they'd get in the way, but they don't! You can! And, er, it's, well, it's worth knowing. You can win a lot of money, he used to say, betting on it with fellows who... who... who haven't found it out. [laughs nervously] And, by Jove, he was absolutely right. It-it really is a... a thing to remember. Yes, many's the quid I've won...
Headmistress: [clears her throat loudly] Perhaps, Mr. Wooster, a story might be in order, some anecdote to illustrate the benefits of hard work, study, and healthy living?
Bertie Wooster: A story! Right. Erm... never can remember stories. Oh! Yes, yes, here's one I heard recently. [laughs to himself] Erm... It seems that there was this chorus girl, and she met this stockbroker. And he said to her...

Giving a talk to 500 young adults in a Dubai school today has me rather feeling like Bertie Wooster addressing a girl’s school. Pupils at the Dubai American Academy are going to be herded out of their classrooms and driven, shuffling, into the main hall to listen  to me shouting at them for an hour. The poor darlings.

After much soul-searching, I decided to talk to them about why publishing is headed for a time of fundamental and existentially dangerous change, why that’s potentially the greatest opportunity writers have ever known and how it’s led to me deciding to go it alone rather than hold out for that elusive publishing partner.

Do 13-15 year-olds even care about books anymore? I’ll be fascinated to find out – and to find out what they’re engaged with. Tragically, I’ll have to dash away straight afterwards to make the Dubai Eye Radio studios in time for the weekly talk radio show I co-host, UNWiredFM, which starts broadcasting an hour after my talk’s scheduled to finish with 500 slack jawed kids wondering who the hell the loony shouting at them from the stage was...

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Monday, 5 March 2012

Naming Aisha

   She reached out a hand to brush against one of the pale green spiky-leafed branches. ‘This is tamarisk. It thrives on the salty ground here. This path was the one Jesus took.’
   I was surprised. ‘You believe in him?’
   ‘We believe he was a prophet. He’s revered in Islam. The Prophet Mohammed took the last word of God from Gabriel, but we believe in the same one God. Many of our names come from the Bible. Daoud is David, Issa is Jesus, Sara is Sarah and so on.’
   ‘What’s Aisha?’
She grinned at me. ‘It means healthy and alive. It was the name of the wife of the Prophet Mohammed. His favourite wife. Aisha bint Abu Bakr.’
Olives, Page 53

I love the story told of Aisha bint Abu Bakr that she was asked to veil her face by some prominent person or other and told him, ‘By God’s grace I have beauty and by God’s grace I shall show it’. She was a remarkable woman of her time, a prominent public figure all her life. Her father, Abu Bakr became the first Caliph of Islam following the death of the Prophet Muhammad and she was to live through the first four Caliphates before dying in Medina at the ripe old age of 65.

I find people often surprised that Muslims revere Jesus and consider him to be an important prophet of God, in fact you’ll probably find yourself dealing with a stronger negative reaction if you take Jesus’ name in vain among people in the Middle East than you would back in secular old Europe.

And all those images and statues of Mary, wearing the veil that people are so intent on demonising and banning...

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Book Marketing Conundrum

I’ve been involved in a long-running debate with a group of writer pals (the shadowy and feared ‘Grey Havens Gang’) about the greatest downside of self publishing for many writers – the fact it entails promoting your own work. Most writers seem to find the whole process of promotion deeply counter-intuitive, but it's increasingly the case that, regardless whether you're conventionally published or self-published, you need to drag yourself out and stand on that street corner.

I had long held out for a publisher to take up my work for two key reasons: validation and scale. A publisher signing you as a writer, so my thinking went, validates you as such. It’s now you can change your profession in your passport to ‘author’. Oh, how wrong I was to prove myself in that one. The other reason, scale, was simple. A publisher would get your onto all those shelves for all those eyeballs to see your cover and pick you up.

These turned into two of the key reasons I decided on self publishing. Firstly, I was signed up by an agent, which meant that someone who knew what they were doing considered me publishable.  This, I realised, was validation enough. Secondly, writer friends who had been signed by publishers were bitter about how little scale was actually on offer from publishers unwilling to invest in books that weren’t sure-fire supermarket sellers.

Seriously. Here’s one of the rejections of Beirut from a top London publisher:

“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.”
And yet if a publisher has a single remaining attraction for authors, it is that the author can ‘get on with writing and let someone worry about the other stuff’, like formatting, editing, printing and, critically, marketing the book. It's at the marketing stage many writers find themselves being told to blog and tweet by publishers - to effectively do the heavy lifting in an online environment. The lack of focus given the 'mid-list' by the sales and marketing teams has left many writers tied to a publisher and cast adrift in the wilderness.

But as more authors turn to self publishing, there is a vast and exponentially increasing legion of writers clamouring for people’s attention. All too often, this consists of little beyond ‘read my book read my book read me book’, which soon becomes very wearying for the victims. It’s got to the point where readers on platforms such as the Kindle Forums and GoodReads are hyper-sensitive to the faintest whiff of self-promotion by authors and slam them accordingly.

So what can a writer do?

Attend my workshop at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai this Friday, of course! There I’ll be sharing tips and tricks for promoting your book and getting people to read it without just screaming repetitive promotional messages all the time. There are still seats, priced at Dhs200, and you can sign up at the handy link below. A warning before you decide to listen to what I've got to say: I'm not Amanda Hocking - the Olives project is still very much in its early days...

How to Get Noticed and Sell Your Book with Alexander McNabb
Self Publishing and Promoting Your Book in a Digital Age
Friday 9 March 17:00-19:00Al Waha, InterContinental Hotel
Tickets are available by clicking on this here handy, rinky-dink link.

(Yes, this whole post was an evilly conceived plug for my #EAFOL workshop. Sorry 'bout that... :)

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Saturday, 3 March 2012

Driving in Jordan

Water flicked through the car’s open window, lashing my eyes. I raced through the city streets, the engine screaming and tyres hissing on the wet tarmac. I broke out into open country and a vista of cypress-dotted hills and rock outcrops before the road looped back into the suburbs.
   I sped around a tight corner in a hilly residential area. The tyres hit a bad road repair and I slid out of control across the smooth, treacherous bitumen. The car spun a full circle before bumping against the kerb, not a damaging impact, but heavy enough to jolt me into awareness of my surroundings.
Olives, Page 191

Paul’s driving has obviously not been improved by his time in the Middle East. This is hardly a surprise, driving across the region is generally appalling and rarely less than bonkers. There are some regional hotspots – Cairo really takes the biscuit, it’s the one place in the Middle East where I’ve always managed to avoid driving, but that hasn’t really helped, as being driven around by a maniac with a clear death-wish is only barely preferable to taking matters into your own hands and trying to carve your own path through the impossible, choking traffic.

The GCC is a tad more gentlemanly these days, the UAE, Dubai in particular, has calmed down following a somewhat draconian crackdown by Dubai' radar-toting police (the Emirate features a fixed rader every 2km on most roads and mobile 'sneaks' on top of that). I do recall in Saudi Arabia during the 1980s, if you waited too long at a roundabout, the guy behind you would just shove you in with his bumper. Lebanon, too, has calmed down as drivers have become used to the fact you don’t need to avoid snipers anymore. It’s taken the best part of 20 years for that to sink in, mind you. And Beirut's traffic lights are still occasionally regarded as a pretty display to brighten up the roadside rather than an actual instruction to behave in a certain way.

I’ve never had the slightest hesitation in driving in Jordan, though. Amman’s rush hour can get pretty hectic these days and roundabouts are still an invitation to play chicken and ignore any such facile concept as right of way. The roads are still, in the main, pretty badly maintained, too. But muddling your way through the snarling lanes of traffic, the usual pile of people, choking fumes and honking horns, somehow doesn’t seem as, well, potentially fatal as Cairo does. And once you’re out in the country, windows open and cypress-dotted hillsides speeding past, you’re in heaven...

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How To Self Publish Your Book In The UAE

Next Friday, I’m giving a two hour workshop on how to self publish your book and then how to roll up your sleeves (or pick up your skirt hem to show a bit of leg) and promote it. The workshop’s taking place as part of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature taking place in Dubai next week and costs UAE Dhs200 to attend, none of which, tragically, sticks to my hands. However, if you’re serious about publishing your own book, I can pretty much guarantee to save you that money in wasted research, mucking about and spending time waltzing up quite as many blind alleyways as I did as I worked things out.

Self publishing in the UAE is slightly different to anywhere else in the world, in that you can’t really solely rely on the online platforms that have revolutionised publishing elsewhere. You can’t get paid-for content from Amazon or any other major e-book retailer in the region, simply because none of them have ‘switched on’ the Middle East (it’s not a rights issue, I know this because I opened world rights to ‘Olives’ on Amazon and they still won’t sell it to people from the UAE).

So you really have to go the traditional route to serve the home market and print a book, which is something of a mission in itself, from finding printers through to gaining permission to print and getting an ISBN number issued. I have documented much of this journey over at the Fake Plastic Souks blog.

Should you self publish at all? Why not hold out for an agent and a publisher to come knocking down your door and make you rich beyond your wildest dreams? When you wake up and get that whiff of coffee, how can you take matters into your own hands? What are the pluses and minuses of self-publishing? Which e-book platforms to pick? What formatting requirements are there for different e-book types? What about editing? What does self-publishing cost and what, if anything, should you be paying for? What are the pitfalls and highlights? What lessons have I learned the hard way in deciding to self-publish Olives?

Once we’ve gone over all that, it’ll be on to promoting your e-book (and your self-published book). How can you stand out among the many – and exponentially increasing – voices out there in the wilderness? I can't claim to have all the answers to this one, but again I can certainly share some hints and tips from my own well-travelled road!

One thing I can tell you about the workshop. It’s going to be fun!

How to Get Noticed and Sell Your Book with Alexander McNabb
Self Publishing and Promoting Your Book in a Digital Age
Friday 9 March 17:00-19:00Al Waha, InterContinental Hotel
Tickets are available by clicking on this here handy, rinky-dink link.
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Thursday, 1 March 2012

Sex and Olives

    Leaving the bar at the end of the evening, we stood on the pavement and waved Aisha’s friends goodbye, our faces reddened by their rear lights. I could see my breath in the air.
   Aisha turned to me. ‘Do you want a lift?’
   Her shawl had slipped, exposing the small mole on the rise of her right breast. I looked up to find her eyes on me. The uncertainty on her face amplified the little thrill in me, the urge towards her broken only by an instant’s thought of Anne.
   ‘No, no thanks. I’ll walk down,’ I gabbled. ‘It’s only a few minutes away and I could do with clearing my head. Will I see you at the Ministry tomorrow?’
    ‘Of course, bright and early. Look, you don’t even have a fridge in the house yet. Why don’t you come around to my place tomorrow and have dinner? My mum’s been dying to meet our new Englishman.’
   ‘I’d like to very much. Thank you.’
Olives, Page 29

Could Paul and Aisha ever have loved each other?

Talking to book clubs and readers, I have found a few people mentioning the unlikely scenario of a nice Jordanian girl being allowed access to an English boy. I've also been asked whether I thought it likely a Jordanian family would take a stranger in as readily as the Dajanis of Olives do Paul.

Having been brung up proper, I always try and hide my incredulity behind a polite smile and nod acknowledging the question/point. The truth of the matter is not only are both scenarios entirely realistic and possible in real life, they are based on a number of experiences and observations from real life.

Abdoun is the wealthy area of Amman which, although a small capital, is nevertheless a capital city with a sophisticated, wealthy population alongside its masses. The city is enormously rich and diverse, with both tremendous wealth and crushing poverty. It hosts an amazing array of people, traditions and beliefs and has remarkable culture and history stemming from the coming together of those many different influences - both in syncretism and, under the surface, a degree of conflict.

A wealthy, secularly minded family of Palestinian origin whose daughter works for a government Ministry and whose two sons are a successful businessman at the helm of the family business and a radicalised Muslim respectively is by no means far fetched. For such a family to behave hospitably to a foreigner, in fact for any Arab family to behave hospitably to a foreigner, is only natural. For them to do otherwise would be almost inconceivable. Paul is already in Ibrahim and Aisha's debt, he is already known to the family. Daoud makes it quite clear that Paul's on a 'short leash' and Paul resents the warning deeply. But "Aisha's Englishman" is also a touch of the exotic - Paul being quite as exotic to Aisha as she is to him.

Aisha and Paul are careful to behave well in public. But there's no escaping their growing feelings for each other, something the family comes to accept - the women more readily than the men, perhaps. By the time this question starts to become an important one, events have overtaken the question of an 'appropriate romance'.

For the record, I have known many relationships between Arab women and Western men. Some have been successful and resulted in marriages, some have foundered on religion and family pressures. Some have just moved on as we always sometimes move on. I never for one second thought to doubt the viability of an Englishman's welcome into an Arab home or the likelihood that love could bring together two people of very different backgrounds. In fact, that the difference in their backgrounds could spark the attraction that could lead to something deeper - with those very differences providing the basis for doubt and alienation, a constant need to reconcile differences in opinion and cultural background. It's Paul's very need to try and believe in Aisha and the culture she represents that causes him to pry too deeply and push her away. By opening to each other totally, they can accept each other.

But would a great beauty like Aisha fall in love with someone as racked by self-doubt and indecision as Paul? There are a few clues in the book as to why they share a deep commonality, least of which is the fact that Paul's English hedgerows play the same role in his lonely childhood as the olive groves do to Aisha in hers.

Besides, I've seen odder couples, I can tell you.
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Changes - Three Lessons in Self Publishing

The international editions of Olives have changed. I have made a number of edits to the original book as a result of reader feedback. A few typos did, indeed, make it through the editing process (editor Robb  Grindstaff isn’t to blame, they had all crept in when I had made subsequent revisions. Lesson to be learned here? Don’t send it for editing until you’re quite done with it and don’t tinker with the MS after editing!). Travel writer Matthew Teller contributed a number of critical updates – the Jordan of Olives includes places I haven’t been to in a while which have changed and Matthew kindly updated them for me. And there are a couple of silly errors in place names that crept into the book, too.

None of the changes are ‘life or death’, but they can be made easily and almost instantly to the Kindle edition of the book, as well as to the International print edition (the one you’d buy from or The Book Depository and the versions available for other readers like the Nook and iBook. Depending on the distribution channel, changes can take a few weeks to filter all the way down but the e-editions are updated as of today.

One problem I had made for myself when I originally published Olives was to go at it too fast and 'spin out' the various formats before I was quite done with the text. Different platforms require different file formats, for instance the Kindle edition is HTML, while Smashwords (which supports the Nook and other types of e-reader) requires a PDF file with some very specific formatting requirements in order to comply with Smashwords' 'Meatgrinder' file processing technology. Createspace is, of course, a fully formatted book with slightly different margins than the printed 'booky book' that is the Middle East edition. The Middle East edition being the only edition that can't change dynamically as it has been conventionally printed and distributed.

Having 'spun out' the different files from the core manuscript, I found errors and so edited each of the files - it felt as if it would be less work than re-doing each file format. I was wrong. So lesson two was don't spin out your different files until you are absolutely certain you have the last, most corrected version you can possibly have on your hands.

 I do think it’s interesting that, because of the way Olives has been published, the book is ‘alive’ – it can be changed in a way a traditionally printed and published book could never be. But that doesn't mean errors in the text are any more acceptable than they would have been in a traditional publishing context. And there's lesson three - quality control in self-publishing is, if anything, even more critical than in traditional publishing. Even if you can put it right at any time.

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