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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