Friday, 2 December 2016

I've Been Busy...

English: Santa Claus with a little girl Espera...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've written a childrens' book.

I could tell you that it was because we were riffing around with my wee niece Ellen in the summer and teasing Nanny Webster about her obsession with cheese, and so I eventually decided to write the book in time to make it one of Ells' Christmas pressies but you wouldn't believe me.

You'd probably think I did it in an explosion of jealousy at 'I only have to write 10,000 words' lunatic and childrens' writer Rachel 'Poo Pants' Hamilton. That I got sick of watching her relieving small children of their money at a rate of thousands of Dirhams an hour and decided to get myself some of that 'scoop the wee brats out of their pocket money' dosh action. And you'd be basing your assumptions on some pretty decent science - Rachel literally hoovers the stuff from kids when we do markets and stuff together. Hoovers it, I tell you.

But the truth is - honestly guvnor no word of a lie, trust me on this one - it's a present for Ellen. A book as a Christmas present is, if I say so myself, rather inspired. If you are in the fortunate position of being able to write, edit and produce books, they make a rather fun personalised gift!

And the idea for Nanny's Magical Cheese Box did, in fact, come during our stay at the wonderful Inchiquin House in the County Clare. Ellen's Dad (the book's cover designer, as it happens) had the idea and then I made up some daft story for Ellen about how Nanny saved the world using nothing more than various types of cheese and she was entranced.

I remember being like that when my Dad used to tell me stories about Charlie the Chipmunk every night when he put me to bed. Charlie was a major highlight of the day. He used to get up to all sorts of high jinks. Wonderful stuff. When I was about eleven I asked him, 'Whatever happened to Charlie the Chipmunk, Dad?' He promptly responded, 'Oh him? He's dead.'

There went innocence.

So this is going to be an interesting addition to the old Amazon profile: Middle Eastern thrillers, nukes, whores and deaths by torture alongside decent bombers and psychological thrillers about girls going bats and then we have Nanny's Magical Cheese Box.

There's precedent. Aldous Huxley, James Joyce and even Mr Macho Hemingway himself have all written children's books. Few people realise Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was written by Bond author Ian Fleming, for instance - although the original Fleming novel (published posthumously, Fleming died of a heart attack before the book went into distribution) has little to do with the story told in the popular film. Actually, something of a worry, one scathing review of Fleming's book said, "We have the adult writer at play rather than the children's writer at work."

Fleming, by the way, was an unmitigated shit as a human being. The only Bond book in which the female lead is not referred to as a 'stupid bitch' is The Spy Who Loved Me, which is (uniquely) written in the first person - that of the female protagonist, who doesn't let the side down by herself announcing, 'I know I'm a stupid bitch, but...'

All that apart, the world of childrens' fiction can likely rest easy. Nanny's Magical Cheese Box is going up on Createspace for the hell of it and I'll print a short run of Christmas presents with Jamalon's POD operation. I'll probably 'properly' publish it to Kindle for the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2017, where I'm doing a 'how to publish books' workshop thingy. Having said that (and sales of NMCB are truly the last thing on my mind), kids' books don't sell well on Kindle. It's A Great Truth that kids like paper best.

It was a whole lot of fun to do, by the way. But I think Rachel's safe. It's not really 'me' as far as the old writing career goes. Now that Nanny's Magical Cheese Box is done, I'm back to working on next novel project, The Dead Sea Hotel.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Croutique. Books. Gifts. What's Not To Love?

Croutique is a sort of Middle Eastern Etsy, a place for crafters to sell their crafts to people who value something a little off the usual beaten track of marble malls and shiny brands. We're talking individuality, personalisation, a splash of quirkiness and perhaps even a dash of difference.

It's a CRafters bOUTIQUE, really. Croutique. Geddit?

The site comes to us thanks to the marriage of global expat community website and their acquisition of deal-tipping site Cobone, which added transactional capabilities to one of the region's most successful pure-play web publishing sites. ExpatWoman has always been strongly about communities and long supportive of the UAE's 'crafter community'. Sounds a bit hipster, like a mad sort of tax-free Amish, doesn't it?

As a vendor, Croutique lets you easily set up a web store within their store, with easy to build pages that let you sell items with varying degrees of personalisation and choice. I should know, I've built one myself. Yes, you can now buy my books - signed and dedicated as you fancy, and have 'em delivered to your home anywhere in the UAE without even letting go of your beloved mouse. And all for a mere Dhs17 above the retail cover price.

No more Christmas present dilemmas! Have a book dedicated to your loved one and signed by the author! Get the whole Olives/Beirut/Shemlan trilogy for a never-to-be-forgotten gift. Or A Decent Bomber for your father in law who's interested in Ireland and that sort of thing.

Or Birdkill for anyone who likes reading really quite screwed up psychological thrillers. Or, better, for that over-sensitive aunt you loathe who suffers dreadfully from her nerves.

Requests for 200,000 word dedications beginning 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times' will clearly not be considered...

Saturday, 12 November 2016

The ExpatWoman Festive Family Fair And Selling Books. Live As It Happens.

It's become sort of traditional to live blog the ExpatWoman Festive Family Fair, which I usually share with madcap children's author Rachel 'Poo Pants' Hamilton and winsome author of 'domestic noir', Annabel Kantaria. Annabel can't make it this year so it's just me and the lunatic. And I'm ill. This could get twisted.

This is not starting well. I've been sick as a dog for the last two weeks and its showing no signs of abating. Up all night in a terrible state, shivers, sweats, yarking up boluses of phlegm and generally gibbering. My stomach's not good, I've got a head like Oliver Plunkett. Thank God I loaded the car yesterday. Coffee is making things better but I guess I don't really need a day standing in the sun right now. I hope to God Hamilton hasn't remembered the bloody gold dinosaur.

I have set up next to Hamilton's mad empire of tottering popups and branding, a huge display of THIS IS RACHEL HAMILTON GIVE HER YOUR CHILDREN'S MONEY. I'm not well. There's a lady shouting at us over the tannoy which makes talking to people quite difficult. Hamilton is running around banking money and screaming CHING CHING.

It's warm enough but we're nicely shaded. Books have been moving which is nice and there's been a lively run on Birdkill. Chatting to Hamilton about Jamalon's POD operations, she suddenly breaks off and dances around the table. There's a small child looking at her books, face illuminated in awe. Two seconds later, small child has been relieved of money. It's terrible...

People are funny, they really are. I just sold a copy of Beirut to a Lebanese lady who doesn't read in English. She's off to try the experience and has promised to let me know how it goes for her. It's hot. I'm still alive, the waves of nausea and misery have receded, probably burned off by the sun like morning mist. Hamilton is on a massive run of book sales. Depressing, really...

Rachel's daughter Jodie has been sent on a leafleting mission with 100 flyers promoting Poo Pants and me. This is a cunning scheme indeed!

Five minutes later she's back, all dispirited. They're all really rude,' she complains. She's been given 50 shades of 'No, thank you, we don't want your leaflet little girl now go away' from the general public. Cunning plan thwarted, then. That's a new one for the marketing things wot I learn at ExpatWoman Festive Fairs list. I'm melting. Someone's cooking sharwamas and I hate them. The person, not the shawarmas. The shawarmas, I want.

There's something of a lull on. Hamilton goes for a wander around, but a small child approaches her table. Quick as a flash she does a double take from way over on the other side of the courtyard and there's a Matrix-like blur and stop-motion emergence from hyperspace aaaand she's back. One small child relieved of funds later, she takes off for her wander. Honestly, it's beyond belief.

I've just put something strange and wrong in my mouth. It's supposed to be a hot dog, but it reminds me of something out of Terry Pratchett. I remember Elton John once describing a gustatory experience with, 'I've had stranger things in my mouth.' Well, while Elton (or Reg, as he should really be known) and I have different tastes, I can honestly say I can't recall anything quite so odd passing my lips. It was very kind of Hamilton to take a few seconds out of vacuuming money from small children to get them, but they are very, very strange.

A lady has just told me she loved Olives so much she lent it to all her friends. I managed to keep smiling, I'm not sure how, with my heart so black and murderous. Oh, I loved your book so much I photocopied it and put it up on a torrent site. Yvette and Flora from the LitFest have swung by to laugh at Hamilton and I being slowly reduced to sweaty, crumpled heaps. It's just struck me how much I've earned today compared to my hourly fee in my day job. I am now in a deep depression. But it's all about the readers, honestly. Truly, really, honestly. I mean it. Most sincerely. My lovely, lovely readers. I burp an aftershock of turgid pink proto-meat sausage, HFCS laden tomato gloop and scabby mustard and think of all those super, wonderful readers.

I'm on the downward spiral here, I'm running out of energy and things have slowed up a bit. Reckon I'll hightail it in a while. Even the madcap Hamilton has become less assiduous in her thieving of innocents. The Christmas music in the heat and hacienda style architecture of the Ranches Polo Club is endearingly odd, perhaps even slightly surreal. This is starting to trigger visions and this is probably not a good thing.

That's it. I'm out. Totally done. Sold some books, met some people, chatted with some nice strangers, watched Hamilton's mad pop-up empire come tottering down around her ears like a great metaphorical thing, caught in the breeze and dominoing disastrously. I manage to laugh long and loud enough so she notices.

It's funny how people are with books: how much convincing they take to pick up something new, how people will come back for more if they like what you've done before. As usual, the seminal importance of covers and blurbs reinforced but, oddly enough, how many people will just walk past books with absolutely no curiosity at all - anecdotally from today, at least, I'd say the majority of people don't actually, you know, care about books. And that's hard for me to say.

Sick, exhausted, sweaty and shivering, I retire with a few thousand Dirhams in my pocket and only one box of books left to carry to the car. Which is just as well, because I don't have the energy for anything else.

Until next year, then... Yay.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Of Books And Festive Family Fairs

Next Saturday, the 12th November, is the ExpatWoman Festive Family Fair. This hotly anticipated annual occasion takes place at Dubai Polo and Equestrian Club (opposite Arabian Ranches just behind Studio City) and is a family day out packed with crafter's stalls, food, diverse and lavish entertainments and dazzling exhibitions of polo, the sport of kings - as eny fule no.

It's well worth the trip out, not least of which because you'll be able to come and meet Old Poo Pants (Beloved Children's Author Rachel Hamilton in other words) and myself and buy our books. You can buy mine for adult Christmas presents and Rachel's for small people's Christmas presents. This way we don't compete and it cuts down on the fighting and squabbling. Unless she brings a bloody gold dinosaur along again, in which case there'll likely be fisticuffs.

Rachel and I often collude at this event, usually joined by Domestic Noir author Annabel Kantaria who can't make it this year. Rachel leaches money from young children like a mixture between a Dyson Money Hoover and the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and I spend the day reeling at how she'll literally take the sweets from a baby's mouth.

Rachel trying to look foxy in a bucket. 
Seconds after this image was taken, she fell out of it.

I, on the other hand, being altogether more noble of soul, only sell to those of an age to take responsibility for their actions. This is why I sell less copies than Rachel, not because my books aren't as popular as hers or anything like that. Oh no.

So here's a chance to pick up that paperback copy of the Lovingly Restored Author's Cut of Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy, or update yourself and pick up a sneaky A Decent Bomber or Birdkill. Or even buy a friend that lovely new revised edition of Olives - A Violent Romance with its spangly cover.

These books, by the way are very different in one critical respect. They're printed in Jebel Ali, not America. So a) I don't get hit with ruinous shipping charges and b) you'll soon be able to buy my books shipped anywhere in the world for FREE and anywhere in the UAE same day from bookselling megawebsite Which is all a rather cool development for UAE and regional book publishing, I can tell you.

Do feel free to come along and pick up a book or five and even have a chat about how YOU can now sell books with virtually zero inventory in the UAE!

Saturday 12th November, 2016 
10.00am - 5.00pm 
Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club 

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Birdkill On Air. Will It Fly?

Every Saturday, the Emirates Airline LitFest crew take over the Dubai Eye Radio studio for three hours. They do unthinkable things behind the scenes and bring cookies and coffee into the hallowed halls of studioland, then settle down for three hours 'Talking of Books', a generally unhurried and relaxed conversation about books which usually combines a Book of the Week, a kids' book slot, a 'book champion' slot where a book geek is brought in to rave about their given favourite right now and much general book talkery.

The Book of the Week is read by the team prior to the show and then discussed on air as they share their views and generally dissect the whole thing, effectively a book review by several reviewers at once. Occasionally, they drag the author on air, too, for a light grilling.

You can see where this is leading, right? Right.

This Saturday, they're reviewing my fifth serious novel, Birdkill. It's subtly promoted to the right of this here post and gently highlighted over at my website. As many of you will know, I don't like to make a fuss of these things.

This should be interesting. Birdkill is pretty different, IMHO, to my other books. It's the first time I wrote a book entirely for myself, without a thought for agents and publishers. Its genesis is the first story I ever tried to tell and its inspirations lie in dreams: particularly scenes at the beginning, middle and end of the book. I think it could be harrowing reading for some - it certainly packs a few punches and twists a few earlobes. It's based around a premise which seems a bit mad but which is actually frighteningly real. And it's either about a woman battling a psychic child or a woman going mad. Or both.

My favourite review for Birdkill on Amazon so far came, sadly, with two stars attached. These were more than made up for by the text of the review, which still delights me every time I read it: "This is a cynical negative, depressing book. Everyone decent died. I'm sorry I read it."

Let's see what happens on Saturday, then...

Talking of Books airs on Dubai Eye 103.8FM from 10am - 1pm GST (from 7am UK time) and streams here on this handy wee link. I'm sorry about the advertising, it's not my fault. But do drop in for a listen anyway!

Friday, 21 October 2016

McNabb, Illinois Is A Thing. I Am Institutionalised. Only Not How I Thought I Would Be...

Somewhere in deepest Illinois, sort of left of Chicago, there is a village of some 280 souls (down from 300, apparently) called McNabb. I have to confess, I do love their water tank. They even have a website. It's mostly concerned with sewage and stuff, which seems about right.

I'll go there one of the days, you mark my words. I'll probably be wearing a 'Hello, Illinois, my name is McNabb' t-shirt. There's a much slighter chance I'll go incognito.

It's nestled deep in a huge patchwork quilt of squared-off fields and right angled roads. On Google Earth it looks flat and dull and utterly boring. I hope to God it's not. I hope it's a mad and nutty place filled with joy and carousing, anarchy bubbling under and a constant middle finger raised to the world around, most of which seems to consist of squares of ploughed tillage.

Don't even ask me how I found it. I don't even know myself. But I now have a new Twitter icon which I am deeply delighted with. And if ever there were a place to open 'McNabb Books', this would be The One...

Monday, 17 October 2016

On Information Literacy In The Middle East

As we are exposed to the raw feeds of information in our interconnected world, we are increasingly forced to a much greater degree of editorial responsibility than was previously the case. We need to filter what it is we're seeing and hearing, what we're being told. As mainstream media outlets struggle to keep up with the need to beat 'real time', we see that not only do 'context and analysis' frequently suffer, but also the movement of information is also prone to network effects.

Worryingly, if a newspaper, say The Guardian as an example, publishes a story with a duff fact or premise and you manage to get that story corrected, it's too late. Because fifty other outlets have picked up The Guardian's story and happily repeated it. In the inexorable march to harvest clicks, the most dramatic and counter-intuitive stories are snapped up and media outlets are happy cannibals. Your chances of getting that genie back into the bottle are pretty much zilch.

We're not - despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary - stupid, us humans. We've quickly worked out that this network effect can be used to great benefit. If we're first out with something nice and dramatic sounding, by the time anyone gets around to saying, 'Wait, wat?' the world's already chowing down on our spurious claims. Think Trump.

Even Google is now experimenting with fact checking features, adding fact checking links to news search results.

Now we take all that stuff and we squeeze it into the oddly shaped bottle that is the Middle East, where media have long been cowed and access to unfettered opinion and anything else generally regarded as 'dangerous' for our social well-being and morality has been repressed. This has arguably resulted in societies which lack the practice in questioning and critical faculties to handle the sudden cornucopia which social media and the real time news cycle have unleashed.

We have already seen how the initial reaction to this bounty resulted in tectonic change in the region, I have argued before that Occupy Wall Street started in Lebanon. But if we look at where we are today and at the challenges of understanding and processing all of this information, we can not only see the problematic aspects, but also the opportunities this stuff represents.

It is those very opportunities which have driven veteran journalist, founder of AUB's journalism training program and all-round journalism trainer Magda Abu-Fadil, together with fellow editors Jordi Torrent & Alton Grizzle to produce Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa, a report (actually the 2016 Yearbook from the International Clearinghouse on Children, Youth and Media) which highlights the need to teach information literacy in the region's schools. The report makes fascinating reading for anyone who cares about media, the flow of information within society and the need to enhance the critical faculties of a young generation brought into a world where the dizzying flow of fact and fallacy can sometimes threaten to sweep us away.

What I like about it is that the report doesn't sit on its hands and bemoan the parlous state of things, but makes concrete recommendations for positive social change which can be relatively simply and effectively implemented. The time, as the report notes, has never been so propitious...

Friday, 14 October 2016

Olives - A Violent Romance And The New Book Cover

Look, first things first. I've always loved the original cover of my first serious novel, Olives - A Violent Romance, which published back in the mists of time (well, 2011). I asked Lebanese artist and designer Naeema Zarif to create it for me and her artwork was very dear to my heart. She brought together the soil and the sky, the sea and the sandy Citadel in Amman, a layer of peace treaty adding the final texture to her multi-faceted visual.

It's a lovely piece of work. But it's not a commercial book cover. Let's not forget, at the time I hardly expected to be publishing another four books and more. Beirut - An Explosive Thriller's sexy lipstick bullet (by Jessie Shoucair) set a new look for my front covers, cemented with Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy's pill skull (by Gerrard King). I've been lucky to find wonderful collaborators for my covers.

The new cover of Olives - A Violent Romance: bang on brand!

By the way, can we just remember that Olives was always a rubbish idea for the book's title? I even knew it at the time, but try as I might I couldn't break the result of the book having carried that title for years as a WIP. I added the 'A Violent Romance' line just to ameliorate some of the worst impact of setting my book up against the might of Crespo and other olive packers, let alone Mediterranean recipes and eateries of all sorts. It's as a result of this I can (and do!) with great authority tell people at talks I give about self publishing that self indulgence is a terrible, terrible thing.

With the new style covers, the world moved on. I had to bring Olives into line and so I set about trying to find cover images that would work. Having failed on all fronts, I cludged together some blood and an olives graphic. The resulting cover was certainly striking but it was, to be honest, awful. Try as I might, I couldn't get anything better together and I was really focusing more on publishing A Decent Bomber (by which time I had learned to be more careful both about my book titles and cover images) and Birdkill. It was this last work introduced me, via a serendipitous little bit of searchery, to Mary Jo Hoffman and her gorgeous daily study of still life, the ethereal little slice of nature and tranquillity that is the Still Blog. A spit in the palm and handshake later, I had her little dead fox sparrow and Birdkill had its rather lovely cover.

As I readied for the series of writing, editing and publishing workshops I gave at the Emirates Literature Foundation last month, I started to find Olives' awful cover nagging at me once again. Swinging by Mary Jo's blog, an occasional treat I still enjoy, what did I spot but images of olives? And a rather wonderful idea dawned. Hoping against hope, I got in touch and asked her if she'd be up for looking at a cover image for my (newly revised) first book? Sure, she said, why the devil not?

And so we have a new cover. Mary Jo's still threatening to work on more treatments, so it may yet change a tad but in the meantime Olives has had a good hard edit in time for the workshop (rather more painful than I had first thought it would be, I unearthed a lot more sloppy writing habits than I'd thought I'd find) a new cover and the fruits of my laziness and self indulgence have instead been replaced by those of Mary Jo's cleverness and art.

What's the impact, you may ask, of a bad book cover design and title? Well, it's measurable - both Olives - A Violent Romance and Beirut - An Explosive Thriller are available on Amazon as free downloads. And they have run at a pretty consistent rate of about 20 to 1 in favour of Beirut over the past three months Will that change now we have a new cover in place? I'll let you know when things have bedded down enough for a pattern to emerge.

In the meantime, Olives has a lovely new cover and copies are not only available online as ebooks and paperbacks, but will also be on sale in the UAE soon, too. More on that piece of news soon!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Those Were The Workshops Those Were

Well, our series of four weekly Emirates Literature Foundation workshops on how to write, edit, find a publisher for or self publish your novel finished today and it was all a bit of a panic to get ready for the whole thing as far as I was concerned.

I started a light brush-up of Olives - A Violent Romance, preparatory to using it as the 'example book' in today's self publishing session. The idea was to upload it to KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), Smashwords and Createspace and show how you format files, covers and the like. Except a) I timed out majorly with the edit and b) this morning my beloved ebook generating software, Calibre, decided to download an update (effectively uploading a downdate) which wiped all my libraries. Oh, joy.


Leading up to this, my light edit of Olives turned into a two-week marathon of editing, re-written passages, a lot of 'Oh my God, you actually DID that?' and other jaw-dropping editing discoveries. Oh, the difference five years makes. Now me wants to clip then me around the ear for the many transgressions that made it into the published MS. Let alone my editor, who should have known better!

So Olives has been revised, preparatory to a much-needed revision of the cover. Yes, yes, I know the cover's horrible. Watch this space. And I'm glad I did that revision. I enjoyed re-reading Olives. I loved the yarn and there's a lot in there I'm pretty pleased with - although there's also probably quite a lot in there I'd do differently if I started out on the book today. There's also now quite a lot I have done differently. Nothing massive, structural or drastic, but a lot of small improvements and corrected bad habits - most of which we covered in the editing part of the workshop!

But that's the wonder of self publishing. Nothing's graven in stone. The book's alive and not set like dead wood. I've resisted making major changes, but Olives is all the better - believe me - for having had its five-year wax polish and thorough buffing...

Friday, 16 September 2016

Writing And Publishing Workshop Thingies

Sharjah-stamp1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It's been a while, I know. Holidays, work, more holidays. Stuff. Life's been busy.

I've been blogging for Sharjah. About time someone did.

I've been getting ready for  the Emirates Literature Foundation workshops starting tomorrow on how to write, edit, find a publisher or publish your own books. This has meant updating the PPTs I already have from doing these sessions before, adding new learnings and putting together a series of 'hands on' sessions as well. The sessions have sold out, which is always nice...

I'm quite busy with the ELF this last quarter of the year. On top of these workshops, I'll be doing a mentoring thing along with Mad Rachel Hamilton for NaNoWriMo and it looks like there'll be a standalone 'How to Self Publish' session in December as well. It's the UAE's Year of Reading and October is the 'Month of Reading', so there's loads going on.

I've also been quietly playing with some locally based POD solutions, which is still very much a WIP but looking mildly exciting.

The one thing I haven't been doing - to the relief of those dreading the marketing onslaught - is writing another book. There's no plan and I'm in no hurry. That's the nice thing about not having publishers and contracts breathing down your neck. Beirut and Olives are both popular free downloads over at Amazon and the other books have been trundling along nicely on the back of the freebies. You still have to put out a lot of freebies to sell a handful of books, mind.

So there. Consider yourself updated...

From The Dungeons

Book Marketing And McNabb's Theory Of Multitouch

(Photo credit: Wikipedia ) I clearly want to tell the world about A Decent Bomber . This is perfectly natural, it's my latest...