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...

Friday, 22 July 2016

How To Write, Edit And Publish Your Novel

I've done a number of workshops over the past few years which set out to help accelerate people's booky journeys by sharing with them some of the more useful things I have found out in my own sixteen years of writing, publishing and selling books. Mostly I have discovered things the hard way and the idea is just because I did, doesn't mean you have to.

Now I'm doing a new and expanded series together with the Emirates Literature Foundation, set to take place in their august and hallowed halls: four workshops which combine presentation-led talks with hands-on practical sessions where attendees can put some of the stuff we talk about into practice.

Starting Saturday 17th September, each five hour workshop breaks into two hours talk, an hour's lunchtime chatting and a two-hour practical session. They run through until 8th October.

In session one, we'll be looking at how to write a book, a big picture overview of why you'd even want to, what to expect, how to structure your story and some guidelines for writing. The second session will look at editing techniques as well as some practical guidance on things like characterisation, dialogue, scene-setting and all that good stuff. 

We'll give session three over to understanding publishing - what the industry looks like right now, what that means to you and how you go about pitching your book to agents, as well as understanding more about what traditional publishing means to you as an author. 

And then, last but by no means least, we'll be looking in session four at how self publishing works and how you can do it for yourself, including what platforms to use, formatting books and covers, uploading them and a look at promotion and marketing.

All in all these sessions are intended to give you everything you need to get started on making that book you always thought you had in you happen, working within a sensible and supportive environment together with a bunch of people going through exactly what you're going through. As I said, I've done a number of these workshops in the past and people have generally enjoyed them, there have been a minimum number of breakdowns or violent assaults and no requests for refunds, so people generally seem to enjoy them and find them useful. Or maybe they're just too embarrassed to complain...

If you have any questions, please do hit me up over at Twitter - @alexandermcnabb and if you haven't come across me or my books before (where HAVE you been hiding?) you can find out more over here.

Monday, 18 July 2016

The Problem With The Problem With Hijab

The sensitive little darlings, The Sun, subsequently deleted this tweet.

You may have seen The Sun's Kelvin MacKenzie protesting that UK Channel 4 TV's coverage of the Nice attack featured a young lady (Fatima Manji) wearing a hijab. I don't recommend you read it, but here it is in case you feel you have to.

As the Nice news broke, I was to be found shouting at the TV, infuriated by mainstream sources crowding each other in the rush to denounce terrorism, ISIS and Islamic terror in general. I was shouting because it seemed to me to be a lone wolf attack and I couldn't believe how fast ISIS came up, conflated with a senseless and barbaric killing with absolutely no reason whatsoever to suspect a link to 'Islamic' motivation of any sort. The Daily Mail led all the next day with ISIS Kills 84, a story that wasn't stood up on a single link to ISIS, a lone 'expert' trotted out to give any reason to draw a link or one - one - fact tying the perpetrator to ISIS or any other radical group.

It's only when ISIS itself claimed responsibility that anyone actually pulled themselves up and questioned the spurious and widespread claim of ISIS' involvement being made in our media.

And so now - belatedly - we start to explore whether this was, in fact, a lone wolf attack by a man who was clearly no practising Muslim. The idiocy of 'quickie radicalisation' was brought into play and, thankfully, quickly extinguished. He's emerging as a wife beating substance abuser with a range of issues that clearly bring his mental state into much starker linkages with relation to his motivations than Islam. But the damage has already been done.

And in the wake of the atrocity and the mischaracterisation of the killer's motives, we have the question of whether it is appropriate for a woman in hijab to cover such news. Because it was a Muslim attacker? Because he attacked in the name of Islam (which, it would appear, is highly unlikely to be his motivation) or because we don't want ladies in hijab on our TV screens?

MacKenzie makes the point: "Would the station have used an Orthodox Jew to cover the Israeli-Palestine conflict?" Which neatly plays into labelling Manji as somehow belonging to 'the other side' responsible for the carnage in this 'conflict' between two opposing forces.

The comments to Roy Greenslade's typically thoughtful piece on MacKenzie's Islamophobic rant show how fractured we have become in the West over the wearing of hijab. I have worked and socialised extensively with women who wear hijab for much of my adult life. As far as I can see, they do so out of choice (not a 'subtle social pressure'; I know many devout Muslim women who have chosen not to wear it and many who wear it as a conscious choice with no pressure to do so, who have previously not done so) and many would point out that, as women, if they chose to wear a Micky Mouse t-shirt, hijab or a yellow polka dot bikini that is their choice and they would very much prefer if men would stop telling them what to wear.

What constantly amazes me is to listen to Western Christians complaining about hijab. It's a Christian tradition, too, you know. Here. Do a Google Image Search for 'Virgin Mary'. Fill yer boots.

Shocking, isn't it? A woman in hijab covering your screen. The mother of the man you hold to be the Son of God, the core of your Trinity.

Quick. Fetch the religious police...

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Psychological Thriller Birdkill Kindle Ebook Free Shock Horror

So my newest novel is free on Amazon in all flavours for the next 48 hours or so. Enough time to nip off over there and download it: enough time to tell friends.

The book could do with some more reviews so if you do download it (and I heartily recommend you do) or recommend it to friends (and I heartily commend that course of action, too), then do feel free to leave a review. That review, BTW, shouldn't by any means be sugar coated or anything: your honest, full and frank opinion is fine by me.


Sunday, 10 July 2016

Blooming Brilliant Book Buyer's Bonza Bonanza

My books are now ALL on sale at WH Smith branches across the UAE in paperback. As of now, they're all in stock. I'm reliably informed Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy is listed as a best seller at the WHS branch in Abu Dhabi International Airport.

So a big fat 'Yay' for that...

WH Smith, as eny fule no, was the official bookseller of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2016 and so I imported a whole shedload of books for 'em to sell there. The unsold balance they were going to put on sale in their retail outlets, but needed permission to distribute three of the titles in the UAE.

Olives - A Violent Romance and Beirut - An Explosive Thriller already had that permission in place. I had never bothered applying for the other three titles, preferring instead to sell 'em only on ebook platforms or Amazon for paperback. I'd bring a few tens in for events like the ExpatWoman Festive Fun Festival or LitFest author appearances. So WHS, armed with a 'no objection' letter from me, went and got the permissions. They never did tell me, despite a whole bunch of emails, that it had all gone through. It took a pal flying out of AUH to notice the books were on sale.

So why weren't they on sale anyway?

Well, Olives has sold out its conventional print run, as has Beirut. This left me with an online-only sales strategy, limiting my reach to my 'home' market quite considerably. The UAE is still overwhelmingly the land of the paperback, assisted in no small part by Amazon's refusal to service the Middle East market. They're not alone - B&N, Kobo and the rest can't be bothered, either.

It does mean, though, you can buy the sparkly new edition of Olives with its spangly new 'on brand' cover and many corrections to minor errors in the text. And Beirut is now similarly corrected. Shemlan is the 'author's edition' - I have restored some 20,000 words my editor excised because I want to. So the copy of Shemlan you'll get from WHS is 'my' Shemlan, the way I wanted it.

Now anyone can just schlep on down to WHS and pick up a copy of any of my five books - including the latest two, which aren't even set in the Middle East but set in Ireland and the UK. With perhaps a hint of Middle Eastern connection in each of 'em.

You can find out more about them all using this here handy link. Do feel free to buy them for yourselves, spouses, friends, family, strangers and passers-by. The more the merrier.

IF you have a Kindle, or a friend who has a Kindle, do remember both Olives - A Violent Romance and Beirut - An Explosive Thriller are currently FREE on Amazon in the US, UK, Germany, France et al!

So there you go. Easy to access paperbacks, special editions never before seen in the wild AND free ebooks. What more could you possibly want to get from a blog post?

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Brexit Last Minute Facts Shock Horror

Me and Bob shake. No hard feelings, mate. You're still wrong, mate.

I was delighted to find myself back in the Dubai Eye 103.8FM studios this morning, I must say I have missed my regular radio slots an awful lot.

The Business Breakfast team brought me on to wrangle about Brexit with a nice chap called Bob, which we did in a good natured sort of way. Here's my argument about why we should stay in the EU, in the hope it might be helpful to someone, somewhere today as the UK casts its votes on staying in the Union. It must be said, there has been all too little coverage from our mainstream media that has championed the causes of context and analysis that so often are pushed as an argument for why MSM is still relevant in our social world. Here are some of the bullet points I used to back up my 'remain' point.

Let's start with the big stuff. Our membership of the EU has made us more wealthy, more healthy, fairer, more free and more secure than if we had been outside the 28-nation bloc. Here's why:

  • 1 in 10 British jobs are linked to the EU's single market. That's 3.5 million jobs.
  • The UK's exports to the EU comprise some 54% of our total export of goods, some 40% of services. In other words, over half of our nation's trade depends on the EU.
  • 300,000 British companies, some 74% of our nation's exporters, operate in EU markets.
  • The EU's trade agreements are good for us. There are 46 in place, 70 under negotiation. If you take the example of South Korea alone, our trade doubled between H1 2011 and H1 2012 when our EU trade deal was in place.
  • If you're worried about the mad US trade deal, TTIP, so's the EU. That's why it's not being steamrollered through, which is what the US would dearly like to see.
  • EU environmental legislation has been key to the development of better healthcare practices and keeping GMOs at bay. 
  • EU regulations on dangerous chemicals in foodstuffs, the workplace and agriculture have kept us protected against the interests of big business that would have dominated our polity otherwise.
  • We have equal pay and anti-discrimination legislation and protections in place. 
  • The EU's anti-trust, tax evasion and competition laws have protected our businesses from unfair competitive practices. A company like Google has to listen to a 28-nation bloc - would they listen to a lone government in the same way?
  • The European Court for Human Rights exists to ensure justice to a standard agreed between our 28 nations to be the highest in the world. 
More free
  • We are free to travel, live and work anywhere in the EU. Over 1.4 million Britons do so. To deal with the great canard of immigration, incidentally, 942,000 people of Eastern European nationality and 791,000 people of Western European nationality currently reside in the UK. And 2.9 million people of Indian and Chinese nationality.
  • At the same time, we're not part of the Schengen agreement - so our control over our borders remains tighter than that of other EU members.
More secure
  • Put aside the fact the EEC, to become the EU, was formed in the aftermath of two bloody world wars and centuries of warring and economic conflict between the nations of Europe. 
  • The European Arrest Warrant alone makes us more secure and more able to ensure justice is done rapidly and effectively.
In 2015, we paid £8.5 billion in net contribution to the EU. That's 0.3% of British GDP, a minuscule amount in terms of government spending. That's equivalent to something like 7% of the NHS budget.

And yet it underpins over half our export trade into a zero-tariff hinterland giving us access to over 500 million consumers.

We keep getting shown the 'Norway model' and yet Norway pays more per capita in contribution to the EU than Britain does, is still subject to EU regulation AND legislation and yet can play no part in the democratic process that evolves, agrees and sets those regulations and legislation. It's hardly a win-win.

If we left, we'd see a 'hard border' between the Republic of Ireland and the North. We'd see 10% duty on all car exports from the UK to the EU, which to me just sounds like the death knell for an industry that today has no British ownership whatsoever. And you could say goodbye to those Airbus manufacturing facilities, too.

What about our sovereignty? Our democracy? The European Union IS democratic. If we'd spent 10% of the time and effort we've invested in Brexit understanding our MEPs, voting for them and engaging in dialogue with them, we'd be in a lot better shape when it comes to our participation in Europe. The EU commission proposes legislation, our MEPs vote for it, modify it or reject it in a totally democractic process.

As for our sovereignty, you'd really have to be a Little Englander to put that at the head of your worries. In today's world, we are no longer an Empire or a global power. And we've already given up more sovereignty to our regional assemblies than we've ever given up to Europe.

I've heard 'leave' campaigners talking about how 60% of our laws are made by the EU, but that's never substantiated. The British Chamber of Commerce estimates between 10 and 20% of British legislation is impacted by EU legislation. And as far as I can see, the vast majority of that has been positive for us rather than in any way negative. And by positive, I mean that if the rights of the individual are protected against the interests of big business, I'm for it.

Who would argue in today's globalised, hyper-networked world that isolationism is an option? It's simply not.

Have a nice vote.

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...