Interview with Alexander McNabb, author of Beirut

Publisher: Alexander McNabb

Publish Date: September 26, 2012

Order From:  Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Michel Freij is poised to become the next president of Lebanon. The billionaire businessman’s calls for a new, strong regional role for the country take on a sinister note when European intelligence reveals Freij has bought two ageing Soviet nuclear warheads from a German arms dealer.

Maverick British intelligence officer Gerald Lynch has to find the warheads, believed to be on board super-yacht the Arabian Princess, before they can reach Lebanon. Joined by Nathalie Durand, the leader of a French online intelligence team, Lynch is pitched into a deadly clash with Freij and his violent militia as he pursues the Arabian Princess across the Mediterranean.

Beirut – An Explosive Thriller sweeps through Lebanon, Hamburg, Prague, Malta, Albania and the Greek Islands on its journey to a devastating climax.

Author Bio: Alexander McNabb has been working in, living in and travelling around the Middle East for over 25 years. Formerly a journalist, editor and magazine publisher, today he spends his time advising companies on their communications strategies, with a particular focus on digital and online communications.

Alexander is a frequent conference speaker, chair and moderator, particularly on issues around online and digital communications. He co-hosts a weekly radio show and is a frequent commentator on developments in the technology and online spheres. When he’s not writing books, he’s posting half-thoughts and snippets on his blog, Fake Plastic Souks, which he started in 2007 during the Arab Media Forum. The title refers to the ‘new’ souks of Dubai, so much more convenient and classy than the real ones.

Alexander’s first attempt at writing a book was in 2002, when he sat down to write high-tech comedy thriller Space. Although Space was to land on the ‘Editor’s Desk’ at Harper Collins peer review website Authonomy in October 2007, the book was not seen as a commercial proposition by literary agents and publishers, many of whom took the trouble to point out that humour doesn’t sell. Alexander rolled up his sleeves and wrote the critically acclaimed novel Olives – A Violent Romance, a serious work that explores the attitudes, perceptions and conflicts of the Middle East, exposing a European sensibility to the strange and multi-layered world of life on the borders of Palestine.

This was followed by Beirut – An Explosive Thriller, which launches in the UAE in December 2012.  He is currently working on a third Middle East based novel, Shemlan – A Deadly Tragedy. Although the three ‘Levant Cycle’ books are by no means a trilogy, they follow a roughly contiguous timeline and share many of the same characters.

Author Interview: Q. Please tell us about your current release.

Beirut – An Explosive Thriller is a testosterone-soaked international spy thriller packed with nuclear warheads, luxury yachts, murderous baddies and sexy babes. It’s about the future president of Lebanon smuggling two nuclear warheads bought from a hooky German arms dealer across Europe. Hot on their heels is maverick spy Gerald Lynch, the thorn in the side of British secret intelligence and their man in Lebanon.

The Huffington Post called it ‘too close for comfort’ and a ‘must read’ and I’m minded to agree with ‘em.

Q. How did you come up with the idea for your book?

An agent in the UK rejected my first book, Olives – A Violent Romance after a ‘full read’ saying it wasn’t  dramatic enough. So I thought, “right, mate. You want dramatic?” and set to with glee.  It started with a dream about a man being picked up by a hooker and a short scene I’d written about a boy with aptitude for electronics disassembling an Israeli drone the men in his Lebanese village had shot down. It sort of got out of hand after that.

Q. Can you tell us about the journey that led you to write your book?

How long have you got? I first started writing in 2002 after I gave up smoking. My first book was a spoof of international spy thrillers called Space, which had a lot of smoking scenes in it. I refused to tell anyone about my nasty writing habit, plugging away in solitude and picking up a remarkable 100-odd rejections until 2007 when I discovered Harper Collins’ Authonomy, a peer-review site for writers to get their books in front of a Harper editor. Any writer will tell you how hard that is for an un-agented author. Space got to the top of the pile but that’s as far as it went.

But the great thing about Authonomy was that I had ‘come out’ and quickly found how very supportive people were. I met a load of writers on that site and made some good friends who helped me to look at my work differently. I learned to write, basically. My second novel, Olives – A Violent Romance was finished by then and I shopped that around, picking up another 100 or so rejections. And then I wrote Beirut – An Explosive Thriller, which landed me another 50 rejections and an agent – Robin Wade signed me and spent the next six months getting me another 14 rejections from publishers.

At which point I finally got the message and self published Olives to considerable critical acclaim. Building on that, I’m now publishing Beirut – An Explosive Thriller and working on my third serious book, Shemlan – A Deadly Tragedy.

Q. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about the book?

Nope. I’m happy with Beirut and even with the way mainstream publishing rejected it, because that led me to re-evaluate the book and hone it constantly. One of the publishers who rejected it said:

"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 I would perhaps like the opportunity of slinging a printed copy (It goes on sale in print in the Middle East on the 1st December) at his/her head.

Q. What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Selling it. I don’t consider writing to be hard, it’s something I love doing. I adore driving to work through the desert sands, especially in the cool winter months with the windows open, dreaming up characters, situations and scenes. Music is an important piece of writing for me and a bleak piece, something like Jorge Estrada, will hook me and spin the tone of whatever I’m working on. I can’t imagine not writing now. But getting publishers to look at your work, that’s the hard bit. And I’m so glad I no longer have that pressure.

Q. Do you have a musical playlist you listen to when writing? If so, what kind of music?

Should have read ahead, shouldn’t I? Yes, very much so. Space was heavily influenced by Wire, Olives by George Winston and Secret Garden, while Beirut has been Secret Garden and Kasabian with a little SIgur Ros. Shemlan heavily Jorgeestrada and Silence.

Q. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

The body count? It’s usually pretty hefty. I have problems with my Arabic swearing, I tend to do it in a Jordanian accent, which isn’t too helpful when it’s a Lebanese hood swearing. It’s a bit like having a mechanic from Dayton speaking in a broad Scottish accent. So Arab friends have to check my clumsy attempts.

Q. Do you plan any subsequent books?

Yes, although I’m not sure what I’ll get up to after Shemlan, which is about a man dying of cancer who finds his past is in danger of finishing him before the disease does. There are loads of books in there waiting to get out, but it’s hard to get them to form an orderly queue…

Q. Please tell us your latest news.

Well, the Middle East edition of Beirut – An Explosive Thriller launches in Dubai on the 1st Decmber 2012, with readings as performances given by an actress, an orator, a poet and a rapper, which promises to be fun. It’s already available online via Amazon and the usual suspects, both as an ebook and in print.

Q. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

I hope you enjoy the books and don’t forget to bug everyone you know to buy them too.  And you can always find me for a chat on twitter - @alexandermcnabb.


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