x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Alexander McNabb takes printed matters into own hands

The Dubai-based author is self-publishing his second book, the spy story Beirut - An Explosive Thriller, after the success of his first, Olives - A Violent Romance.

Alexander McNabb's latest self-published book is called Beirut - An Explosive Thriller. Antonie Robertson / The National
Alexander McNabb's latest self-published book is called Beirut - An Explosive Thriller. Antonie Robertson / The National

As a prolific presence on Twitter, a radio host and the organiser of the Geekfest meet-ups, Alexander McNabb is a well-known media figure in the UAE.

An explosive narrative

McNabb is also an author of spy novels. After the 48-year-old Briton's first book, Olives - A Violent Romance, was rejected by major publishing houses, he published it himself, then took to social media to drum up interest for the work.

Now, he's gearing up for another online barrage to promote Beirut - An Explosive Thriller, his second self-published effort.

As the title suggests, it's a tense thriller set in the Lebanese capital. The tale concerns one of the minor characters from Olives, the maverick British secret agent Gerald Lynch, and his attempts to intercept a consignment of nuclear warheads that are being smuggled into the Middle East.

Inspiration and imagination

McNabb's love of Beirut motivated him to use it as the setting for his story. He wonders why more popular fiction is not set in Lebanon: "As a playground for spies, powerful men, beautiful women and deadly conflicts, you can't beat it. And yet, as a writer of novels, I have it pretty much to myself."

Social media maven

Using the internet to promote one's books is a must for writers these days, McNabb contends. With publishers having less money than ever to invest in marketing, the onus falls on the author. "You have to get out there and hustle," he says. "A lot of writers find that difficult and onerous - particularly the perhaps slightly old-fashioned personalities that just want to shut themselves in a shed at the bottom of the garden and focus on writing. The world has changed and that's no longer an option for most of us."

Nevertheless, he believes there are pitfalls to be avoided. "The hard part is promoting your work without becoming a shrill and incessant voice. ... People soon tire of that."

Self-publishing advocate

Beirut - An Explosive Thriller was signed by a literary agent, who then shopped the book around London's top publishers. Despite praising McNabb's writing talent they all flatly rejected it.

So, now he advocates self-publishing. "It's no longer about vanity presses and dreary memoirs, but is now a vital part of modern publishing and a critical element of the explosion of talent we're seeing around the world today," he says.

Changing times

It is an era of tumult in the Levant, meaning the flow of events can supersede any fiction that aims to be contemporary. McNabb readily admits that his plot lines have become dated by political goings on.

"The smoking ban in Lebanon meant some last-minute changes to Beirut," he explains. "Then, the awful destruction of the Ottoman souq in Aleppo has caused some issues for me in my next book, Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy, where some key scenes are set in the souq.

"But at the same time, the books are built around some of the aspects of life that lead to these events: the instabilities and insecurities of the region, the terrible old men who hold the reins of political power and the sectarianism."

Beirut - An Explosive Thriller will be launched at an event at the Jashanmal Bookstore in Mall of the Emirates, Dubai at 7pm on Saturday

hberger@thenational.ae