Alexander McNabb

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Frequently Asked Questions

One of these two men is a celebrated author...

What made you start writing?

I realised I'd written millions of words, from white papers and magazine features through to speeches and pamphlets. When I gave up smoking, I had to find an outlet that involved me doing something with my hands that was publicly acceptable. So I started to write a book. 

What made you decide to self publish your books?

The world was changing around me and writer friends were starting to take the self publishing route, while I was still seeking the validation and scale of traditional publishing.

When a London literary agent signed me up I realised there was all the validation I needed - and friends who had been through the traditionally published experience had found that very few authors indeed these days got the benefit of any degree of scale. Their emergence, bruised and battered, from the experience provided the backdrop for my decision.

But what really pushed me over the edge was my agent coming back with fourteen rejections from London's finest for Beirut - An Explosive Thriller. I sent him Olives - A Violent Romance to read and see if he thought it was saleable. Three months later I hadn't heard from him. Having just waited seven months for London publishers to reject Beirut, I'd had enough. 250 rejections and more later, I decided to go it alone.

I'm so glad I did in many ways, but I must caution anyone looking at the self publishing route that it can be both exhausting and distracting. I would still rather traditionally publish, but as long as conventional publishers reject my books as too unconventional, I have little choice but to go direct to the reader!

Which one should I read first?

It doesn't really matter, but I'd generally start with Olives - A Violent Romance. The three 'Levant Cycle' books are most emphatically not a trilogy, but they're set roughly contiguously and revolve broadly around the same set of characters.

What about 'Space'?

Space was my first book and is intended to be a comedy spoof. Oddly enough, it spoofs the genre I ended up writing in! I've only really put it up as a curiosity, hence its price of £0.99. It still makes me laugh. I'd hesitate to describe it as the book that taught me to write, but it certainly taught me that writing could be tremendous fun.

Olives sparked a great deal of controversy. Have Beirut and now Shemlan also been controversial?

No, not at all. I suppose I should invent some controversy, because it certainly sells books. I think a lot of the controversy in Olives was about a society largely unexposed to narrative fiction finding itself staring into a mirror it didn't necessarily like the look of. But I haven't actively sought controversy with any of the books.

A Decent Bomber? Are you wise chap?

It's a play on words as well as a signal that perhaps these things aren't as black and white as we'd like to think. Irish slang uses 'decent' as an adjective denoting goodness or admirability rather than the accepted English usage of 'moral'. So while our bomber is good at what he does, he is also moral. That was part of the fun of the book for me, creating a character you can actually empathise with despite his activities.

Birdkill is your latest...

A Decent Bomber took a good two years to write. Having finished it, I found Birdkill was in my head and it wouldn't go away, a sort of brain eating maggot of a thing which wrapped me up in a mad, obsessive dash to bring the book to life. So that was written in about six weeks from start to finish. Which is all a bit mad, to be honest.

Birdkill launched at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2016.

You've been rejected something like 300 times by agents and publishers in the UK. Isn't it time to get the message that you're not very good at this?

I'd sort of agree, if it weren't for the readers. The readers who have bought my books and loved them, who turn up to book club meetings and LitFest events; the readers who disagree with me and those who actively support what I do - but who have enjoyed reading the books regardless. They're the reason you do this, not agents.

What's next?

Dunno. Seriously. Dunno.