Today, I introduce another of my Twitter friends to the blog. Alexander McNabb – author of ‘Olives’ and tech-guru on the Dubai Eye Radio Show UNWired – tells us how writing led him into a life of crime.
‘Bollocks, Gerry. You’re beyond information. You’re playing War Against Terror with all the other little spies and I really don’t want to get involved with any of you, if that’s all the same to you, thank you.’
I wanted him to react, to try to defend himself, but Lynch wasn’t going to give me the pleasure. His accent seemed stronger, an image of the murals on the Falls Road popping incongruously into my mind as he faced me. ‘That’s Gerald, if you don’t mind, Paul. I’ve been twenty years getting away from Gerry Lynch.’
Gerald Lynch, The British spy in my first serious novel, ‘Olives – A Violent Romance’ is from Northern Ireland. He grew up in Belfast, in fact, you find out a lot more about him in the second book of what I have reluctantly come to refer to as ‘The Levant Cycle’, three totally different and yet contiguous books set in and around Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. Your view of him in ‘Olives’ would be coloured by the fact you see him through protagonist Paul Stokes, the young British journalist Lynch is blackmailing to spy for him. So you’ll likely come out of ‘Olives’ with a dim view of our Gerald.
Lynch was originally called Nigel Soames and was a gingerish fifty-something spook, not unlike a Terry Thomas figure. I can’t say the character ever really ‘flew’ for me, but he was doing a passable job of things. Then I had a meeting with a leading businessman in Dubai, an Irishman from the South who grew up in humble, rural circumstances and who has built a stellar career since. ‘I don’t like when journalists call me Gerry,’ he told me. ‘I’ve been twenty years escaping Gerry Namewithheld.’
I left the meeting punching the air, because at that moment Gerald Lynch was born and I knew I was going to steal that snippet of a man I admired and build my character around it. Sitting in the car, I felt the elements of Gerald ‘don’t call me Gerry’ Lynch snap together like a Lego model and he became real by the time I got home that night, right down to his fondness for the drink and his Northern Irish vowels. Paul dislikes Lynch in ‘Olives’ and I’ve been amazed at how people, despite the fact Paul is not a protagonist you’re meant to like, pick up on that and think of Lynch as vile, sneaky and rotten. He’s the protagonist of the next book, ‘Beirut – An Explosive Thriller’, so I’ve given myself the unenviable task of making you like him after all that, which is quite fun.
But writing has done that to me, turned me into a thief. A passing glance, a gesture, a kindness or a quirk – they’re all snatched away and saved in my mental swag bag ready for use one day. I steal pretty girls’ faces, mens’ outrage and officials palm-up admonitions. I steal the bored, the animated, the resigned and the afflicted. I do so without shame and almost constantly. I keep little notebooks around to jot down my illegal little acquisitions.
I’d feel guilty about it except it’s the smallest of the crimes writing has pitched me into. The thievery is a minor thing compared to the number of people I’ve killed. The killing probably isn’t the worst bit, either. It’s the enjoyment of it. I was most amused to be walking along the Thames near Richmond with my twelve-year-old niece, The Niece From Hell, and realise I had dispatched a character on a park bench we were passing. ‘I killed a man here,’ I told her. She looked at it dispassionately and shrugged at me. ‘Whatever.’
The body count in ‘Olives’ is pretty stiff for a romance but I am adamant that while I might steal characters, places, scenes and the like, the homicide is purely imagination at work. A slightly worrying imagination it might be, but then better out than in, I suppose…….
You can find Alexander on Twitter: @alexandermcnabb
Download ‘Olives’ here: http://amzn.to/LIaNeA
Order your copy of ‘Olives’ here: http://amzn.to/LIaT5S