Monthly Archives: May 2011

I am tempted to make a bad pun about FIFA being run like a medieval fiefdom, but I don’t think they deserve to be let off the hook quite so easily.  At the moment they are beleaguered by a scandal involving just two of them and the Quatar bid to host the World Cup in 2022.  But I think we should not forget the fact that the unsuccessful British bid  for the 2018 World Cup was by far the best bid and yet only got one vote besides Britain’s.  There is no honest explanation for this or for the success of the less worthy Russian bid.

Now we know how cleanly the Russians fight when they want something really badly and we are getting increasingly clear indications of what sort of an organization FIFA is.  So I think we can all figure out what happened there.  One journalist, playing devil’s advocate for FIFA, said that Britain’s failure was due to an inability to “work the room.”  He meant flatter people’s egos.  But not even that journalist could have been naive enough to think that flattering their egos would be enough.  To win, you would have to grease their palms.  And Britain, as an ethical nation, simply will not do that.

But on the other hand, we did win the Olympic bid for 2012.  Now I am not suggesting that the International Olympic Committee is corrupt.  But like many organizations that exist outside any sort of democratic control, they can be extremely arrogant.  I remember once when swimmer Sharron Davies and some journalists tried to persuade them to promote silver and bronze medalists who had been cheated out of higher medals by East German steroid users, the Olympic Committee official exploded with rage and refused to talk to the journalist or with cameras present.  After all, who the hell were these uppity reporters demanding fairness and the reversal of results obtained by cheating?

And of course the IOC has form when it comes to arrogance.  Their former chief, the late Avery Brundage (1952-1972) was a Nazi sympathizer who after cunningly worming his way onto the IOC in 1936 (by stabbing an American colleague in the back) pressured the US team into dropping the only two Jews from the track team at the last minute in order not to offend Hitler.  In the event one of the replacements was Jessie Owen who proceeded to claim his forth medal by leading his team to victory in a relay race, thereby making a mockery of Hitler’s theory of Aryan superiority.  But that happy conclusion doesn’t let the antisemitic Brundage off the hook.

But not all the sins of the IOC can be blamed on one man.  In 1976 the IOC allowed the Canadian government to get away with banning the team from Taiwan.  The Canadian toadies – anxious for trade with Communist China – justified this on the pretext that Taiwan called itself “The Republic of China” but in fact was not the Republic of China.  There was just small flaw in this argument: both the Taipei and the Beijing governments agreed that Taiwan was part of China just as they both agreed that the mainland was part of China.  Nor could the Canadian regime argue that only the larger part of China could use China in its name.  Because that would have been inconsistent with the fact that in those same Olympics the Canadians allowed the so-called  “German Democratic Republic” to compete under that name even though they were the smaller part of Germany – far smaller than the Federal Republic of Germany.  (Not to mention the fact that the Federal republic of Germany really was democratic whereas the East German dictatorship was not.)  If the Canadian toadies had been consistent, they would have banned east Germany.

Now it might be said that this last incident was the fault of the corrupt Canadian government of Pierre Trudeau and not the IOC.  But the IOC allowed it to happen without imposing sanctions on the corrupt Canadians and therefore shared in the culpability for this nefarious act of kissing the backside of a dictatorship.

But has the IOC changed?  They continue to be a vehicle for a few rich corporations to profit at the expense of taxpayers who are forced to pay.  While official Olympic sponsors are allowed to profit from their contributions with logos and the affective banning of rival names from anywhere near the Olympic venues, unofficial Olympic sponsors – i.e. taxpayers – are not allowed to use combinations of names like 2012 and Gold by legislation that the host country is required to impose in consideration for being awarded the games by the IOC.  Again, the IOC is not on the scene when the crime is committed, but like Old Possums Macavity, we know whose handiwork it really was.

 

Naomi Campbell has taken offence at an advertisement for a chocolate bar (called Bliss) featuring the words “”Move over Naomi – there is a new diva in town.” She has apparently decided the following:

  1. She really is the only Diva in (any) town, therefore the reference is to her and not any other Naomi
  2. That she is therefore being compared to a chocolate bar, and therefore
  3. That the ad is racist.

Now Ms Campbell had a similar problem in 2002 when she objected to being described as a “chocolate soldier” (i.e. some one who collapses under pressure).  This may in fact have been an inaccurate characterization of Ms Campbell.  A number of  cases have shown that she is more likely to lash out under pressure than collapse.  However, the inaccurate nature of the characterization, hardly made it racist.

Now, there are signs that Cadbury has sailed close to the wind on the use of racial stereotypes, if one looks at their past record of advertisements. Although in fairness to them, their usage has been humorous, to the point of parody.  But in any case, it is hard to feel any sympathy for Ms Campbell.  For she acts like a Prima Donna.  But she doesn’t have a monopoly on such behaviour and her actions hardly make her a role model – any more than Cheryl Cole’s violent episode in a nightclub made her a role model.  (She was Cheryl Tweedy in those days – and her antics were heralded by the brilliant tabloid headline “Girl’s a Lout.”)

It’s a thin line between “Diva and “Ladette” Naomi – even if one is from St Reatham.

 

The latest developments in “space archaeology” are looking very promising. They are sure to promote renewed interest in Egypt and Egyptgology. Now all we need is for Zahi Hawass to be replaced by a man with a bit more humility and Egyptology will be able to progress.

 

Check out the new promotional video for the Moses Legacy.

 

I returned from Israel on the 5th of October, refreshed and with a fair amount of the first draft written.   Although it had been principally a holiday, I had taken advantage of the relaxing environment to work.  I actually do my best writing on holiday.  Upon my return, I updated Kate and Diane on my progress, but Diane was snowed under with work after the London Book Fair and it it took a while for her to get back to me.

Meanwhile I plowed on with the book, in-between making marketing suggestions and sending a couple of examples of the snake motif to help the cover designer.  Then I noticed that Amazon had pre-listed the book as The Moses Legacy rather than The Moses Tablet.  I wrote to Kate about this and she realized that she had subconsciously briefed the designer with that name too.  We all thought about it further and Kate and I agreed that in fact The Moses Legacy was actually better.  Diane also agreed and so now the book was back to the original title that I had first thought of when I pitched the idea.

Finally on November the 11th – less than three months after I had started – I submitted the first draft to Kate and Diane.  And this was a book that I was still researching while I was writing it!  And it was a lot of research!  And I had a holiday in between.  Kate and Diane were both impressed and now all I had to do was sit tight while they read it and gave me their feedback.

However, like most writers, I kept re-reading it.  And the more I reread, the more I thought about how I should have done things differently and how I wanted to change it.  But I couldn’t change it now, because Kate was reading it and presumably making editorial notes.  So I wrote an eMail with the subject line “Post-Natal depression” explaining in general terms that I had been thinking about changes and had come up with some ideas.  We agreed that I would make notes of my ideas but wait for her editorial comments before making any changes or even telling Kate my ideas.  That way her editorial notes would be entirely her own and we would be able to see to what extent we agreed about the necessary changes.

On the 29th of November Kate and I talked on the phone.  She was very impressed with the story and some of the set pieces but had found some faults that I hadn’t thought about.  I for my part wanted to make some even more radical changes that would make the ending more focused and dramatic.  Kate agreed that these could work, but they might require other changes earlier in the story and she was concerned that because we were already operating in a tight time-frame that I might be able to make it on time.  However, she left it to my judgement and I know that the ball as in my court and it was up to me to deliver.

 

Those of you who read the tabloids – and most of you who don’t – will probably have been made aware of a debate that is going on in Britain over the use of so-called “super-injunctions” in which judges acting on whatever criteria take their fancy can rule not only that something (usually true) cannot be published, but also that the fact that they have ordered its suppression may itself not be mentioned.  A lesser version of this is that it can be reported that they have suppressed something but not who asked them to suppress it.  In one recent case they even ruled that indirect information that might identify the man, like saying that he was a leading banker (no that’s not rhyming slang) could not be published.

Now personally I think that the private life of that “leading banker” was of rather less public interest than the known fact that he had taken several hundreds of thousand pounds of taxpayers money to which he was not entitled in a pension settlement in return for resigning from the bank that he had led to the brink of bankruptcy because of his arrogance, greed and total lack of business acumen.  Indeed the “leading banker” in question – Sir Fred Goodwin – was and is such an incompetent businessman that he isn’t fit to be in charge of a hot dog stall, let alone a bank.  And any bank that hires him is putting depositors and investors money at risk.

The pension that he received would not have been possible if the bank that he mismanaged to the point of near bankruptcy had not been bailed out with money expropriated from the taxpayer (on pain of imprisonment).  Thus the taxpayer was mugged and some of the ill-gotten gains found their way into Sir Fred’s pocket, with the connivance of the bank’s directors and the government.  It is this and not his alleged sexual activities that is of genuine and legitimate public interest.

The matter has resurfaced in the past week or so with news that a footballer who can’t be named had obtained a super-injunction and was also in dispute with Twitter over disclosure of the matter on their website.  The problem is of course that the world-wide web is just that – worldwide – whereas injunctions by the courts in England and Wales don’t even extent as far as Scotland let alone across the Atlantic.  And in the United States, it is virtually impossible to get an injunction (or “gagging order”) as they call it, except in criminal cases.  Thus it is virtually impossible to suppress information from the internet.

Now speaking for myself, I am not interested in the sex lives of footballers, golfers, bankers or even politicians.  (I won’t mention editors and journalists because we rarely get to hear about their sex lives, for some reason.)   But I would like to take the argument even one stage further and say that there is no simple answer to the question of where the right to public’s right to know ends and the right to privacy begins – or should that be the other way round?

For example, should the right to know apply only to sexual infidelity or should the quality of some one’s sexual performance also be fair game for the tabloids if one of the parties wishes to report it?  is “My ex has a small willy” be a legitimate subject for the tabloids?  Some would say that the answer is it depends on whether the ex-partner is a public figure.  But this isn’t really helpful because then it begs the question, how public is public?  Does it refer to fame?  Or holding public office?  Or receiving money from the public coffers?

A politician – as in one who holds public office?  What about one who used to?  What about a candidate?  What about a former candidate who has since abandoned his or her political ambitions?  A footballer?  Only the Premier league?  or also the  Conference league? Or one of the local leagues?  Perhaps one might say that a footballer in a local league is off-limits to this sort of tabloid intrusion.  But what if the newspaper that reports the activity is also local?  Does not a local newspaper have the same rights to report on the sexual proclivities of a local footballer as a national newspaper to report the bedroom activities of a premier league hot shot – or at least a footballer who thinks he’s a hotshot?

And of course the same could be said about a singer or actor?  Not all people in the entertainment industry are household names.  Is it only the nationally recognized figures whom the public may be said to own a piece of?  What about a semi-pro who performs in local clubs or in a minor repertory company?  Are their sex lives legitimate material for at least the local papers?

Of course one might say that the test is whether they receive money out of the public coffers.  But a local theatre company funded by a grant from the arts council falls into precisely that category.   And what about a civil servant?  I am not talking about some smooth-talking “Sir Humphrey” in a rosewood-paneled office in Whitehall.  I am talking about some low-paid functionary in a regional jobcentre trying to help people find employment? Or a teacher at a state-funded school?  Are all of these people fair game?

And what about some one who becomes a “public figure” involuntarily such as a person accused of a crime, but subsequently cleared?  I am thinking in particular of Colin Stagg who was falsely accused of murder and who endured years of hounding by the tabloids – including a sting by a paid prostitute with the collusion of one of the leading red-top tabloids.  Was he fair game because his name had been launched into the public arena by an accusation that had already been proven false?  Was he too a “public figure” though he never chose to be?

I am not arguing for the gagging of the press.  But the simplistic belief that there is no right to privacy and an unlimited public “right to know” is singularly unhelpful.  Perhaps the tragedy is that many people care more about what footballers do in the bedroom that with what politicians do with our money and what they do with the lives of young men who have signed on to defend the country for a pittance that is dwarfed by what footballers are paid for their inept attempts to win international competitions.

But then again, maybe I am out of tune of tune with the national ethos.  I am one of those 14% of the people who supported the AV voting system – not the 28% who opposed it or the 58% who were too lazy to get off their backsides and state their preference.   And I am one of those people who thinks that Tiger Woods’ sex life is of no interest to anyone but Tiger Woods, Mrs Woods and however many floozies it actually was.

 

Check out the new promotional video for the Moses Legacy.

 

WesternWall

On 14/04/2010 the Advertising Standards Authority in Britain issued a brazenly dishonest and mendacious ruling following a complaint about an advertisement promoting tourism in Israel.

The advertisement in question had shown the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock (a mosque that Muslim occupiers of Jerusalem built on the Temple Mount – the holiest site in the Jewish religion).  This prompted a complaint from some one of dubious probity who claimed falsely that the advertisement was misleading.

In response to this dishonest complaint, the ASA ruled that:

We understood, however, that the status of the occupied territory of the West Bank was the subject of much international dispute, and because we considered that the ad implied that the part of East Jerusalem featured in the image was part of the state of Israel, we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead.

Now it is certainly not in dispute that the ad implied that the eastern areas of Jerusalem were part of the State of Israel.  But the ASA seems to think that it is empowered to decide whether or not this is the case.  In fact the ASA has no such powers.  To be fair to the ASA, they did in a later ruling held that “Travel Palestine” were equally wrong to imply that Jerusalem was part of “Palestine”.  But they did so in different circumstances.  In the case of “Travel Palestine” it was the words:

From the famous cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Nablus, and Gaza … Palestine lies between …

that were misleading. In the case of the Israel Government Tourist Office ad, the mendacious folk at the ASA ruled that a mere picture of the eastern areas of the Israeli city of Jerusalem was misleading.

Furthermore, in upholding the complaint against “Travel Palestine” the ASA disingenuously started off by disputing the (Israeli) complainant’s contention that Jerusalem was part of Israel (which it is) by saying:

We noted that the status of Jerusalem was in dispute but that both the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the UN did not recognize it as part of Israel and that the UN characterized it as a ‘corpus separatum,’ to be governed by an international administration.

Only then did they add that

We considered, however, that the line ‘From the famous cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Nablus, and Gaza … Palestine lies between …’ suggested that the situation and recognition of those cities as being part of Palestine was universally accepted. Because that was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.

So there we have it.  In the case of the Jewish State, the ASA rejects their claim flatly, citing what the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the UN do and do not recognize.  In the case of a competing claim by the Palestinians, they do not state explicitly that the UN and UK reject their claim too.  No instead, they soften the impact by saying that the view that it is “universally accepted” is “not the case.”  Double standards as between the Jewish State and the Palestinians, motivated by their obvious antipathy to the Jewish State and its people.  Would they have returned a similarly perverse and obviously erroneous ruling against any state other then the Jewish one?  I think not.

 

On the 19th of August 2010, Diane, my agent, wrote back to me that she personally liked my suggested title Shibboleth, but felt that it was difficult to pronounce.  She said that the title needed to be catchy and memorable.  Although this wasn’t an outright negative, I decided to give it some more thought and not yet put the suggested title to Kate, my editor.  In the meantime got on with writing the book. (I had already written two chapters in four days and felt that the going was good.)

On the 27th of August, I wrote to Diane again, proudly boasting that I was ahead of schedule with the writing and suggesting that maybe we could get HarperCollins to bring out the book in April to coincide with the Jewish festival of Passover.  I thought that as the book was about a conspiracy concerning Moses and the Biblical Exodus of the Israelite slaves from Egypt that this would be particularly appropriate.  But Diane pointed out that the significance of the suggested date had to be balanced against the fact that Summer was a better slot than Spring, although she agreed to run the idea by Kate for a second opinion.

I continued working on the book and then on the 15th of September I got an eMail from Kate that the Avon team had been having discussions on the title and their favourite was The Sacred Sign.  I felt a little put out because it seemed that a decision had been reached before I was given a chance to offer any input.  There was nothing essentially wrong with The Sacred Sign (although I suspect it was an attempt to ride on the coat-tails of The Lost Symbol), but I felt that I should have been given a chance to offer a few suggestions before it got to the group discussion stage.

I wrote back explaining my feelings and offering the title Shibboleth, along with my argument about it being unknown but enigmatic, like The Tesseract.  I also suggested that my non-de-plume for the new project be Abe Phillips.  Kate wrote back promptly that Shibboleth and my other suggestions didn’t really work, but agreed that the nom-de-plume was okay and agreed to put it to the team.

There followed a brief exchange in which I pushed gently for my preference, but Kate held firm.  The gist of Kate’s argument – which in retrospect makes perfect sense – is that the title should be clear and straightforward.  In particular, she pointed out that The Tesseract, which I had offered as an example, was an exception – a word-of-mouth hit in the era before the supermarkets packed such clout in the book retail market.  Furthermore, the Avon list specialized in selling through the supermarkets.  Our discussions spilt over into the question of whether we should be so heavily reliant on the supermarkets, especially as they have little patience for slow-burners.  But as Kate pointed out, we have to operate within the existing market and the supermarkets do pack the most clout.

The exchange was good-natured, but it was clear to all of us that the differences were far from resolved.  Wanting to find some common ground, I suggested a book giveaway on Goodreads before publication, to get some pre-publication reviews and generate some buzz in advance.  Two days later I went to Israel for two weeks, for the Jewish festival of Succot and three days into my visit, after clearing my head in the fresh Jerusalem air, I wrote to Kate again explaining that having thought about it, I was warming to the title The Sacred Sign.  This was partly because I had been thinking about the cover design and I had come up with the idea of a snake coiled around a pole (called “the Rod of Asclepius” by the ancient Greeks, but also associated with Moses and with the pharmaceutical industry).

Imagine my surprise then, when Kate wrote back to tell me that she had been reconsidering and had now decided that the title The Moses Tablet was fine after all!  It seems that we were like ships that pass in the night… never quite meeting.

In paralel with this, the discussions about my pen name were continuing.  In addition to Abe Phillips, I was offering various alternatives like Phil Abrams and Maurice Palmer – the latter a pun on Michael Caine’s real name of Maurice Mickelwhite and the character Harry Palmer whom he played in the films of several Len Deighton books.  They liked the  surname “Palmer” but thought that “Maurice” was a bit weak, suggesting Michael Palmer as an alternative.  I liked this, but a quick web check revealed that there already was a Michael Palmer writing thrillers in America and he was still active.  But as we all liked the surname, I suggested keeping it and using the first name Adam – the Biblical First Man.

Kate agreed and so now – just a few days before I was due to go to Israel for the Jewish festival of Succot – we had a title (The Moses Tablet) an author’s “name” (Adam Palmer) and a cover designer working on some ideas, one of which I had suggested myself.

What we didn’t know was that there already an Adam Palmer and that he had written a critique of the Da Vinci Code – the prime example of the very genre that I was trying to break into.

 

On the weekend after my meeting with my editor Kate, I wrote to Diane, my agent, updating her on the discussions:

I had my meeting with Kate on Thursday and I agreed to change and simplify The Moses Tablets...

My only concern is about the possible loss of the Summer release slot. I firmly believe that the summer slot is ideal, followed by the spring slot.  On the other hand I obviously need more time (guaranteed in writing), given how late we have come to this decision.  Kate was talking about a January 2012 slot, but this is less than ideal.  If it was a hardback, I wouldn’t mind a November 2011 slot.  But it isn’t and as for January (or even February), I see them as little more than graveyards.

The question is what can I do to make a summer slot attainable?  Certainly, I can write a first draft in 6-8 weeks once the plot is finalized and the research done. In fact I am quite far with my research, as much of the old research can still be carried over.  But I still have to finalize the plot.  I reckon I may be able to do that by the end of the week. and then finish the research by the end of September.  This gives me two months to write it by the end of November deadline for a summer release (if I have understood correctly).

I will only know for sure when I have completed a more detailed plot summary.  If I manage that by the end of the week, then I can do the rest, including delivering by the end of November.

Kate said that she would send us a summary of our discussions on Monday, so you may be reading that at the same time as this.

Diana agreed with me that a summer publication slot was desirable and wrote to Kate accordingly, while I got on with the task of writing a two page synopsis based on my discussions with Kate.  I did not yet send it to Kate, as I wanted Diane’s feedback first.  I wanted to be sure that this story really hit the spot. I did however write to Kate, to sound her out on the idea of changing the male Mossad officer into a female.  The reason for this was that I wanted to two strong female characters in addition to the male protagonist, in order to heighten the tension.

Kate for her part sent me the summary of our discussions (our messages crossed over) and this helped me a great deal.  Not all of the things we discussed made it to the final cut.  But certain key elements were there that form the basis of the final story: a female archaeologist make a major find with ancient writing, a young Anglo-Jewish professor Daniel Klein called in to translate, background research into the archives of 19th century explorer William John Bankes, the Mossad, Daniel coming under suspicion of murder, a chase, a ruthless secret society, seeking historical information from the Samaritans.

By mid-day on Tuesday the 10th of August, I had finished my own preliminary draft of the synopsis, incorporating these key elements and sent it to Kate.  By the early evening, Diane wrote to me that she had spoken to Kate and they had agreed on a delivery deadline of the 1st of December, aiming for publication sometime in May or June.  This was perfect for me and it was clear that Diane and Kate shared the excitement.

The title that I had settled upon – The Moses Tablet(s) was a problem however.  Kate felt that it gave away too much too soon.  The other issue was my name.  The publishers felt that as this was a completely different genre to my other books, it should be published under a different name.  This was something I entirely agreed with.  But coming up with a new name could wait.  I had to crack on with polishing the synopsis.  By eight o’clock in the evening on August the 10th, I sent the synopsis to Kate.

Four days later, I wrote to Diane, suggesting that we call the book Shibboleth. Derived from the Hebrew word for an ear of corn, it has been incorporated into the English language as meaning “any distinguishing practice that is indicative of one’s social or regional origin. It usually refers to features of language, and particularly to a word whose pronunciation identifies its speaker as being a member or not a member of a particular group.”  The literal origin goes back to a war between different Israelite tribes when the tribe of Ephraim was defeated.  When fleeing members of the tribe of Ephraim tried to flee, they were challenged to say the word Shibboleth.  If they pronounced it Sibboleth (because of their inability to pronounce the consonant Sh) they were put to death on the spot.

In my story, this conflict did not play a direct part, but the ancestors of the tribe of Israelite tribe of Ephraim and their origins – as well as their inability to pronounce sh – played a major part.  But it was also the modern meaning of Shibboleth – a test of membership and faith – that gave it a pleasing double meaning.  I pointed out that even if most people didn’t  know the meaning, the same could be said of  Tesseract – a title of a very successful book by Alex Garland.

One day later – on the 15th of August 2010 – I commenced the actual writing of the book.