I was invited to appear on a BBC World Service programme last weekend. If you’ve ever wondered how radio producers feed their on-air people interesting information about their guests (thus enabling them to create a breezy “chemistry” and to relate the day’s news stories to the knowledge or experience of the guest), here’s the questionnaire sent to me for The World Today by Affan Chowdhry, along with my responses. If you try to imagine what your answers would be to some of the questions, I think you’ll see the unorthodox angles the producer is looking to wheedle out of you.
Author of a series of crime novels about a Palestinian detective.
WHAT NEWS-RELATED EXPERTISE DO THEY HAVE?
I’ve covered the Middle East as a journalist since 1996 for Time Magazine, Newsweek, The Scotsman, and some American news sites. I’m the author of a book of nonfiction about Israel and Palestine, three novels about Palestine, and a fourth which is coming out in February.
Grew up in Wales. I worked in Washington and New York from 1989 to 1996, mainly covering Wall Street. Since then I’ve lived in Jerusalem and have worked in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt. My books have been translated into 22 languages and I’ve visited a lot of those places to promote the books.
COUNTRIES VISITED IN 2009?
Denmark, Norway. Germany. France. Switzerland. (Israel, West Bank). Austria. Italy. Malta.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM LAST FEW MONTHS OF THEIR LIFE - PERSONAL OR
I took my first holiday for nearly two years—a trip to Swiss wine country (yes, that’s right “Swiss” wine country, on the banks of Lake Geneva), with my wife and son. I completed the manuscript for my fifth novel, which is a historical mystery set in Vienna in 1791.
PLANS FOR THE NEXT MONTH?
In December I’ll be going to Rome, Naples and Malta to research my next novel, a historical novel set in 1610.
WHAT RECENT STORIES IN THE NEWS HAVE HAD DIRECT RELEVANCE TO THEIR LIFE/WORK?
Well, anything to do with Israel and the Palestinians. Although, frankly, nothing much’s really happening on that front…
WHAT ISSUES ARE PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT WHERE YOU LIVE THAT DON'T MAKE THE INTERNATIONAL HEADLINES?
Tarantino’s film, “Inglourious Basterds” is creating quite a stir in Israel over its portrayal of Jewish revenge against Nazis. Many Israelis cheer during the scenes of violent death for the Nazis, while some are disturbed that anyone should be so turned on by killing—even if the victims are the persecutors of Jews. I believe the film is actually quite “Israeli,” in that the Israeli establishment has long been ashamed of the way so many Jews went to their deaths without a fight and, in turn, treated them poorly when the survivors came to Israel.
BRIEF ENCOUNTER – (an interesting, funny or just plain weird anecdote
about meeting someone famous.)
I was the last journalist to interview Salman Rushdie before Khomeini’s fatwa. Unfortunately I was drunk. It was after an awards dinner. He looked rather disgusted with me, and considering that he looks disgusted even when he’s not, you can imagine that it was rather a withering glare he gave me as I tried to string a few sentences together. To be fair, I was only 22 and it was the first time I’d been to an event where all the booze was free.
QUIET ACHIEVER – (one person they have met who does important work with
My friend Caryn Greene immigrated to Israel from Texas and set up Crossroads, a home for at-risk youth who are the children of English-speaking immigrants. They often fall through the cracks of the Hebrew social services. With very little funding, Caryn has run this service for a decade. Most of my son’s babysitters turned out to be kids who’d gone through her doors and came out no longer rebellious but really rather lovely.
SECRET PASSIONS/HIDDEN TALENTS?
I play bass guitar in Jerusalem’s (justifiably) least well-known garage rock band, Dolly Weinstein.
FAVOURITE PIECE OF RADIO EVER?
The “Mornington Crescent” game on “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue”.
NEW FACT THEY'VE LEARNED THIS THE WEEK (important or trivial, but an interesting "i-never-knew-that" factoid)
I met the man who recently came to live in Israel and whose mother introduced the “pooper-scooper” law in New York (forcing dog owners to pick up their dogs’ poop). I suggested he get a similar law going in Jerusalem, because the city’s streets and parks are fuller of canine poop than a grass verge on a 1970s British pavement.
STORY OF THE WEEK (something that's intrigued them or has not received as much coverage as it should have done in their eyes)
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu almost falling in the water when he went to inspect an Israeli navy boat which recently intercepted a big Hizballah arms shipment.
CRYSTAL BALL (what will they be watching in their field of expertise over the next
Will Mahmoud Abbas really quit as Palestinian president? He says he will. I say, No.