Saturday, 18 January 2014

Book Post: Twits

(Photo credit: sharnik)
People's approach to censorship is strange. In a country that brought in copies of '50 Shades of Grey' I had someone concerned at my answer to an interview question, "Why did you start writing?" to which I responded, "I gave up smoking in 2001 and needed to find something publicly acceptable to do with my hands".

They weren't sure whether that could run or not.

The discussion started off today's Twitter Book Club meeting. We talked about Shemlan: A Deadly Tragedy, of course - but also Olives and Beirut.

What made you focus on Shemlan - how had you found out about MECAS and its role in the little village? 
I'd known about it for years, but only relatively recently found it becoming an itch I had to scratch, buying up esoteric books about MECAS and others peripheral to it but which mentioned the Centre, including Ivor Lucas' memoir of an unexceptional life of a diplomat, which was to inform much of Jason Hartmoor's backstory. And then, of course, I had to go up there - a first visit with pal Maha found the centre, subsequent visits saw me lunching like a little pasha with friends at the glorious Al Sakhra (Cliff House) restaurant which is so central to the plot of the book. It is a truly beautiful place, BTW...

Olives was a novel whereas Beirut and Shemlan went more robustly down the Tom Clancy route. Guilty as charged, but I think (IMHO) Shemlan is more nuanced and closer in spirit to Olives than Beirut.

How can Lynch kill a trained killer with his bare hands? 
He gets lucky a couple of times, that's all. He's not fit and drinks too much. In fact, Lynch drinks when he's happy and drinks when he's sad. At least he's given up the fags.

Where did you get Gerald from? 
He was the result of a meeting I had with a prominent businessman who gave me the "I've been 20 years escaping being Gerry" line. I left the meeting punching the air as I built my spy in Olives around that memorable quote - a negation of a humble Irish upbringing.

Will there be more Lynch books? 
Not right now, not the next book. But possibly in the future. He was never actually meant to be in Shemlan, he gatecrashed it. I don't know how the book would have turned out if he hadn't.

Why do you do messy murders of characters we like? 
Because I can. I'm laughing when I do it. I enjoy the idea that I can, occasionally, shock my readers. If you're not expecting it, the unexpected can be quite a powerful thing - particularly when books follow a 'formula'.

Lynch. He's an SOB in Olives, a hero figure in Beirut and a nice guy in Shemlan. 
Not sure about nice guy, but as I've often said, Olives is told in the first person by the young man who Lynch is blackmailing. He's hardly about to tell us what a great guy our Gerald is. In all three books, Lynch is a self-serving maverick who does his own sweet thing but manipulates and bullies those around him to get results.

Olives and the narrative arc. Is Paul too passive? 
I've just finished writing the screenplay for Olives, which I've given When The Olives Weep as a working title, and it's been a fascinating exercise. And it's shown me there's a clear narrative arc in there, it's just not obviously based on the compelling need of one character and that characters odyssey to fulfil that need. Paul is a more passive player, but he still embarks on a journey to fulfil his purpose. It's just he doesn't know what it is. His confusion shouldn't hide the fact he's got to act to get though all this.

And he makes choices we think we would be better than to make. 
Sure, which is what I set out to do with the book. We all like to think we'd be altruistic and heroic and not weak or vacillate when the chips are down. Which is where we're kidding ourselves.

How long did Shemlan take to write? 
It was done in two tranches - about halfway finished (but relatively clearly plotted) when I published Beirut - An Explosive Thriller and finished subsequent to that. The last portion of the book  the Estonian scenes especially, was finished at incredible speed as I smashed away at the keyboard with my Bose Wife Cancelling Headphones pumping high volume death metal straight into my cortex. It took a bit of editing afterwards, but it was really fun to write.

We talked about more, of course, lots more: about my rejections and why I finally turned my back on 'traditional' publishing and let my agent go, about characterisation and the body count in Shemlan, about selling books, online and offline distribution and about what I'm up to next. We talked a lot about the souq in Aleppo and how beautiful it was in a very in your face sort of way and how it had, eventually after much soul searching, to find its way into the book untouched by the war that, of course, has utterly destroyed the huge Ottoman maze that was the world's largest covered souq and one of its oldest. Well, at least I did...

As always, great fun. I love book clubs.
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