Saturday, March 2, 2013

Am I the Next Big Thing?

This is a trick question. Who wouldn’t be put off by a writer who answers ‘yes’? But then, who’d want to read the work of a self-effacing hack? Writing is about pushing one’s limits toward a fleeting horizon. If you don’t believe you’re the next big thing, then what the hell’s motivating you? 

I'm taking part here in an authors' ‘promotion ring’, devised to spiral out of viral control in an ever-expanding Mandelbrot set of drunken musings, I’m guessing. Lets just see what happens.

I was tagged by author Jonny Gibbings, who is undoubtedly the next big thing. He wrote a very funny book called Malice in Blunderland, demonstrating a talent for describing the most odious subject matter with the most beautiful and compelling detail. He’s also hilarious. His book has caused countless embarrassing moments on public transport this year, and will continue to do so for many years to come.  

I'm honoured to be handed his baton.

1) What is the working title of your next book?

In keeping with my first novel Gorillaland, I wanted this book to be called Puntland, after the semi-autonomous state in northern Somalia where the story is set, but my agent wasn’t keen. “It doesn’t really say anything,” she said, “except flat bottomed boats at posh universities! ...If you are writing about Somali pirates – always in the news, apparently unstoppable – then you need to flag this up in the title. Baddies like this are fascinating, people want to read about them, so give them a chance to realise what your book is about!” 

So I chose Pirates instead.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Two years ago, while I was out deep-sea fishing with a new-found friend off the Kenyan coast, he told me that since the advent of piracy in neighbouring Somali waters, billfish stocks had been steadily rising. The pirate threat had effectively deterred foreign trawlers from fishing illegally. This got me thinking about conspiracies, and to what lengths an avid fisherman might go to ensure he could continue his pelagic pursuits.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Exotic action adventure, though I believe I’m developing a new genre here, wherein the locals don’t just play walk-on parts as colourful extras, but are major characters, integral to the plot, and achieve cultural cross-over for a worldwide readership. This requires empathy with other cultures, which many authors would consider too daunting a research brief. But having lived on four different continents, I can draw from wide-ranging experience. 

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Modern heroes are far more corrupt than villains ever were in days of yore. Accordingly, the hero of Pirates should be played by someone with a flair for the eccentric. I’ve always liked Edward Norton, who can turn evil on a switchback. Johnny Depp also comes to mind, though he’s an obvious choice for authors. We invariably show our years by picking a recognized Hollywood veteran to play the role of character who’s half their age. I think I’ll leave this to the casting director.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

He’s the infidel in their midst, an obstacle to their unscrupulous designs, but nothing is what it seems.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The book is scheduled to be published by Cutting Edge Press in early summer 2013. My agent is the indefatigable Maggie Phillips, managing director of Ed Victor Ltd. As with my first book, she coached me throughout the process of writing this manuscript. 

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

461 days. I would have finished it sooner but I took four months off in the middle to try to earn a living at my other job as a gorilla safari guide.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don’t know. A fusion of two books perhaps, from contrasting genres: how about William Shakespeare’s Tempest and Jeppesen’s Sport Diving Manual

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Meeting and getting to know the real life character on whom I based my protagonist Johnny Oceans. He gave me carte blanche to use his own life story, and briefed me on the appropriate vernacular, attitude and weapons for my hero, which added verisimilitude to the novel. As one would expect, in the end much of Oceans was my own invention, nevertheless the truth is in there, though he and I alone know where the bodies are buried.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Pirates is a roller coaster ride, the action rarely lets up, and there’s a ship-load of surprises. Still, the story doesn’t really deliver what some people buying a book about Somali pirates might expect: a hostage situation, the planning and instigation of the rescue. It’s much more complicated, and more political than that. Being in the eye of an incomprehensible storm, and learning the surprising facts behind issues that have been consistently misreported by the media, I believe will pique the reader’s interest.

The characters are certainly diverse. Fans of my debut novel Gorillaland will be pleased to learn my safari guide antihero Derek Strangely returns in Pirates. This time he’s forced to serve a terrifying apprenticeship. Ali al-Rubaysh, the story's key villain, is a veteran terrorist, tortured by the Americans in Guantanamo Bay. He's now in the Yemen, serving as a commander in al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula, and has devised an attack more devastating than 9/11. I had fun researching his back story; he spontaneously breaks into the Sesame Street theme music, which was one of the methods of torture at Gitmo. 

I suppose I’m most proud of my heroine Khadija, a plucky, unorthodox forty-something Somali, modeled on the women of the Arab Spring, who I hope will be an inspiration to readers everywhere, especially on the Horn of Africa. I couldn't have developed her without the knowledge and creative input of my muse, Kigongo, who also suggested some of the more breathtaking plot twists. Thanks baby!

I’m afraid I’ve only found three willing authors to keep the promotion ring going, but oh what a trio:

Douglas Galbraith
I’ve known Doug since the early Eighties when we signed up to the same creative writing class at the University of Victoria, and we’ve been close friends ever since. He's my bro, and a multi-talented artist, adept in music, painting, and writing. While concentrating on the former two disciplines for the past three decades, during which he produced startling pieces of music and beautiful works of art, he has recently returned to writing, and is currently developing a intriguing manuscript. 

Dan Richter
Any one who’s seen the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey will be familiar with Dan’s work. In the film’s opening sequence, entitled The Dawn of Man, he plays the man-ape that throws the bone tool into space. In November 2000, I had the privilege of taking him and his son Will to meet mountain gorillas in the wild. Tramping up the slopes of a volcano I learned about Dan’s amazing lives - that’s right, he’s lived a few, including a spell as personal assistant to John Lennon and Yoko Ono, which is the subject of his latest book, The Dream Is Over.

Ioannis Gatsiounis
I first met Ioannis a couple of years ago after he moved to Kampala from Malaysia, where he’d established himself as an international correspondent, and we immediately hit it off. A collection of his work, Beyond the Veneer, was published in 2008 by Monsoon Books. His fiction debut, Velvet & Cinder Blocks (ZI Publications), features “ten politically-tinged short stories set about Asia and the West.”

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