Category Archives: Guest Author Interviews

Bad News for Writers – Sitting is Killing You

I’m a smug over-exerciser who got her come-uppance at the GP surgery when I was told that my cholesterol had shot up. How could this be? I cycle, go to the gym and ride a horse! But it’s what I do the rest of the time that’s the problem…..So I’m handing you over to healthcare professional, Rona Morgan, to find out what I and my fellow writers may be doing wrong….

Perhaps you’ve heard – “Sitting is the new smoking”. Is this another scaremongering headline or is it reality and what are the implications for writers?

Prime suspects

The three top causes of an unhealthy lifespan are tobacco use, dietary pattern and physical inactivity. There are other causes of course, but it is striking that the top three are largely within our own control.

For most writers, the third, physical inactivity comes, as they say, with the territory. Consider, as well, all the other times during the modern day when we are not physically active – driving or sitting on public transport, watching television, reading, sitting in restaurants, cafes etc. – it all counts as sitting. As an occasional writer and avid computer user myself, I know only too well the problems that arise from sitting in one place for too long. These range from neck, shoulder and back pain to a spreading derrière due to inactivity as well as mindless munching “to help me think”. But who knew, until now, that it was also deadly? I wonder how many professional writers are aware of the risks they are facing just doing their jobs in the seeming safety of their own homes or offices? It even has a name: “sitting disease”, coined by Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic. Levine claims “Excessive sitting is a lethal activity.”

Inactivity has been linked to a plethora of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and early death. It is no coincidence that obesity carries the same disease risks, but the eye-opener is that you don’t necessarily have to be obese to increase your risk of disease and death, just inactive. You may even have heard the terms “skinny fat”, where normal-weight individuals may be unhealthy if they carry a lot of internal body fat and little muscle. More bad news – a short exercise session a day won’t mitigate the damage done by sitting too long.

The plot thickens

Here’s why: When you are sitting, your muscles are not burning fat and blood flows more slowly, potentially allowing fatty acids to accumulate and cause blockages. The muscles are also not responding to insulin produced by the pancreas and so more and more is produced, leading to insulin resistance and diabetes. Excess insulin encourages cell growth and may be a cause of many cancers, whereas activity produces antioxidants to kill cell-damaging free radicals. Prolonged sitting has been linked to high blood pressure and sedentary individuals are more than twice as likely to have cardio-vascular disease than the least sedentary individuals.

In addition, muscle degeneration due to inactivity leads to weak abdominal muscles, back pain, disk damage, neck pain, tight hips and weak gluteal (butt) muscles. All of these will limit mobility and increase the risk of falls as well as inability to carry out every day activities.

If that were not enough, know that reduced blood circulation present during inactivity leads to brain fog, reduced brain function and low mood.
Not very helpful when you need three more chapters by the end of the week!

Why should we care?

We know that, statistically, people are living longer. For many though, life expectancy is increasing but healthy life span is decreasing. In other words, we are living longer but living less healthily, particularly in later life when many of us are succumbing metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes) and perhaps to disability (that is, not able to complete all every day tasks). The impact on individuals is more medical treatment, more medicines and lower quality of life as well as increased risk of early death. The impact on health care systems and national budgets is profound. It is estimated that the current cost to UK’s health service of diabetes (Types 1 and 2) is £14bn per annum for England and Wales. A staggering 10% of the NHS budget is spent on diabetes and 10% of hospital beds are occupied by diabetes patients. This is predicted to increase. Factor in the cost of the other two leading causes of unhealthy life – cardiovascular disease (£9 bn in 2006 ) and smoking (£5.2bn in 2005/6 ) and the NHS starts to look unsustainable.

This is not an anti-smoking rant (but as a health professional, I would urge you stop – it’s the single best thing you can do to improve your health) and you probably know how to eat healthy whole food (if you don’t there are countless websites out there expounding it’s virtues), so let’s focus on activity, or rather inactivity, the bane of most writers.

Rewrite your future (pun intended)

The Romans, who named January after their forward- and backward-facing god, Janus, often took stock of their past behaviors and vowed to make improvements in the year ahead; hence the custom of New Year resolutions. Feeding yourself more wholesome foods and putting your body into motion can lead to immediate benefits, such as better mood and mental clarity, improved sleep, more energy, less pain and stress, and a greater overall sense of well- being.

If you were only allowed one car in your lifetime, my bet is you would look after it diligently – servicing regularly, cleaning and feeding it quality fuel. Well, listen up! You do only get one vehicle for life and you are living in it! Nurture it. In the normal course of life, it will start to go wrong and wear out but neglect will only increase the pace of decline. Unused, it will rust and seize up like an unused motor vehicle.

And now for the good news…..

There are things you can do to halt the seemingly inevitable decline into dysfunction. Here are my suggestions:

Early morning walk or jog

I find that a morning walk helps clear the mind after the fog of sleeping but also is a most creative time. I get lots of ideas while walking and compose stuff in my head. A smartphone is useful for dictating ideas as you walk as they are easily forgotten once the walk is over. A small notepad and pencil are just as effective. Walking can also be a form of meditation, assuming you can find somewhere safe and quiet to walk, not a busy road. So even if ideas don’t come, use the time to “clear the decks” for the day ahead. Let your surroundings inspire you and wallow in nature, enjoying the smells, sights and sounds around you. I met a man recently who was jogging but had stopped and was staring into a tree. He commented that it was only a tiny bird but made a lot of noise. I told him that I had just seen a kingfisher and he looked at me earnestly and said “Do you know, I have been jogging in this park for 10 years and I have only just started noticing things”. Open your eyes and your ears and be inspired!

Instead of meeting your publisher or pal for coffee, have a walking meeting – it will be more focused, productive and efficient.

Take regular breaks

Sitting too long makes you stiff, tightens muscles and causes poor posture; all of which can lead to physical dysfunction. Taking regular breaks is a good way to keep everything moving. For writers this may be tricky if you are in full flow but try setting the alarm on your smartphone (or kitchen timer) for 50 mins past the hour, every hour. After 50 minutes, stop, get up, walk around, drink water or make a cup of tea and stretch. Can’t spare 10 minutes? Then consider this: often a short break improves the quality of work done in the following 45 minutes. Bonus – if you are having trouble focusing, you only need to focus for 45 minutes! Research has shown that we retain more of what we learn at the beginning and end of a study session, so having multiple short sessions instead of a long one means greater retention or productivity. If you are learning a language (good for our mental health), give it a try.

Wear a pedometer, activity monitor or smart watch.

Most people move far less than they perceive they do. The adage “What gets measured, gets managed” is undoubtedly true. Wearable technology is the big thing in health and fitness these days. In Australia, based on initial research, the Victoria health department is giving activity monitors to MS patients as a trial to track if increased activity improves the condition. These devices are also very motivating. Some even send you a reminder to move if you have been still for too long. Track your daily activity and note the trends.

Improve your posture

We develop many bad movement habits through the types of repeated activities we do every day. Sitting at the computer, we hunch over the keyboard, shoulders at our ears, not moving. The result is tight neck and shoulders, sore wrists and lower back pain. These can be mitigated to a degree with a good chair and the appropriate desk. But no matter how ergonomic your workspace is, if you sit slumped at your desk all day, your body will show signs of tension and stress.

Sit upright and be gentle with the keyboard, tap it lightly, and release neck tension frequently.

Better still, reduce sitting:

Reducing sitting by 3 hours a day can add 2 years to your life.
Here are some exercises you can do at your desk: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-16622/6-exercises-you-can-do-at-your-desk-instead-of-just-sitting-all-day.html

Use a standing desk or put your computer on a higher shelf but it’s important to get the ergonomics right: you want your monitor to be at eye level and your keyboard to be at the height of your hands when your forearms are parallel to the ground. Movement is the key, so don’t stand all day either – mix it up with sitting and try to move around.

If you work at a laptop, get a separate keyboard and mouse or trackpad and an external monitor so you can separate the screen from your interfaces. It’s inexpensive and worth it to create the right set-up. Otherwise you are putting the monitor and the keyboard at the same level, and you will end up with neck issues. And don’t ignore aches and pains – they are warning that you need to adjust the way you are doing something.

Reduce sitting while watching television – do gentle stretches or yoga while catching up on your favourite serial.

Don’t be the Elephant in the room

As mentioned earlier, the benefits of physical activity are numerous:

• Improved focus and sharpened memory
• Increased energy
• Can prevent and combat health conditions including high blood pressure, stroke, metabolic syndrome, cardio-vascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, arthritis and falls
• Enhanced mood, reduce stress
• Can prevent cognitive decline
• Weight control
• Better quality sleep
• It can also be fun!

Still not convinced? Well, increased activity can boost creativity and boost productivity as well as improving libido. Now who doesn’t want those?

The many benefits of physical activity are a compelling reason to keep active if you have a sedentary occupation. The really good news is it is never too late to start. I recently met a wonderful lady (we call her “Super Betty”) who is most likely the oldest personal trainer in the world. She regularly conducts Aqua classes and other group classes for active ageing. Betty is 84 and started her own journey to active healthy living in her 70’s.

However focussed on your work you are or how productive you think you are being, please factor in time to move. As we get older it is so important to be able to carry out activities for everyday living such as shopping, laundry, cooking and personal hygiene. When you feel those joints stiffen as you sit for long spells, take it is a reminder that the old saying is so true: use it or lose it!!

A career banker, Rona Morgan won her own battle with creeping weight-gain along with her husband John (losing 50kg combined), and was inspired to leave banking and pursue her life-long interest in health and fitness full-time. She is now a certified Personal Trainer, Health Coach, Functional Ageing Specialist and writer. Her aim is help others age actively and as disgracefully as they please.

Writers talk about their work – Brenda Cheers

Here is the fabulous Brenda Cheers – a writer I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know through Goodreads. Brenda has a demanding day job yet still manages to write two books a year.
That takes some doing. After reading Brenda’s post it makes me realise that no matter how many ideas a writer may have you don’t get anywhere unless you have those all-important personal qualities of drive, energy and enthusiasm to get the work done. Brenda, you are an inspiration!

The Opposite of Inertia

I was invited to join this blog tour by the lovely Alison Ripley Cubitt (Lambert Nagle). We met on the Goodreads website.
Alison is an author, screenwriter and novelist who co-writes thrillers as Lambert Nagle. She has worked in television and film production for the BBC and Walt Disney, but her passion has always been for writing. She loves to explore the countryside on a horse, a bicycle or on foot.
https://alisonripleycubitt.wordpress.com
lambertnagle.com
https://www.facebook.com/AlisonRipleyCubittBooks

Now, about me.

What am I working on?
I have two works in progress. I completed the first draft of a new novel (which explores the friendship between two women) five weeks ago and am ‘resting’ it before starting the second draft.
Right now I’m drafting the third in the “Strange Worlds” series. “In Strange Worlds” was originally meant to be a stand-alone work, but my fans insisted on a sequel which became “In a Time Where They…

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I may not know much about Book Marketing but I know someone that does

In the first part of this series on book marketing I am handing over the blog to Marketing Consultant, Sarah Ripley (yes, a relation) who is a bit of a whizz when it comes to marketing. That comes in handy, as if there is one thing I seriously underestimated when I became an indie, it was the time and effort it takes to market a book successfully.  Over to you, Sarah:

There has never been an easier time to market your book.

Technology is fabulous. It enables you more than ever before to reach your potential readers with the click of a button.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, that there are now so many books available that your potential reader simply hasn’t got time to trawl through the three million plus books on Amazon to find your gem.  And if you aren’t careful your competitors will get to them first.

Writing fiction requires a rather odd skillset: from creativity to tenacity; a writer has to be willing to accept criticism and be willing to rewrite, and have the right personal qualities – including a desire to produce the best possible product, polished to perfection. Marketing demands different skills.  Marketing can still be done creatively but the writer has to be able take a step back and look at the work the way others see it.  It might be hard for a writer to grasp, but marketing is a business and marketing creative work isn’t really any different from marketing any other business in the world.  You still have the pressure of comparing your outcomes with those of your competitors but when you wear your marketing “hat” you have to do this in a logical and precise way. Otherwise it’s too easy to fall into the trap of perceiving that everyone else must be doing better than you are.  Be honest with yourself too.  Maybe that other writer does have a better book cover or a more compelling blurb but have you considered that they might just like marketing more than you do? And maybe, just maybe, they’re a bit more driven, are more tenacious and what’s more, are willing to invest more time and energy than you?

But pep talk over, perhaps the most important decision you will need to make when it comes to the marketing of your book is deciding what it is that will make you stand out.  Ideally you should have decided this before you started marketing your but it’s never too late to tweak your marketing plan once the book is published.  Digital books, unlike traditionally published print books do not date and if sales are truly dire and you can pinpoint the reason (poor cover design, a title that doesn’t stand out or even that a book targeted at the wrong market), a writer can decide to re-launch their title. 

To make your book stand out you need to consider these points:

What is your message? What makes you/your brand/your book special?

What are the needs of your customer? How will you satisfy these needs?

Write these down. They should form the foundation or your marketing.

Unlike many traditional business transactions which require monetary loss for product/service gain, writers’ are asking two things from their customers: money plus time. Time is a far more precious commodity than we might realise.  As writers we need to put ourselves in the place of our readers (and for most of us that shouldn’t be difficult as you can’t really be a writer without being a reader as well – can you?).  That means not only writing a decent book but making it look good as well.

Sounds simple enough?

Author David Gaughran suggests, in Let’s Get Digital and in his excellent blog, the following list of important steps when putting together the most professional package:

1.     A good book that has been professionally edited

2.     A striking cover that speak to your genre

3.     A compelling blurb that entices your target audience

4.     A killer opening that will hook any readers who sample

5.     Clean formatting that won’t pull the reader out of the narrative

6.     A price that won’t make them think twice

“Too many authors skimp on those steps, and then waste money on marketing. That money would have been much better spent on putting out the most professional book possible. As Seth Godin says, the best marketing is designed into the product.” – David Gaughran.

A good friend, top dude, oh and also a co-Wizard of Ads Partner, Tim Miles, recently published his first book on marketing for business, Good Company  – Making It, Keeping It, Being It. Tim has done amazingly well in a short space of time by following the above points and you’ll want to check out his Amazon product and author descriptions as they rock. You can view these at:

http://www.amazon.com/Good-Company-Making-Keeping-Being/dp/061566511X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1369064582&sr=8-1&keywords=tim+miles+good+company

Would-be purchasers tend to feel better about their money and time investment as the book has clearly helped others and Tim’s great reviews enhance his product.

Creating and optimising your Amazon sales page with a hook, (quoting from reviews and other supporting information) is probably one of the most effective (and free) marketing activities available to you. Amazon does a great job at doing a lot of the hard work for you. When putting together your sales page, try not to skimp on information or rush this. Simply putting together some generic information and hoping the “hype” of the book will drive sales regardless is a fool’s trip to failure.

Be descriptive. Tell a story… stories are powerful. These stories should speak to the needs of your potential reader, you remember, those needs that you wrote down earlier? Don’t get too bogged down in identifying “your ideal reader” and only speaking to her. Remember we rarely make decisions in a vacuum with only ourselves to consult. Everyone has a friend/sister/mother/partner/neighbour who may just be the best spruiker for your book if you can convert them.

Speak of the felt needs of your reader.

Some other points to consider when marketing your novel:

1.     Encourage reviews on Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask friends/relatives/colleagues for their reviews. Why not make it a competition?

2.     Create a website. Your social media platforms should then all point back to this website.

3.     Start a blog.

4.     Send out free copies to influential/high profile people, namely reviewers.

Much like traditional marketing – the same concepts still apply.  Create a marketing plan and a budget for an ENTIRE YEAR, working out how much  time and money you are willing to invest every day/week/month for the whole 365 days. Like dieting, what counts is the effort over the whole year not just the weeks when you feel like it.

Make a marketing commitment and stick to it. Rain, hail, shine or when boredom strikes.

Remember that you the novelist are your brand. And a brand needs time to build. That means there are no quick fixes. It takes commitment, patience and huge motivation. But hey… you put these same principles into writing the book in the first place, so I trust you can follow through.

Sarah Ripley – Marketing Consultant –Wizard of Ads

Visit her blog: http://sarahripleywrites.wordpress.com/

Email: sarahripley@wizardofads.com.au

Visit: http://www.wizardofads.com.au

http://www.wizardofads.com.au/sarahripleywrites

Nobody can hear you scream out on Pine Gallows Road

Interview with Bryan Gilmer former investigative reporter turned crime fiction author.

“Pine Gallows Road is a lonely place – one man driving out there amidst the “big old tobacco fields, nobody in the sagging farmhouses anymore, no other traffic. No one to see or hear… ”  

There’s a brooding menace to that opening description from former investigative reporter Bryan Gilmer in his thriller, Record of Wrongs, the follow up to his Kindle best-selling novel, Felonious Jazz.  What impressed me about the opening is the economic use of language, description and characterisation.  You make writing look easy. 

What a compliment; thank you. I wish I could say that I typed the scene onto the screen exactly as you see it in the finished book. The truth is, I edited that scene more than 300 times, so it didn’t come very easily for me!

Tell us a little about how you came to write Record of Wrongs?

I did an investigative reporting project for The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times where I discovered that two women had persuaded a reputable funeral home to conduct a funeral with an empty casket for a man who never existed. There were a priest, a gaggle of mourners, and an obituary in the newspaper. One of the two women believed she had married that man over the telephone, and the other was scamming her. I won’t say too much about how those real events inspired the plot of Record of Wrongs, but there is an empty grave on the cover. I’ve also long thought how undetectable revenge would be if you just waited a long time before exacting it. But who could really stay angry that long, I wondered? When I answered that question, I had my villain Jamey Epps.

You will have seen the very worst of mankind in your former day job.

I don’t know. I found criminals to be stupid, short-sighted, consumed with passion, or entirely irrational far more often than I found them to be evil. You could almost always suss out their flawed internal logic, which I often found unsettling. So I try to write crime fiction that reflects the real crime I discovered as a reporter. Crimes are not coldly random and between strangers. Crimes are personal, passionate, and intimate, and often happen when people allow their animal natures to override their human reason. Each of us has a lot more in common with real criminals than with the exotic serial killers you see in many crime stories, which is terrifying.

How difficult was it for you to go from reporting the facts to becoming a storyteller? What is it about being a journalist that has helped or got in the way of your fiction writing career? 

It feels pretty similar to me, but maybe that’s just because I approach writing novels as a journalist. As a novelist and as a reporter, you’re intently observing the world around you for what’s interesting or important. But as a novelist, you have freedom to explore those ideas further. And you get to invent connective tissue and frame things the way you want. You’re looking to get at truth in both types of writing, and you’re also showing society to itself in a sceptical way in both cases. When I wrote my first novel, Kill the Story, I was amazed how much harder it is to tell a book-length story, even when you can make stuff up.

As a former investigative journalist on a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, you and your colleagues reported on and helped shut down dangerous care homes, and in the 2000 presidential election, your team told the world that uncounted overseas ballots would scupper Al Gore’s chances of defeating George W. Bush.  How did this experience help (or hinder) marketing your work to agents and publishers?

It probably got me read at a couple places where I would otherwise have been rejected without consideration.

The New American South, as you term it, is as much a character in your thrillers as your main character, J Davis Swaine.  Would you like to comment about that?

I’m tired of all these hillbilly, “yes ma’am,” backward portrayals of the South that New York publishers and Hollywood are so in love with. That’s an incomplete picture of the real South I know, which can be as corporate and blandly suburban as anyplace in the U.S. What’s fascinating about the real New South is where that backward history, tradition, and nativism crash into Research Triangle Park, 10 miles from my house here in North Carolina, where a biotech company is growing genetically engineered lungs in pigs for transplant into human beings. I wanted to write the complex South I experience.

This will be the second outing for J Davis Swaine.  What makes him so compelling for you as a writer?

Jeff’s a professional investigator, but on the staff of a law firm that handles civil cases. When he works on crime cases, as he has in each of his two books, he’s outside his expertise. It can be fun to read heroes who never flinch or hesitate, but that’s not Jeff. Jeff is shocked by the things he finds. It’s difficult for him to shoot someone or to see a dead body. But he pushes himself to do it, and then wrestles with the aftermath. This, too, was how I knew real police investigators to be through several years of covering them.

Felonious Jazz was about a failed session musician, obsessed about being noticed, who decides that he’ll ‘put down a throbbing beat of crime and destruction.’  Why is music important in your work?

I chose a washed-up musician as the villain because I see how many people identify with their art (I’ll bet you know a great guitarist or talented painter who sells insurance) yet are unable to make it their vocation. The book is mainly my indictment of suburban sprawl, from the point of view of a warped but artistic musician’s mind. I also wanted to see if I could convey music with prose.

When can we expect the next Bryan Gilmer thriller and briefly what it is about.

I’m writing what agents refer to as a “bigger book,” a thriller with more global sweep and much higher (geopolitical) stakes, not a Jeff book. I’m shooting for next spring.

 

Felonious Jazz and Record of Wrongs  is available through:

FJ Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00295R17Y/

FJ paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Felonious-Jazz-novel-Bryan-Gilmer/dp/1442173084/

ROW paperback: http://www.amazon.com/Record-Wrongs-Bryan-Gilmer/dp/0983424829/

ROW Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Record-Wrongs-Swaine-thrillers-ebook/dp/B008BSBDTA/

*http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/

Greedy, powerful and stinking rich – the battle for Russia’s billions

Interview with G.W. Eccles – The Oligarch: A Thriller

“Upright in the back seat, the FSB officer waited for the Range Rover to glide to a halt outside the battlemented walls of Novodevichy Convent.”  This is the opening of writer G.W. Eccles’ exciting political thriller, The Oligarch.

As you state in the subtitle to the book, this story is about “the battle for Russia.”  And you seem to have inside knowledge of the situation. Can you tell readers a little about your background and how you came to write The Oligarch?

I spent ten years living and working in Russia and Central Asia. I started in Moscow in 1994, shortly after the episode when Yeltsin stood on the tank outside the (Russian) White House to halt the coup against Gorbachev by members of the government opposed to the whole concept of perestroika and wanting a return to the former Soviet style of government. The next few years were a tumultuous period in Russian history as a sick, ailing Yeltsin struggled to govern a country running out of control.

It was during this time that the notorious ‘loans for shares’ scheme took place. Yeltsin was rapidly running out of cash as government revenues stalled, and a group of enormously rich businessmen who had profited from the fallout of the Soviet Union agreed to lend the State money in return for taking shares in major Russian companies (particularly in the natural resources sector) as security. The theory was that the State would borrow money for a year, then repay it and the security would be returned, but everyone knew that Yeltsin would never be able to repay the money in that timescale. As a result, the security crystallised and the oligarchs gained ownership of enormous companies for a tiny amount of money.

While I was working there, I was involved in several assignments for some of these oligarchs helping them come to grips with the companies of which they had gained control. These vast enterprises were all operating in a cumbersome, inefficient Soviet manner, and the oligarchs were quick to put in measures to make them more competitive, adopting Western practices and wholesale rationalisations.

This is the key background to The Oligarch: A Thriller. It begins with the election of a Russian President for a third term amid widespread accusations of vote rigging, and deals with the consequences of the President’s determination to claw back from the oligarchs what he regards as the family silver they obtained for a song as a result of the ‘loans for shares’ episode.

What impressed me about this book is the strength of the storytelling and the pacing, particularly in the opening.  Given that you know so much about the setting and the background to your story, how hard was it for you to set aside your expertise while you concentrated on telling an exciting story?

Extraordinarily difficult. On reflection, I think some of the earlier drafts read more like a business history of post-perestroika Russian than a thriller. Looking back, although the story was good (I think), the early drafts made very slow reading.

At various stages, a number of different people read the manuscript, and it soon became clear that radical surgery was required. In the back of my mind, I’d always wanted to write a story where the action and twists moved really fast, almost before the reader had time to catch his breath, so in the end I decided to re-plan the book and rewrote it almost from scratch since this seemed the best way of achieving this objective. To put this in context, the final version of the manuscript was some 100 pages shorter than the original version.

Politics, power, money and the struggle for supremacy – this is no place for the weak or the insecure.  What sort of personal qualities do your characters have to have to operate in the world of your story?

They have to be strong or, at least, get strong. Let me explain what I mean.

The Russian business world is not for the faint-hearted. While I was there, bankers and oil industry executives lived in constant fear for their lives. Western oilmen lived in an armed compound outside Moscow formerly reserved for the Politburo. Directors of aluminium companies tended to have a fairly short lifespan. The Russian approach to a contractual relationship, even after the contract’s signed, is that it’s always renegotiable. The people who get to the top not only need a certain presence, but they are tough through and through.

In The Oligarch: A Thriller, there are three main characters. Leksin, the hero, who is brought in by the President to investigate what is happening at Tyndersk prior to its appropriation by the State. He is tough both physically and mentally, and has the confidence not to be intimated. Anton Blok, the oligarch, who gained control of Tyndersk though the loans for shares scheme, has his own private agenda (about which we learn about as the book progresses) and will stop at nothing to thwart the President’s plans. He’s essentially a thug in a suit: rude, insensitive, greedy, ruthless. Finally, Anya, Blok’s daughter. She’s a particularly interesting character, I think, because, when we first meet her, she comes across as a rich, spoilt waster, obsessed yet bored with the Moscow social world. However, as she gets to grips with what her father’s doing and the danger in which it’s putting Leksin (with whom she falls in love), she has for once a purpose in life and she shows steely determination in pursuing it.

The Oligarchs is an impressive debut for a first-time novelist– or have you had other fiction published? 

No, I haven’t. That of course doesn’t mean that I haven’t written any fiction before. Probably like all authors, there are plenty of manuscripts in the bottom drawer. The early ones are, I suspect, pretty terrible. One or two of the others I might revisit one day to see if anything can be salvaged from them.

Given the quality of the writing, I am surprised that you have not been taken up by an agent or a publisher.  Did you submit this to agents before deciding to indie publish?

How nice of you to praise the writing. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Yes, I did look at mainstream publishing, and through an agent it was sent to a few publishers. The feedback in most cases was pleasantly flattering, but two relatively consistent themes emerged from their replies. First, there was a reluctance to take on new authors in the present climate, especially I think thriller writers. They wanted to stick with the tried and tested. Second, they all had Russia-based novels already in their lists. This second point I found particularly depressing. There are of course numerous thrillers set in Russia, some of them with good stories. However, with only a few exceptions, they appear to be written by people whose knowledge of Russia is limited at worst to the internet and at best to a two week Thomas Cook tour of Russia! By contrast, my family and I lived in Russia and Central Asia for ten years, and I was painstaking about trying to make the novel authentic: how people live, what it’s like to travel within Russia, the cold and drabness of the Siberian Arctic, what they eat, how they dress, and so on. I got a number of my Russian contacts to read the manuscript and highlight anything they felt was odd.

Anyway, getting back to your question, after I’d received a few publishers’ replies, I had to make a decision. One of the key things about the book is that it is immensely topical. It begins just after a Russian President has been controversially elected for a third term, and concerns his battle to wrest control back from the oligarchs. All these things are happening in Russia in real life right now, although of course the rest of the story is fiction. With this in mind, I had to choose between persevering and hopefully finding a mainstream publisher (which even if successful would mean that the book wouldn’t be published for at least another year), or publish it independently. Rightly or wrongly, I felt that, to achieve most impact with readers, the thriller needed to be published now, so I went down the self-published e-book route

 

What’s next for G.W. Eccles, thriller writer?

I would very much like The Oligarch: A Thriller to be the first in a series of Leksin thrillers. I have the next story firmly fixed in my head. However, at the moment I’m waiting to see how this novel goes. If enough people read it and like it, then I’m sure that’ll provide the necessary motivation to get on with the sequel.

How long did the book take to write – from research to publication and can you tell us a little about the writing process?

A very long time. The first draft was done several years ago, then left in a drawer. Once I picked it up again, as I’ve mentioned, I realised that tinkering with it wasn’t the answer. I spent about a year writing and rewriting it, then sending it off to contacts for their feedback, then writing it and rewriting it some more. My wife, who speaks Russian and has a far greater knowledge of Russian culture than I do, spent a massive amount of time helping with the editing process.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Not really. I just hope people read the book and like it. Personally I think it’s a very exciting and pacy story, taking place in an interesting and unusual setting. but that’s not really the point: the key thing is that the readers share that view. That’s what would make all the effort worthwhile.

And finally, Russia is in the news at the moment, for all the wrong reasons and even though we in the West would like to understand what’s going on it’s hard to make sense of it from here.  What do you think will happen to the young women in the punk band, Pussy Riot, who dared to publicly humiliate Putin?

To be honest, no idea. All I can say is that upsetting Putin is a very dangerous practice. Look what happened to Khodorkovsky. [currently serving a 12 year prison sentence].

The Oligarch (ASIN: B007T48YV2)is available through:

Amazon UK:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Oligarch-A-Thriller-ebook/dp/B007T48YV2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1339148959&sr=8-1

Amazon US:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Oligarch-A-Thriller-ebook/dp/B007T48YV2/ref=sr_1_16?ie=UTF8&qid=1339149019&sr=8-16

Amazon France:

http://www.amazon.fr/The-Oligarch-A-Thriller-ebook/dp/B007T48YV2/ref=sr_1_28?ie=UTF8&qid=1339149108&sr=8-28

It is also available on Apple iTunes (UK, US and France), Barnes & Noble, and Kobo eBookstore

Interview with Lisa Williams author of Death on a Long Winter’s Night

Revolution Earth has a sequence in it set in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica – the one location that we weren’t able to get to.  We consoled ourselves that if we were lucky enough to find a reader who had been to Antarctica, that they were most likely to have gone as a tourist and we hoped that our readers would suspend their disbelief and find our fictional setting credible.  And then we found Lisa, via Goodreads – who had not only worked in Antarctica but had worked there over the winter – and written a thriller set there too. The moral of this tale is that the world is a small place and despite choosing a remote location to set your book, do your homework first, as there will always be a reader who has been there.

Lisa, as you state in the introduction to Death on a Long Winter’s Night,” it is a glimpse into a world that few of us will ever see. Cold, dark, forbidding, the landscape is as deadly as the killer.”  To me, it seems similar to being on a space shuttle – cut off from the rest of the world – with only your colleagues for company – how did you cope with the isolation?

With the Internet bringing ever more connectivity to the wide world, it’s not nearly as isolated as it used to be. When I first went down to the Ice in the early 1990s, we phoned home to the States by booking an appointment with the Telecom operator at Scott Base. You got ten minutes and the connection was usually so bad you were screaming into the phone. It was expensive too. I don’t remember how much…but it seemed like a lot. The other way you could communicate with loved ones was by being hooked up with a ham radio operator. You’d get on the radio with them and they’d ring your home phone. You had to remember to say “Over” when it was the other person’s turn to talk. Of course the whole world could be listening to your conversation. So the rules were no swearing. You also had to book an appointment for those phone calls. The Navy was in charge, so there were always lots of sailors in line pining for their girlfriends.

And certainly before I was ever in the Antarctic, it was even more isolated.

But yes, even with the Internet we were isolated, especially in the winter. Once the last plane left in February, we were on our own — when I was there for the winter in 1995, there were 200-250 of us at McMurdo Station. And I think 10 at Scott Base. As the winter went on, the parties got wilder and wilder. We were bored, parties allowed us to let off steam.

What were the practical problems you encountered down on the ice and are these incorporated into the novel?

Hmmm, practical problems. The static electricity sucked. I worked in the science lab and we had carpet. The humidity was 1%, so any time we touched metal we got a big zap. Is that a practical problem?  I didn’t put the static electricity problem into the novel. I did talk about how we didn’t have any real crime fighting technology. No dusting for fingerprints, no forensics, no police detectives. Just our federal marshal…who was nothing like the character I created in the book. He was an okay guy, though he did wear his little gold star on his parka. On the other hand, I didn’t think it was fair that there was a police figure but no lawyer or other advocate for suspected ‘crims’.   The only crime down there was petty theft and an occasional assault fuelled by alcohol. [If there was anything more serious going on, we didn’t know it.]

What was the inspiration behind Death on a Long Winter’s Night?

The fact that there was no crime fighting technology. How would you catch a killer without those tools? Also, the fact that it was winter and there was no way to get off of Ross Island, so no escape for the killer or the innocent. And I wanted to write about Antarctica again.

How long did the book take to write – from research to publication and can you tell us a little about the writing process?

 

The research was pretty much the experience of wintering over. By then I had been to Antarctica five times and absorbed a lot about life on the Ice. In fact, when I was re-editing the book this past year, I was amazed at how much I used to know about the Ice that I wouldn’t be able to capture now. I wrote the book over a couple of years starting in 2001 and then put it aside.

The manuscript was a finalist for the Richard Webster prize in popular fiction in 2004 (I think that’s the right year) that was at that time sponsored in conjunction with Hazard Press, Christchurch. (May Hazard rest in peace).  But they were only publishing the winner of the contest.

I decided this past year to bring the book out again and have a look to see if I wanted to have another go, given the popularity of ebooks. I edited out 20,000 words and got some good feedback about how to quicken the pace. I learned a lot through that re-editing process: quicker pace, less characters to keep track of, not so much description. Even had to sacrifice some scenes I was quite fond of. For example, I originally had a chapter that takes place in the station infirmary with the doctor. He’s not a very good doctor — a dermatologist — and he can’t stand dead bodies, so he hasn’t really examined Poke’s body.

I found it fascinating that you created a mythology of Antarctica, which features skuas – can you tell us a little about that? Have you incorporated this mythology into any of your work?

You’ll find the myths I wrote about Antarctica in my first novel, Drifting at the Bottom of the World, published in 2003 by Bella Books. I started writing that novel while wintering over in 1995. The myths sprung out of my realisation that since there was no people indigenous to Antarctica, there had been no myths created. So I made some up. They centre on the animals you find down there. I figured that if anyone would be creating myths, it would be them. I also wrote a creation myth that puts the rape of a child as the act that brings about the fall of humanity from a state of grace. None of this stuff about a woman disobeying God, aka the patriarchy, by eating an apple to cause our expulsion from the garden.

Can you tell us about the other books you have had published or are working on?

As I mentioned, Drifting at the Bottom of the World. I just finished No Such Luck, which is a novel in seven pieces. It was my creative project for my PhD at AUT. It contains a novella, vintage newspaper articles, an old photocopy, a photograph, an audio interview (fiction in reality but in the context of the novel appears to be a real interview), a videotaped news clip, and a handwritten letter. It’s set in the American south where I grew up. The novel’s artefacts span a time period of 70 or so years and the tragedy of racism is at the heart of it. I didn’t realise until I got into it that this was such a deep theme with me — racism. My family has been in the south since the 1600s and it seems the issue is pretty much in my bones. I am still deciding how best to publish it. Ebook? I don’t know.

The amazing American actress Berlinda Tolbert worked with me on the audio interview. She played the character Miss Naomi Mays, an older African-American woman who is talking to the interviewer about an incident from her childhood when she suffers an act of violence at the hands of a white man. The interview supposedly took place in 1972…way before digital media and the online kingdom. So her interview is very private, meant only for a local oral history project. Berlinda co-wrote the script and she really improved it. I wrote for the page, she wrote for the ear.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

My thanks for getting to talk about Antarctica and my work. Really, Antarctica is the soul of the earth.

One point I wanted to add is that until October 1st all profits from the sale of Death on a Long Winter’s Night are going to Lisa’s good friend and Ice pal, Mariah to help with Mariah’s medical expenses after surgery and chemo for cancer.

 

Death on a Long Winter’s Night is available through Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008GWMO08

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B008GWMO08