By Alan Porter
In 1996 Rachel Whitelock escaped the war in Zaire with a secret that could change the lives of millions. Now she is going back to Africa to oversee covert trials of the genetically modified crop that came from that discovery. But someone is waiting for her... Ex-warlord Ato Jelani has waited eighteen years for her to return what she stole from Africa, but he doesn't just want it to feed the people. With the power this crop has, he can restart the war. Hunted across the jungles of Bengara, Whitelock must pull off a daring plan that could make or break her career... and change the course of a nation.
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AN INTERVIEW WITH ALAN
-What inspired you to become a writer?
I grew up in a very booky world - my father was a university librarian and my mother was an English teacher who latterly had a writing career of her own. Writing, in the sense of making stuff up and putting it on paper, was a natural thing for me as a child.
My first career, as a commercial musician, was not so far removed from the world of story-telling really. I worked in film, theatre and even peripherally in opera and ballet. Narrative was a very strong core to all my work. Working in theatres also gave me a lot of time to sit and read!
I never really decided to ‘become a writer’. It was something I experimented with, starting in 2003, and writing a couple of short children’s books over the next few years. They weren’t very good! Even when I started to ‘write’ properly, it was done more as a challenge than in the expectation of ever being published. I wanted to know how the writers I admired did what they did, so I studied the craft, got right down into the nuts and bolts of fiction… then started creating my own.
I wrote nine novels before I had even the faintest idea of being published. They were my apprenticeship. None will ever be published.
So was I ever ‘inspired’ to become a writer? Not really! I stumbled into it and discovered it was a job I loved and was quite good at. I’ll do it as long as it’s fun and as long as my readers tell me they want more. After that I might try dry-stone walling!
-What draws you to thrillers?
Initially I wrote horror, because that was the genre I most enjoyed reading. The thing was though that I was never really a ‘horror’ writer, any more than Steven King is truly a ‘horror’ writer. I was really writing adventure-thrillers where the protagonists just happened to have some horrible things to contend with. But it seems that what my readers liked was the ‘thriller’ side of the story rather than the ‘horror’… so now I write much more mainstream thrillers. I’m happy with the change!
-Give us a fun or interesting fact you learned researching this book.
GM deals with a lot of controversial areas - genetically modified food, the aftermath of colonialism in Africa, poverty, famine, that kind of thing. There was a lot of research involved; a lot of talking to experts in these areas. Probably the most shocking fact for me was just how much damage is done in the third world by well-meaning but naive aid.
One of the warlords asks our main character, ‘Do you know how much of the money you sent to Ethiopia in the 1980s was used to buy weapons?’
The book never answers this question, but in the course of the research I was shocked to discover that the answer (according to a BBC investigation in 2010), is about $95million. Live Aid and the like undoubtedly saved many lives, but it also left behind a legacy that would ensure that the famine would occur again, and again, and again. Money alone is not the answer where the problem is largely political.
-Which of your characters would you go out for drinks and/or pizza with?
For me, the most interesting character to dig deeper into, to learn more about than we learn in the book, is General David Kabosi. He was instrumental in the war that led to the collapse of Bengara (the country where GM is set). He is the embodiment of the old adage ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’. Is David Kabosi a terrorist or a freedom fighter? The book is deliberately ambiguous about this, but I would love to know. I’d let him order the pizza though: getting his order wrong could be a very costly mistake!
-For aspiring writers, any tips?
Writing is a job. For most writers there’s no magic, or alchemy or blinding inspiration. To write well you have to write a lot; keep practising. And you have to be your own harshest critic - a first draft is the building block on which you will construct your masterpiece. It needs to be reworked, refined, honed, chopped and polished.
If you’ve got something to say and the grit and determination to make sure you’re saying it in the best possible way, being a writer can be a great job.
-Is there a genre you could never write? Which and why?
I can’t do romance. I could stare at a blank computer screen for a year and never come up with a plot for an ‘erotic’ or a ‘paranormal’ romance. I have tried reading some of the modern crop and I just end up thinking ‘why is this interesting?’ I guess it’s just the way I’m wired.
I was born in Wales in 1967. After a successful career as a composer of theatre and commercial music in the 1990s I began writing in 2003. My first novel - a horror for young adults - was published in 2008.
I now specialise in dark thrillers for adults; parables for our modern times that deal with subjects as diverse as mental illness ('Run', 2013) and genetic modification ('GM' 2014).
I live in rural Worcestershire, England, with my wife and parrot.
Visit Alan’s website.
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