Meet David Spell, new reviewer for The Bandwagon and blogger over at The Scary Reviews.
David Spell is the owner of The Scary Reviews, a blog that focuses mainly on Dark Fiction, Thillers/Mysteries and Science Fiction reviews and author interviews along with guest posts and news about these genres. He is an avid reader who has been know to read a 500 page novel in a matter of days. When he isn’t working he can be found in other worlds in the pages of a good book. Follow him on Twitter @DavidwSpell, Facebook DavidwSpell, and Goodreads.
My interview today is with thriller author George Eccles. His books include The Oligarch, a Silver Medal winner at the Global E-book Awards 2013 and his sophomore book Corruption of Power. Corruption of Power was released this past December and has over two dozen reviews averaging 4.5 stars. George was kind enough to speak with me today about his writing process, Corruption of Power and just how much research this type of book requires. Thank you for joining me today George, let’s get right to the Q&A.
The Scary Reviews: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from. What propelled you to start writing and when did you start writing?
George Eccles: I was born in London. I studied law at the London School of Economics, then joined one of the major financial services firms where in due course I became a partner. I moved to Moscow at the start of 1995 advising both Western and Russian companies. This was the time when the so-called oligarchs were coming to the fore of Russian business and political life, and I worked with several of them to explore ways in which they could modernise their new acquisitions and maximise the return on their investment. In 2000, I moved to Central Asia to become Chief Operating Officer of an American enterprise fund which had been set up by the US government to stimulate private enterprise in these former Soviet republics. Although my base was Almaty in Kazakhstan, I had overall responsibility for our offices in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, so I travelled extensively.
Some years later I returned to my home in the South of France, where I now live with my wife. Since then, I have maintained my involvement with certain businesses in Russia and Kazakhstan, while at the same time embarking on a new career of writing thrillers.
What propelled me into writing? Two things, I guess. First, once I returned to France, I had the time to write. Second, given the extraordinary period during which I lived in Russia and Central Asia, I felt I had some stories to tell.
TSR: What writers were your inspiration and who do you enjoy reading?
GE: I don’t know so much about inspiration, but the thriller writer whom I most admire is John LeCarré. His plots are meticulously worked out, his characterisations are always spot-on, and Smiley ranks as a standout character in the thriller genre. Unlike so many authors, LeCarré just gets better and better. His last novel, A Delicate Truth is a masterpiece.
I read a lot of thrillers – not quite exclusively since I enjoy the occasional biography, but thrillers are definitely my preferred genre. My other favourite authors are Robert Harris, James Patterson and Carol O’Connell.
TSR: What aspects of writing do you find the most challenging?
GE: Let me answer this under two headings: process, and keeping current.
The part of the process I find most challenging is writing the first draft. I plan my books painstakingly over quite a long time before I actually start writing, and this involves bit-by-bit fleshing out an idea until I have a story. By the time I start writing I have a detailed chapter outline. However, I am not a disciplined writer, at least as far as the first draft is concerned. Unlike many writers, I don’t have a daily target, nor do I write every day. Sometimes, if I have social or business engagements, I might go for a week or more without writing anything at all. It is only once I have this first draft – finally! – written that I start taking the task seriously, and the job of editing, rewriting, re-editing and re-rewriting becomes fulltime.
Given that my books are political thrillers set in the present day, keeping them current is key. For example, when I started writing Corruption of Power, Russia had neither annexed Crimea not stimulated unrest in Eastern Ukraine. The West hadn’t imposed sanctions on Russia, and the oil price had yet to fall from over $100 per barrel to $30. The Russian economy at that time seemed buoyant, and there was no warning of the dire recession in which it finds itself now. The Taliban were still subdued in Afghanistan and no one had heard of ISIS. Each of these, however, had a profound effect on the story I had planned (or, later, written in draft), requiring at best subtle changes and at worst complete rewrites.
TSR: What are the themes you like to write about?
GE: Both books I have written – the first, The Oligarch, and the new one, Corruption of Power – taken place in the former Soviet Union. The Oligarch is set in Moscow, Siberia and Ingushetia (Chechnya’s neighbour); Corruption of Power is set in Moscow, Tashkent in Uzbekistan, and throughout Turkmenistan. These are all areas I know well from my own experience.
The overriding theme in both cases is corruption – political corruption, business corruption, and corruption among individuals. The end all too often justifies the means: governments will risk conflict to achieve their objectives; dissenting voices are unacceptable, so if a critic cannot be persuaded to refrain, he is eliminated; terrorist incidents are manufactured to manipulate public opinion. In both my books I offer no judgements. It is often difficult to discern whether it is just the bad guys who are corrupt or whether the good guys are corrupt as well.
In my experience, this rings true of the region. In many cases, without dealing with people you know or suspect to be corrupt, it is impossible to do business. By refusing to sink to their level, you can seriously prejudice your own chances of success. Take the courts for example. In Turkmenistan when I was there, judicial decisions were regularly based on the size of the bribe the judge received. Local businessmen were happy to bribe, Western companies were generally not. No prizes for guessing which side normally won their case.
TSR: Tell us about the origin of Corruption of Power.
GE: Corruption of Power is the second in the Leksin thriller series. The hero, Alex Leksin, is a freelance troubleshooter with a first class mind. Born in England, his family is of Russian descent. Educated at Cambridge University and Harvard Business School, he was recruited by MI5 to work in their new Serious Crime Unit. Some time before the book starts, he has been persuaded by his closest friend, who works for the Russian President, that a much more lucrative use of his financial, forensic skills would be in Russia where white collar crime and money laundering is rampant. In the first book, The Oligarch, he carries out his first assignment for the Russian President. Impressed by his success, the President calls upon him again in Corruption of Power.
There are three key premises underlying Corruption of Power, all of which are inspired by actual fact (although the story itself is fiction).
First, an unscrupulous and ruthless Russian President is looking to regain some of the territory Russia lost during the break-up of the Soviet Union. His incursion into Crimea and Eastern Ukraine has persuaded him that the West will retaliate with economic sanctions rather than military might, and in order to minimise the effect of any sanctions, he resolves to switch the market for Russia’s massive deposits of oil and gas away from Europe toward the East. When plans to do this go off-tilt and threaten to bring the ongoing conflict in the Middle East to Russia’s border, he calls on Leksin to sort things out.
Second, the Kremlin and the FSB will manufacture terrorist incidents when it suits them.
Third, the Russian hierarchy fears that the significant unrest in Russia’s southern states such as Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia and Ossetia, coupled with the increasing Muslim influence in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, has made its southern underbelly a ripe recruiting ground for the spread of ISIS.
TSR: How much research is required for your books?
GE: A great deal. The planning process, which includes most of the research, takes six months or more. Obviously having lived in the region for a long time, I have a reasonable knowledge of how people live, eat, dress, etc, and I have a stock of my own photos that cover some of the locations used in the books. Everything else has to be researched to try to make it as accurate as possible, which requires long hours on the internet, reading endless books about places or aspect of Russian politics, and several visits back to the countries to check on things.
Of course, as I write, I find there are aspects that I realise I need to know more about. Generally I make a list of these and, once I’ve finished the first draft, I go back to research my way through the list.
TSR: For those who haven’t read any of your work, what book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
GE: This may seem like a cop-out, but I think they are both equally representative. The Oligarch and Corruption of Power both follow the exploits of Alex Leksin in Russia and its neighbouring territories. In the first, the President faces an uphill struggle to wrest former State assets away from the oligarchs who obtained them from his ailing predecessor in the 1990’s; in the second, the President is trying to regain some of the territory Russia used to control in former Soviet times. Both thrillers utilise my experience when I lived in the region, and use as settings places I got to know well.
TSR: What’s next on the your agenda?
GE: Leksin will return for the third in the series. I read in the Press last year about a group of international investors who lost a great deal of money overnight in a Moscow property investment and then died, one-by-one, in mysterious circumstances. Leksin will be brought in to investigate.
TSR: Let’s close things with a few words for new writers. What obstacles can they expect and how best do they overcome them?
GE: The key problem, as I see it, is that the publishing industry is biased against new writers. Over the last 20+ years there has been massive concentration in the sector, so the number of individual houses that might publish (or at least consider) a new writer’s work has severely diminished. Those that are left are risk-averse and prefer to rely on the cash cow of their existing bestseller writers. This makes it difficult for new entrants and deprives readers of loads of good books that never get the exposure a mainstream publisher brings.
How do new writers get around this? With great difficulty, I fear. Most, befuddled with frustration, take the self-publishing route. The self-publishing revolution has enabled writers to get their work out there, where before it would have been consigned to a bottom draw. Many writers have had considerable success in this way, although so far as I can see, this has been mainly confined to specific genres. The process is an uphill struggle for many authors who takes on total responsibility for publicising their book, a task for which they have no training and no promotional budget.
George Eccles, writing as G W Eccles, graduated from the London School of Economics with a law degree and subsequently became a partner in one of the major international financial advisory firms.
In 1994, George left London to move to Russia and Central Asia during the tumultuous period that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union. His work involved extensive travel throughout Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – often to places with restricted access to foreigners. During his time there, he advised a number of real-life oligarchs how best to take advantage of the opportunities that became available as regulation crumbled and government became increasingly corrupt.
His first thriller: The Oligarch, was awarded a Silver Medal both at the Global E-book Awards 2013 and at the Independent Publishers Book Awards 2013, as well as being selected as IPPY Book of the Day. His second novel, Corruption of Power, was published by Peach Publishing in December 2015.
George is married and now lives with his wife in a hilltop village not far from Cannes in the South of France.
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Trailer video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDDZlRY51qQ&feature=youtu.be