What can you tell us about your new book The Milford Ultimatum?
This is the story of a man and a woman caught up in a peace movement, which will stop at nothing to create a new State of Palestine…
Leo, a British security adviser in Bahrain, forms a tempestuous relationship with Maryam, a liberal Saudi student 10 years younger than himself.
While at college in the USA she meets up with Khaled, an idealistic young Palestinian, who heads up a new peace movement aimed at establishing an independent State of Palestine.
The novel explores the fragility of love and loyalty when the two are challenged to risk their careers - and even their lives - to support the fight for justice and freedom.
Following the invasion of Gaza by Israel in December 2008, Khaled completes his plan to create a world-stopping event which could make the 9/11 bombings a minor disaster unless Britain and the USA pressure Israel to start serious peace talks.
MI6 agent “the Major” uses Leo’s relationship with Maryam to track Khaled’s movements and finds that Khaled’s “peaceful” team has been infiltrated by a leading European terrorist.
Leo is taken hostage, Khaled attacked, and Maryam... I won’t say any more!
This romantic thriller moves rapidly from Bahrain to Texas, to South Wales and the New Forest before reaching a tense climax.
You have been praised for the way you handle tension in your writing – what can you tell us about this skill and how you have developed it?
I must admit this is not something I have developed consciously, so I may find it hard to explain in terms of technique. However, I find it helpful to think in terms of cinema when developing tension and threat in the novel. For example, the pace and timing of each scene is so edgy in Hitchcock. I have tried to follow the master a little. After all, a book should be the cinema of the mind.
Secondly, writing short stories, especially flash fiction, helps to tighten your prose style. Tight style encourages taut action.
When did you first discover you wanted to be a writer?
From a teenager I loved reading and books, and at the age of 21 I opened a bookshop in the centre of Cardiff, financed by my dad. But my wish to write led me to enter journalism three years later. On the Western Mail I was writing a daily column amounting to 200,000 words a year, but that did not lead to a novel. Over the years I have written stories, part novels, poems, sketches, and a few stage comedies, which have been produced. Many years passed before I finally published this, my first novel.
What is your writing process?
I normally wake at six in the morning, make myself a cup of tea with a digestive biscuit and go up to my study to start work 10 minutes later.
When I am writing I work at the computer with Microsoft Word. I don’t use any special novel-creation software, though some look very useful for planning and revising.
I try to work for two hours at least, because that allows me time to immerse myself in the particular scene I am writing.
If domestic duties allow, I will also write after coffee, which I enjoy with my wife at around 11.00am. Some people call these domestic duties “household chores”, an almost derogatory term which implies they have little value. But everything that contributes to a more pleasant house and garden has value. The house is the temple of the home, the front garden your chance to share beauty with neighbours and strangers. For me, that is part of the meaning of life.
All the planning for the novel I draw out on large sheets of paper. I spend a lot of time developing a plot, and working out the key events within a clear time frame. But often I don’t know how a plot will climax, even in short stories.
Who are your favourite reads?
I suppose I have an eclectic taste. I enjoy Paul Cuelho for the deceptively simple style of writing, which perfectly suits his philosophical approach to life’s journeys. Read The Alchemist.
Then there is Khaled Hosseini, whose A Thousand Splendid Suns fills your world with small characters that grow into huge oaks.
Then there is Stanley Middleton, the Booker Prize winner, who understands the fluttering gossamer strands that hold people together often when they should be apart. Holiday is a masterly study.
Finally, I return to Dylan Thomas, for his love-affair with the symphony of language… which mesmerises the brain more than the heart.
What inspired you to set a love story against the backdrop of the Invasion of Gaza in 2008?
Originally this book was planned as a romantic novel in the ex-pat community in Bahrain, where I lived for 10 years. But the invasion of Gaza led me to start researching what was happening in Palestine. Since the Six Day War in 1967, Israel has gradually taken more and more Palestinian land, built a Wall of Separation dividing farmers from their fields, and used tanks and warplanes against civilian populations. The UN passes resolutions while the West looks on and does nothing.
Sadly, the Arab world has failed too.
And so, I wanted to write a thriller which is not only a good read but shows the suffering and frustration of the Palestinian people as they see their future as a viable state all but disappear.
How much research did you carry out when writing your book?
A great deal. The internet is a wonderful repository of knowledge and human endeavour.
But the Israel/Palestine issue is highly-charged, with both sides engaged in a vicious war of words. Although I read the history of modern Israel, and the story of the Palestinian struggle, I concentrated on the personal stories of those living in Gaza and the West Bank as told through diaries, blogs and other articles.
In particular - and I have dedicated this novel to her memory - I drew on the studies by Tanya Reinhart, the Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University. The two volumes of this brave and passionate Jewish academic deserve wide readership for their analysis of Israeli and American policy towards Palestine.
How have you developed this addictive quality to your writing?
I’m a little nervous about how to answer this question! The critical review of the original manuscript said the story “draws the reader in…” That was very encouraging, but to say my writing is addictive is something only the reader can say. What I can say is that the reader is drawn in by two things – a good story, and interesting characters. If both are present, it should be addictive.
What advice would you give to other writers just starting out?
Four pieces of advice.
First. Find something to say, and say it with passion. Whether it is single mums struggling to make ends meet, mothers trying to control teenage daughters, grandparents starting a new life overseas, or sibling rivalry… drive the story forward with feeling.
Secondly, write about what you know – but don’t let that stop you exploring worlds you never knew existed.
Thirdly, believe in yourself, your ability, your imagination.
Finally, start by writing a 500-word short story.
What is next for you?
Later this year I will publish a collection of short stories, Wild Orchid. These mostly explore the relationships between men and women, their loves, fears and ambitions.