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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Author Interview: AFN Clarke

Today I am pleased to present to you all the 98th in a series (of 100) of Author Interviews. Recently I sat down with the short-fused, crowd-hating, AFN Clarke, and our conversation went something like this:

Paul:  I like to start my interviews by asking if you have any writing rituals?
AFN:  Not really. I can write just about anywhere at any time regardless of noise or location. I guess the only thing I do on a regular basis when I'm not "feeling" the next part of the plot is I step away from writing, go for a walk, watch TV or do something totally different as it's only then that my brain can figure things out for itself without me forcing anything and I get that fresh "aha" experience when I sit down again and let the words flow.

Paul:  What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
AFN:  I love all sorts of books. I grew up on the classics but if I had to choose one author to highlight it would be JP Donleavy. His books like "The Gingerman", "A Singular Man", "The Onion Eaters" and others opened my eyes to the fact that creative writing is a living organism. When you write creatively you have the ability to invent in many ways, both grammatically and with vocabulary which, if it works, creates a vivid colorful and satisfying result. Donleavy turns convention on its head, leaves out verbs, uses words in a visceral or visual rather than "correct" way and it's an amazingly freeing experience to read him.

Paul:  If someone had the power to step into your creative mind what would they see?
AFN:  I think they'd see something that resembles a really large, intricate, interconnected spider web. Because I write in a "stream of consciousness" style, my stories evolve organically. This means that I continually have all of the characters, events and sublayers in my mind all the time. This creative soup is "processed" 24/7 into intricate patterns that find their way onto the page each day. The web is woven in my head first, so that's what readers would see - it's a bit like chaos theory - there actually is order in what appears to be total chaos.

Paul:  Do you have a favorite character in each of your series, aside from the lead? If so, which one and why?
AFN:  In my new series The Orange Moon Affair one of my favorite characters is Julie. Most "male dominated" thrillers avoid strong female characters, but why? In my opinion women often have greater insight and that quiet strength of character that men often lack when they only resort to brute force to solve problems. They're also more unpredictable. Julie weaves all those characteristics, a fierce loyalty and hidden abilities into a dominant role in the story resulting in a highly surprising ending. I like her sensitivity, her soulfulness and her gutsiness.

Paul:  In all the years you’ve been publishing your work, what is the biggest mistake you made that you could share so others can avoid making it?
AFN:  Fortunately, my first book Contact (a memoir) was a bestseller but then I made a rookie mistake that I've never made again. My publisher said "so what's your next book?" and I said "what book?" Oops - wrong answer! It took a while to get that initial momentum back. My advice? Don't let the limelight get to your head - take your ego, box it up, and get back to work! Now I always know what my next book is going to be… and the next… and the next.

Paul:  How do you find the time to write?
AFN:  I think every writer is, to some degree, self-indulgent as to be successful we simply have to sit and write no matter what else is happening around us. Or that's how I feel, anyway. I'm lucky to be writing full-time but have to acknowledge that my amazing wife bears the brunt of handling the demands of everyday life so that I can actually spend each day at my computer. I let go of a lot of things normal people do  - I become more of a hermit and far less social but the consistency pays off and I think my books are better for it.

Paul:  What is one thing you hope I do not tell the readers?
AFN:  Ha, that's a very funny question! I have to admit I have a short fuse with people who won't think for themselves or refuse to "think outside the box". I am insatiably curious, read tons, and love to have heated discussions. That's when I feel most excited and alive and so I am baffled by some people who seem to live life on automatic and never question anything. Or people who just want to sit on the sidelines of life and "watch". Sadly we've become too much of a "spectator society" instead of getting in there, boots and all, and participating.

Paul:  If you are self-published, what led to you going your own way?
AFN:  My first 6 books were traditionally published, but I've stepped out of that system in more recent years. I found I had to do most of the marketing myself anyway, so why not take back control and reap the rewards? So I did, I got my rights back and released all my work as ebooks in the Amazon Kindle Store. Interestingly, after 30 years Random House agreed to hand back the rights to my bestseller Contact as the book was supposedly "too old". I am glad to say I have proven them wrong! It's still one of my bestsellers and resonates with readers all over the world. I love the freedom self-publishing brings, though would still work with a good publisher on a more equal footing if that were possible.

Paul:  Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
AFN:  I am more of a "stream of consciousness' writer. Although I have a clear idea of the plot and a definite focus I simply start and then the book takes on a life of its own. The characters are, after all, people, and how they react to different situations determines what happens next - and so as my characters grow they help develop the twists and turns of the story in a way that often surprises even me. I think this gives my writing a greater immediacy, vibrancy, and feeling of being "real" even if it's a highly fanciful story.

Paul:  Do you have to do much research for your stories?
AFN:  I am always researching but I am blessed with a "colorful" life as fodder for my books as well. My father was an MI6 operative and I've been a Captain in Britain's elite Parachute Regiment, a race car driver, pilot, screenwriter, computer programmer and proud father of 4 daughters. I've lived in Hong Kong, India, Iran, Libya, Europe, the UK, USA and Australia and so have been immersed in different cultures, political and religious systems. This blend of my background, insatiable curiosity about everything and my ongoing research is an important part of every book, so that the boundaries between what is real and what is not are always intriguingly blurred adding, I hope, a depth and breadth to my work.

Paul:  What is your most recent book? Tell us a little about it.
AFN:  The Orange Moon Affair is the first of a new thriller series featuring Thomas Gun, ex-special forces, who is dragged back to his old life of international intrigue and danger after the brutal murder of his billionaire father. What tears at his soul most is whether the abhorrent conspiracy he uncovers was actually his father's creation. In trying to find the answer he risks losing all he holds most dear, including his accomplice Julie, who constantly surprises him with her insight and abilities. Though fast-paced and action packed it's also thought-provoking in its exploration of the abuse of power and position for personal gain.

Paul:  What inspired you to write this book?
AFN:  My inspiration is the person the book is dedicated to - Terry Forrestal, ex-British SAS, brother-in-arms and a dear friend, may he rest in peace. His life read like a Hollywood movie and he had that streak of larrikin in him so I think he would enjoy this book. He - like myself, and the central character Thomas Gunn - was always torn between the "trained killer" part of himself and the more caring, emotional part that simply wanted a more "normal" and peaceful life. That inner turmoil is an integral part of the book and what makes Thomas so vulnerable. It also makes for an interesting relationship with Julie.

Paul:  What’s your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
AFN:  What I love about writing is living in and creating whole new worlds in which my readers and I can lose ourselves. Editing is what I dislike most! For me, when I write the last word I'm done. Enter my long suffering wife and first-line editor. She puts on her suit of armor and delivers her forceful feedback. Despite my relentless kicking and screaming, her insistence slowly works its magic and I do indeed succumb, making changes that are essential to the success of the book. You'd think I'd learn, but the next time, it's the same again, round and round we go.

Paul:  What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hobbies or party tricks?
AFN:  I am not naturally a sedentary person, so I spend my relaxation time being physically active. My favorite thing is to sail out on the ocean alone when the sky is blue, sun warm, and let the wind blow the cobwebs out of my head. My wife and I take long walks and we enjoy traveling off the beaten path. I used to be a race car driver so watch all sorts of motor racing and just about every kind of sport you can imagine. I also really enjoy cooking and make a huge mess in the kitchen. No party tricks I'm afraid, don't go to them - am not a fan of crowds.

Paul:  Thanks, AFN, that was most interesting. I wish you every success for the future.

About AFN Clarke: AFN CLARKE is the son of a British MI6 operative, pilot, sailor, screenwriter, father of four who’s lived all over the world, served in the British Army and recovered from the physical/emotional traumas of war. His bestselling memoir CONTACT was serialized in a British newspaper and made into an award winning BBCTV film. He’s insatiably curious, loves heated discussions and has a rascally sense of humor. He now writes fiction of various genres – political thrillers (AN UNQUIET AMERICAN), human drama (DRY TORTUGAS), humor/satire (DREAMS FROM THE DEATH AGE; ARMAGEDDON), horror (COLLISIONS) and THE ORANGE MOON AFFAIR, the first of a new Thomas Gunn thriller/suspense series with more coming soon.

AFN's Website: AFN Clarke
AFN on Twitter: @AFNClarke
AFN on Facebook: AFN Clarke
AFN's latest book: The Orange Moon Affair (Amazon)

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