Welcome, Readers. Today’s special author is George (G.W.) Eccles who is chatting with me about his new political thriller, Corruption of Power. It’s the second book in his Alex Leksin thriller series.
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 and won a Bronze Medal at the recent Independent Publishers Book Awards 2016.
George is married and now lives with his wife – with a cat called Lenin and a bulldog called Boris - in a hilltop village not far from Cannes in the South of France.
Welcome, George. Please tell us about your current release.
Corruption of Power, which was published by Peach Publishing last December, is the second in my Alex Leksin thriller series. The first, The Oligarch, was self-published a few years ago. Corruption of Power features a number of the same characters, though the story stands on its own.
The Russian President is intent on restoring his country to its former glory by regaining much of the territory that it lost when the Soviet Union broke up. His experience in Crimea has taught him that the West won’t fight to defend these territories, but it will impose damaging economic sanctions. As a result, he resolves to switch Russia’s economic focus to the East with the objective of minimizing the impact of these sanctions when they inevitably follow his incursions into neighbouring countries. One element of this strategy involves developing new markets in the East for his Russia’s massive oil and gas deposits.
A major component of the plan involves building an oil pipeline through Turkmenistan and Afghanistan to access the Eastern markets, but when this goes wrong, it threatens to bring the conflagration currently raging in the Middle East right inside Russia’s own borders. The President turns to independent troubleshooter, Alex Leksin, to put the plan back on course.
Leksin’s task is made more difficult by the fact that the company responsible for implementing the pipeline project is now run by oligarch’s daughter, Vika Usenko, to whom Leksin had once been engaged. Worse still, responsibility for the pipeline itself rests with her embittered, resentful brother.
Against a backdrop of political corruption, state sponsored terrorism, and increased Taliban insurgency, Leksin’s investigation takes him from Moscow to Turkmenistan, one of the world's most sinister countries right at the heart of Central Asia. Wherever he goes, someone tries to kill him; people who may be able to help him are assassinated; and information turns to misinformation. When at last he discovers the truth, he is no longer sure whom he can trust.
What inspired you to write this book?
On a general level, I suppose I was inspired by my own experience. I spent five years working in Russia, often for oligarchs looking to embed their newly-acquired assets, then another five years operating a US-backed enterprise fund in Central Asia. This gave me an amazing insight into both these regions: the politics, the corruption at all levels, the different ways people live, the amazing contrasts in the geography. While the story is fiction, many of the anecdotes are inspired by actual events that occurred either while I was there or since.
More specifically, Corruption of Power is very current and was inspired by things that are actually happening. The story and denouement might be fiction, but it takes place within a background that is all real. The following statements are facts. The Russian President does want to restore Russia to its former glory (he regularly says so in his broadcasts to the nation); he did invade Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine; and the West responded with sanctions but no military force. Russia is trying to court the Eastern markets: they’ve signed a pipeline deal to bring oil to China, and it would love to join forces with Turkmenistan (one of the world’s biggest gas producers) to run a pipeline through Afghanistan down to the Indian Ocean. The Russian President has always been worried about unrest on what he sees as his country’s soft Southern underbelly, and there has been a marked increase in Taliban activity. Finally, there is now irrefutable evidence that numerous so-called terrorist incidents within Russia were actually carried out by the FSB, the successor organization to the KGB.
Excerpt from Corruption of Power:
Anya Politska typed furiously into her laptop, her handwritten notes spread untidily across her desk in the open-plan office of Novy Novoski, the controversial investigative bi-weekly. Her colleagues milled around her cubicle in small groups, talking in whispers. They were all edgy with the sense of anticipation.
Politska paused to read through what she'd written, pursing her lips with approval. Surely the ex-KGB snoop had gone too far this time? Even Karpev, she reckoned, wouldn't be able to withstand the public outcry that her revelations would provoke.
Inured as she was by hard experience, she'd wept when the shock news of the mass murder of children and teachers at School No 86 in Pechatniki had broken two days earlier. She'd covered many atrocities, but the day when a massacre of innocents no longer moved her, she'd give up. As a journalist, she had a part to play. Blinking back the tears, she'd assimilated the scene. The banner hastily erected across the front of the school had registered with her immediately. Islamic Democratic Freedom Movement, it had read. Subsequently she'd listened intently as an FSB spokesman confirmed the IDFM's responsibility.
The IDFM was a Chechen group, and as a journalist during the Chechnya war, Politska had established links with its leader. The group were certainly no saints, but the mass murder of children was not their style either. Something smelt wrong. Using her contacts, Politska had succeeded yesterday in talking to the group's leader, who'd vehemently denied any involvement with the school bombing. It's all a set-up, he'd told her, and she believed him.
Her next move had been to arrange a meeting with her FSB informant. A reliable source - at a price - in the past, on this occasion he'd refused point-blank to discuss the subject.
"You're walking on quicksand, Anya," he'd warned. "Let this one drop."
"I can't, you know better than that," she'd replied. She'd experienced more than her fair share of threats and intimidation over the years - beatings, poisoning, electric shocks, days of confinement in a pit, even a mock execution. But these were the occupational hazards of investigative journalism in Karpev's Russia, and if you weren't prepared to risk them, then you needed to change your job.
When she'd got back to the office, though, she'd felt despondent. All she had was the denial of the IDFM's leader, but on its own this meant nothing. No one would believe him without independent evidence supporting his claim, yet she was running out of leads. Then, this morning, everything had changed.
When she'd arrived in the office, she'd found an email sent to her anonymously overnight. Nothing in the body of the text, just an attachment and a heading 'Look at the date'. Opening the attachment, she'd found a draft press release on FSB-headed paper describing the terrorist attack on the school. As she'd started to read through, she'd felt her professional instincts take hold.
The press release summarised an incident at School No 86 in Pechatniki. It detailed how terrorists had taken over the building during school hours, rigged it with explosives and held children and teachers captive. But in this version there was no actual explosion, no death toll, and the terrorists had escaped. Politska scrolled up and down the text, confused. Suddenly her eyes fixed on the top line - the draft press release was dated the day before the actual incident occurred.
She swivelled in her chair to stare out of the window as the implications fell into place. The school bombing, as she'd suspected from the outset, was no straightforward terrorist incident. Now she had solid evidence that the FSB had themselves been responsible. The appalling consequences might not have been their intended outcome, but they had always been a possibility. As her father used to say, if you play with fire, there's always a chance you'll get burned.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I am working on the third in the Alex Leksin thriller series, as yet untitled. It was inspired by an article I read in the newspapers. Apparently a group of half-a-dozen businessmen who’d invested very substantial sums in a Moscow-based scheme suddenly found the scheme cancelled and all their money gone. There was no explanation. Over the next few weeks, one by one, the investors came to untimely deaths. That pretty much forms the background to my new thriller. Leksin is brought in to find the money.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Probably not until Peach Publishing released Corruption of Power. My first book, The Oligarch, was a story I dreamt up while spending six months on assignment in the Arctic mining town of Norilsk, and in some respects it almost wrote itself. This second book involved much more planning and hard work. It also give me a chance to put into practice some of the lessons I’d learnt in writing The Oligarch.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am a very undisciplined writer, I’m afraid. I very much admire writers who set themselves targets of x words per day or write for y hours every day without fail. Alas, I’m not one of them. I spend 6-9 months planning the plot, then probably a year writing the first draft. The reason the first draft takes so long is that I tend to let myself be easily distracted by other activities: my bulldog is still a puppy and requires a lot of attention; I play bridge once or twice a week; I go to operas, concerts and cinemas at the drop of a hat. Basically I seem always to be able to find something else to do other than write!
This changes, though, once I have a first draft. I think I need the impetus of reaching this stage before I become truly committed to the task because, once I have a first draft, writing does in fact become pretty much a full-time activity.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I am not at all sure that she’d be happy being described as a ‘writing quirk’, but this is probably the juncture that I should mention my wife’s input. She’s a modern languages graduate and travelled with me throughout Russia and Central Asia when we lived there. When I’ve finished revising the first (second and third etc) draft, and basically feel the book’s finished, I pass it to my wife to read and this is where the work really begins. At this point we sit together for some weeks, discussing how the plot needs to be tweaked, then reworking how the characters behave, and finally rewriting whole chunks of the manuscript to make it more reader-friendly. I cannot emphasise enough how important her contribution is at this stage of the process – much better than any professional editor or book doctor!
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I didn’t really know. My father died when I was very young. He’d been a doctor, so for a while I wanted to be a doctor – until I struggled with science at school and realized it wasn’t for me! I chose to read law at university not because I wanted to become a lawyer, but because it was useful and gave me time to work out what I wanted to do. In the end, I trained with one of the large accountancy firms, though if I had my time again, I think I’d choose to go the law route.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Not really. I’m afraid I haven’t found a magic formula to share with your readers that turns a book into an overnight bestseller or sells the movie rights. If anyone does find one, please let me know!
I would just say that I love to hear from my readers, and I respond to all who contact me. So if after reading either The Oligarch or Corruption of Power, you have query, question, comment – or just want to share your thoughts on the book - then please use the contact form on my website to say ‘hi’.
Corruption of Power is available in paperback and Kindle format from all global Amazon sites, including: Amazon UK | Amazon USA
Thanks for being here today, George. All the best with your writing!