Monday, January 19, 2015

Interview with international thriller author Ian Coates

Today’s fun interview is with thriller author Ian Coates as he shares about his newest novel, Eavesdrop.  

Author Ian Coates graduated with honors in engineering. He worked in the high tech electronics industry for thirty years, where he specialized in the design of radio communication equipment. His intimate knowledge of that environment always triggered his imagination to think about the mysterious world of international spies.

A lifelong love of books led him into writing, but it was being named one of the winners in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook centenary novel writing competition that spurred him on to complete his spy thriller, Eavesdrop.

The novel was written largely on planes and in airport lounges as well as in snatched moments before starting work each morning. Eavesdrop was released by Bad Day Books, the suspense and thriller imprint of Assent Publishing.

Ian is proud to support the British Science Association and donates a proportion of his book proceeds to that charity. He lives and writes in Buckinghamshire, England, with his wife and two daughters.

Welcome, Ian. Please tell us about your current release.
James Winter is a Customs Investigation Officer, but when the smuggling ring he’s closing-in on suddenly develops an uncanny knack of avoiding arrest, he is suspended on suspicion of helping them. As he tries to clear his name, he uncovers a group of assassins, industrial espionage, and a very determined Mossad agent.

The story starts with three apparently separate story threads. The first follows the assassins – they are operating in London, and when their hits suddenly start to go wrong, they begin to think they have a traitor in their midst.

The second story thread follows the smugglers. They are setting-up a new run to smuggle diamonds from Antwerp to London, and need to bring in a new courier to help. However, they soon begin to think that the man they’ve chosen is not all that he seems.

The third thread follows Winter as he tries to discover who was behind his dismissal. As the story progresses, these three threads start to come together until, by the time we reach the climax in the snowy wastes of Finland, they’ve become just one storyline and we suddenly realize there’s a lot more at stake than just Winter’s career.

It’s a fast paced thriller, and it’s the book’s title that gives us a clue as to what links the story threads.

What inspired you to write this book?
I graduated in electronics, and my first job was working for a company that designed radio equipment – transmitters, receivers, walkie-talkies and the like – and one of the ranges we made had a facility for encrypted audio. That was at the time of the Northern Ireland troubles, and we sold some of those to the Northern Ireland police force – the idea was that they didn’t want the IRA listening in to what they were saying.  And that got me thinking - what if I wanted to be able to intercept their conversations? How might I go about it? That was what gave me the main idea for Eavesdrop.

But I don’t think a single idea is large enough or strong enough to support something as big as a novel. For that, I think you need two or even three solid ideas that work together to create an overall plot. The second idea for Eavesdrop came when I thinking about the attempts to achieve peace in the Middle East, and how it is that we never seem to be able to manage it, especially around Israel.

It was only when those two ideas, together with some thoughts I’d had about smuggling, all coalesced that I realized I had a plot powerful enough to support a full length thriller – and Eavesdrop was born.

Excerpt from Eavesdrop:

Copyright © 2014 Ian Coates
All rights reserved.

August 2nd, 2010

Bashar Al-Jabib wriggled forward into position in the long grass. Everywhere smelled fresh and damp. Perched on the crag among the trees that carpeted the higher slope, he commanded an uninterrupted view of the lake in the valley bottom. Water glinted silver when the first rays of sun reached its mirrored surface. Thin ribbons of mist hung here and there above it like wraiths.

Al-Jabib’s pulse quickened with excitement. After many months of planning, it was finally time to set things in motion. He smiled to himself. They would be proud of him back home.

On the far bank, an angler tied a new fly to his line. After one final inspection, he cast toward the row of willows that edged the water, then slowly drew it back by hand so that the lure glided smoothly across the surface.

Al-Jabib reached for his rifle, felt its cold metal against his fingertips. Without taking his eyes off the fisherman, he seated the bipod in the soil to support the muzzle, and pushed the stock hard against his shoulder. Shuffling awkwardly until he was aligned with the weapon, he squinted into its telescopic sight. He noticed his nerves didn’t flutter. Years ago, he would have wet himself doing this.

Not now.

He adjusted the focus and flicked off the safety catch.

The fisherman raised his rod and flicked it forward again, letting the line run through his fingers. The man’s face looked content. Al-Jabib could see it clearly as he squeezed the trigger.

The bullet entered through the angler’s right eye. Blood spattered across the fishing bag that stood on the bank as he toppled backwards and the rod splashed into the water. In the woods, the gunshot sent a pair of pigeons flapping away through the undergrowth.

Staying on his stomach, Al-Jabib shuffled backwards off the small square of tarpaulin he’d been lying on. His whole body tingled with exhilaration. It had been a beautifully placed shot. Easy.

He retrieved the spent case, and did his best to rough-up the flattened grass before he wriggled further back into the trees. Only when he was well into their cover did he stand and brush himself down.

Al-Jabib slid his hand inside his jacket and felt for the locket that hung around his neck. His fingers caressed the polished metal, conjuring the memories, the screams, the falling masonry, and choking dust. He shouldn’t be wearing it, but it had seemed so appropriate; a fresh chapter of history was going to be written and it fell to him to prepare the ground. It was his destiny.

As he hiked the mile back to the hire car, he tapped a number into his mobile and spoke in Arabic.

Two weeks later

The meeting in Tel-Aviv drew to a close. Fluorescent strips lit the windowless room three floors below ground. The ashtrays on the table around which the eight men sat were full, and thick cigarette smoke hung in the air, the air conditioning too slow to remove it.

Ehud Mandell, a large man with heavy jowls and thick spectacles, looked around at the others from his place at the head of the table. “Any other items?” He wanted to go home. Already, the meeting had gone over time. Mandell chaired these cross-departmental security meetings, held every month under the grandiose directive of ensuring the continued security of the homeland of the Israeli State. He scratched his mop of white hair as he waited. Most of the others were already gathering up their papers.

The head of International Analysis coughed. “I have one thing.” Leon Cardash was the antithesis of Mandell: short, with sallow features that looked malnourished. His head jerked in short rapid movements when he looked around the table like a bird nervously searching for grubs.

Mandell sighed. The traffic was going to be hell. “Go on,” he said. Cardash was not known for getting to the point quickly.

“I…well…rather the head of the European team, asked me to raise this.” Cardash coughed again. “He’s very reliable, and if he says…well…if he thinks this committee needs to know about it, certainly we should not dismiss it.”

“Just get on with it,” Mandell barked.

He smiled obsequiously. “Well, a couple of weeks ago in England, one of their top government officials was assassinated during a weekend fishing break. It seems it was…er…a very professional job.”

The Chief of the Israeli Air Force spoke up. “So what? Let the Brits sort out their own mess. It’s nothing to do with us.”

Cardash tugged at his earlobe and looked down at the sheet of paper in front of him.

“Well, you see, there we’re not quite so sure. As you say, it is probably nothing, but the thing is, the British police—and we’ve seen all their reports—the thing is, they can find no motive at all.”

“I still don’t see why this is relevant.”

“It may not be, of course, but Charles Asquith—that’s the dead man—well, he was always a strong advocate of Israel and had an influential place in the British government that was often to our advantage. He has, on occasions persuaded it to make decisions that favor our position. My European head was concerned that Asquith may have been…” He hesitated as he chose for the most appropriate phrase. “…well, perhaps he was permanently removed because of it.”

Mandell took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. It had been a long day. It was fifty-fifty whether anything raised by Analysis was useful, but they were right just frequently enough that one couldn’t take the chance of dismissing them. He turned to the head of Mossad. “Perhaps you could check it out, Avraham? Do you have anyone in England who could take a look?”

The head of Mossad nodded slowly. “I’ve a man in London, Sol Halutz. He’s a pain in the arse, but he’s good at bringing a fresh perspective to things. I’ll get him to dig around.”

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’ve started work on a new thriller with the working title of The Rival. It deals with industrial espionage, a long-hidden family secret, an unusual double blackmail, and what happens when two people being blackmailed don’t want to be blackmailed any more.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve wanted to write novels since I was about 7 or 8, but wouldn’t have called myself a writer at that point. I remember once copying out the first few chapters of one of Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven mysteries into a fresh notebook, changing the name of the children and the dog, and then putting my name on the front cover. I suppose I could call myself a writer by the time I reached the age of fourteen, because that was when I won a competition run by the local authority with a private-eye novella.

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 work as a technical manager in the electronics industry, so I fit my writing in between holding down a busy full-time job and helping to bring up a family. That means it gets written over breakfast, during additional snatched moments here and there, and during holidays.

Eavesdrop was largely written during a spell when I did a lot of business travel, which meant much of it was written on planes and in airport lounges.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Perhaps the fact that I write my first drafts longhand in spiral notebooks with a lovely propelling pencil that my wife bought me. There’s something special about the visceral connection between hand, pencil and paper that seems to help my creative process.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
One of my earliest memories is of wanting to be a spy.  I think that came from reading and re-reading a big fat storybook called something like “Spy Stories for Boys.” I absolutely loved that book, and that’s what made me think I wanted to become a spy when I grew up. As I got older, though, I realized it was probably rather a dangerous profession, so started to think more about technology. I confess to being a coward

As a child, I never appreciated there was such a job as a writer. I don’t know where I thought books came from, but I didn’t realize it was something you could do for a living. If I had known writing could be a profession, I guess that’s what I would have said I wanted to do.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Just that I hope people enjoy reading Eavesdrop. Certainly I’d love to hear from them, and I can be contacted via social media or my website. If readers like the book, please add a review on Amazon to encourage others to also give the story a try.

Thanks, Ian!

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