Thursday, September 27, 2018

Interview with thriller author Michelle Peach

Author Michelle Peach joins me today. We’re chatting about her new political thriller, Gazelle in the Shadows.

Welcome, Michelle. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I graduated from Durham University in 1995 with a B.A. in Arabic with Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. In 1992, I spent my second year of college studying abroad at the Arabic Teaching Institute for Foreigners in Damascus, Syria and as a freelance journalist and researcher in Lebanon. I have worked for many years overseas in the British Foreign Office and as an executive PA for a Dubai company. I met my future husband while working in Dubai and soon after moved to America. I’m a stay-at-home mom, married with three children and love volunteering for school activities and animal rescue. In between time, I love to write.

Please tell us about your current release.
In the mid 90s, Elizabeth Booth is a young British college student studying Arabic at Durham University. With some travel and work already under her belt, she excels at her studies and is sent to Damascus to immerse herself in the language. Taken aback by the generosity and kindness of the people there, she easily slips into a life in the ancient city. She has friends, her studies, and even a handsome boyfriend. But things aren't always what they seem. Soon, in a world where mistrust and disloyalty are commonplace, Elizabeth finds herself navigating a web of lies, betrayals, and even murder involving MI6, deadly terrorist factions, and the shadowy Syrian secret police. 

What inspired you to write this book?
I had procrastinated about writing the book for many years but the catalyst came when my children started to ask me what I had done before marrying their father and I felt a need to tell my story for them in addition to the urging of many friends.

Excerpt from Gazelle in the Shadows:

We pulled up to the police prison. In the car park was a large sign, Al-Sijn Sayyeb. Sayyeb Prison. Underneath the name, we read the visiting hours:
Saturday 8a.m. to noon for relatives
Monday 8a.m. to noon for official visitors
Male visitors daily 10a.m. to 1p.m.
Female visitors daily 4p.m.
“It’s too late for me to go in,” Hussein said, looking pointedly at me.
“It’s 2 o’clock already,” I said, looking at my watch.
“Yes. Exactly. I can’t go in. You will need to go in by yourself.”
“I can’t do that,” I said as I clasped my hands together almost in prayer. “Why don’t you just come back tomorrow, when men can visit?”
“It’s safer for you to go in, anyway,” Hussein said, eyeing the prison.
“What do you mean?”
“If I went, they may question me and determine that I’m a collaborator with his crime and detain me, but if you go, you could pose as an aid worker or even a member of the embassy.”
“I have no idea how to do that.”
“Trust me. They won’t question you. Do it for me and for Naguib. You do want to find him, don’t you?”
“Yes. Of course, I do.” Something inside me was telling me not to agree to it, but I wanted to make sure Naguib was safe.
My brow furrowed. Hussein saw the doubt in me.
“Trust me. It’ll work. Don’t mention his name, just say you are checking prisons for your embassy. And take off your scarf so you will be more Western.”
I took my scarf off. I had become accustomed to it, and it was surprising how vulnerable I felt, once I took it off. The gravity of the situation unnerved me.
In the building, I joined some other women who were waiting for the visit to begin. They were complaining to the guard that they were late opening the gate. We were instructed to hand over contraband: food, drink, cigarettes and cameras. Then we were ushered through a gate past armed guards.
To my surprise, the guards did not ask any of the women, including myself, who they were visiting. I had my story ready, that I was an embassy consular assistant evaluating the prison conditions. I thought at the very least I would have to sign in or show my passport, but I moved through the security gate along with the small crowd.
I could see the prison yard when we stepped outside. We were told to stand in a designated area, behind a high fence. It looked out across a concrete yard, surrounded by an additional, high-wire fence probably about 12 feet high and topped with razor wire. Between the two fences there was a buffer area 6 feet wide for guards to patrol the circumference of the yard, and on each corner, towers were manned by more security. I broke out in a sweat.
The inmates began to emerge from the building into the yard. Within a couple of minutes, the yard was brimming with men. They wore different-coloured jumpsuits: purple, blue and red. I wondered what the significance was.
“Why do all the colours mean?” I asked one of the women in Arabic.
“Blue is for the convicted,” she said. “Purple is for those not convicted yet.”
“What about red?” I asked.
“Death penalty,” she replied.
I looked around the prisoners, the majority of which were young men, and sadly saw quite a number in red. Tears pricked my eyes. I felt as if I was staring at animals in a zoo. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Some were barefoot—their feet black with dirt, while others had plastic shoes or sandals. Their uniforms were ill-fitting and dishevelled. The hardest thing to acclimatise to was their shaven heads.
Some prisoners gathered close to their fence and wrapped their fingers around the wire. Others were aimlessly sauntering around the periphery of the yard, alone or in groups. All the conversations between the women and the inmates were shouted across the patrol path. The men were shouting, non-stop, jeering and begging for contraband.
“Give us cigarettes,” they shouted.
“Money,” shouted others.
I scanned the faces of the hundred or so men.
“Who are you looking for?” asked a toothless woman in a black abaya.
“Naguib.” I only knew his first name.
“Any of you donkeys know Naguib?” the woman yelled.
There was a chorus of voices as the question rippled through the men, but no one recognised his name.
“Do you have money?”
I wasn’t about to give her anything as I was afraid of being caught.
After twenty minutes, the guards came and opened the exit gate for us to leave. I walked out to meet Hussein by the car.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I will be starting my sequel to Gazelle in the Shadows soon. The story will be set in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Briefly, Elizabeth, a newly recruited MI6 agent, will be working as an executive PA for a British CEO of a Dubai shipping company which MI6 are tracking because of its dealings with Iran. Familiar adversaries from “Gazelle in the Shadows” stand in her way to finding the truth, threatening her life and the lives of many others.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I never thought about it when I was young although I enjoyed writing short stories and kept a diary for many years. My mother was the first to recognize that I was a good writer even before I believed it myself. She still cherishes the long letters I wrote during my many trips overseas. Gazelle in the Shadows is my first novel and one of my biggest challenges. It’s not easy to become a writer but probably now that I have written it, I feel comfortable calling myself one.

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 don’t write full time as I am a stay-at-home mom with three children, one on the Autistic Spectrum. They keep me busy. I am an animal lover and as such I enjoy volunteering for animal rescue and worked until recently as a dog walker and pet sitter.

I like to write mostly in the evening and even into the night as I have always been a night owl and enjoy the stillness of the house.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I think it’s quirky and perhaps old fashioned but I preferred to edit my manuscript in pencil. I found it hard to edit on the computer even though I wrote it on the keyboard.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
That’s simple. I wanted to be a vet because I have loved animals from my earliest memories. Failing that, I wanted to work for a large charitable organization like Oxfam or CAFOD preferably stationed abroad in a third world country.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I hope the reader will enjoy learning about some of the culture, history and beauty of Syria in my story which, in many ways, has irrevocably changed due to the ongoing war. I find myself often thinking about the places I visited, saddened by the fact that much has been destroyed and about the kind people I met and whether they and their families are still alive. My deepest wish is that somehow Syria will one day miraculously return to be a country travelers can visit and be enthralled by the centuries of history and ancient cultures within its boundaries.


Thanks for joining me today!

1 comment:

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Lisa and Michelle,

Lisa, some great interview questions, which have answers that don't overlap too much with the great Guest Post Michelle has written for Fiction Books and which I shall be sharing next week.

Michelle, such an interesting an insightful interview, especially the last paragraph.

If it is okay with you both, I would like to add a link to this page when I put my own post together, as the two articles really compliment each other :)