‘WURLD’ Exclusive Interview With Seumas Gallacher

I drove down from Dubai to Abu Dhabi a few days ago and invited Seumas Gallacher to dinner. He’s just launched a new book in his Jack Calder crime series called Savage Payback and I wanted to both congratulate him and find out more.

For those of you who don’t know him, Seumas is a larger than life exuberant character. An old geezer like me who didn’t just go round the block a few times – he built the block. But on this meeting he seemed more introspective, sombre even. Much like his latest crime thriller in fact.Image

Over dinner at his favourite restaurant I interviewed him while he chomped on Osso Buco.

As an author who has only published one book I wondered how it felt to have 3 books on the shelf.

He said, “I feel as if I’ve come home. My experiences in the world of writing, editing, marketing and hard-copy publishing are gratifying. Channelling into the world of e-book marketing has been wonderful.”

I know that Seumas is a tireless marketing machine for his works and has a large internet footprint, but I wondered how that translated into sales. If anyone knows how it works it’s Seumas.

“It’s hard to tell which part of the footprint in the ePublishing contributes to sales. My adage is that ‘eye-share, gets mind share, gets heart share, gets wallet share.’

I asked if he could tell us how ‘wallet share’ looked these days.

“Downloads of my first 2 books north of 70,000 downloads proves my point.”

Seumas is known for encouraging writers and he gives of his own time to help, advise and support them. I asked if he had a mentor he turned to for advice.

“The writing business, in my experience, has been the discovery of a vast and universal writing family on the web. Their generosity of spirit continues to ‘blow me away’.”

Seumas and I both live in the United Arab Emirates, an amazing and diverse place and one where family values are treasured. To publish a book an author has to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) or no outlet can sell your book. I asked Seumas how he felt about being a writer in the Middle East.

“I’ve been an expat for 35 years in various places around the world. I never forget that I’m a guest in each country and I fully respect the norms and mores of local culture. I completely accept that each country has it’s own parameters on what should and should not be published, and I have no problems with that.”

Your latest book Savage Payback, from my reading, has a grittier feel and a darker outlook than the previous 2 books. Is this a natural progression in the series?

“I felt a growing realisation that brutal reality can visit the good guys as well as the bad guys. That view is reflected in the book.”

What kind of feedback have you had with Savage Payback?

“Best so far, but most satisfying are the comments from my peers. I’ve never doubted my ability to write but each book continues my apprenticeship in the world of writing.”

I asked if he had any feedback from people who live in the Jack Calder world?

“My very good friend author Eric J. Gates, who is an excellent author and crime-writer in his own right, has given me invaluable guidance on details that are not generally known outside of the security business.”

A lot of people see self-publishing as a route to market for people who cannot get a publisher and I was sure he had a handle on the situation. I asked what Seumas’s views were on self-publish – v book publisher.

I’m biased because of the pleasure I get from the whole self-publishing ‘trip’. However, if my books had not been as successful as they are I don’t know if I would enjoy it so much. Be that as it may, as a business man if an agent or publisher offered me a lucrative deal? I’d bite their hand off and take it.’

As I said earlier, Seumas is unstinting in his support for other writers. I asked what advice he would give to others ‘on writing’.

“So many people call themselves ‘aspiring writers’ – consider yourself a writer when you’ve written one word. But be aware of the false compliments – it’s difficult to get ‘gut reaction’ to your work and to have self-honesty about your work. But when you get there? You’ll know it.”

Like all authors whose work is on Kindle I struggled with the pricing strategy. I wanted to know how Seumas felt about the ‘cheap, or free book’ syndrome enabled by Amazon. Are we authors building a world where readers expect books for nothing?

“I think that has already happened. but on the positive side it’s made eBooks a fixture in book sales and its now an accepted sales channel in the book world.”

To wrap it up I asked what his plans were now. More books?

“I’ve now firmly established the Jack Calder series. For as long as I can continue to find innovation for the story lines I see no end to the series.”

And your aspirations for the future?

I’m a great believer in chasing your dreams. My dream is to make my success a reality by selling 500,000 books worldwidee over the next 5 years”

As we headed to the lobby for coffee, I had no doubt that Seumas Gallacher would achieve his dreams. His grit, determination and the return on the investment of his generosity in the book world will make that happen. His writing continues to mature with each book published and Savage Payback is the best to date.

His books can be bought from the Amazon chain.

wall copy 2-1

The Most Important Writing Lesson of All

I finally managed to get a galley proof of my book. But the expected euphoria at holding an actual work of art produced by my own self did not appear.

I didn’t like the look of it, the feel of it or the size of it. At 110,000 words I’d expected a doorstop sized whacking big thing, but no. It looked like a thicker version of a half-sized comic. The champagne stayed in the fridge and the party hats remained in their boxes.

And that was just the start of it.

Holding the Book

Holding the Book

But as I’ve learned in life it’s the setbacks that teach you the most. And a very big lesson was just round the corner as I sat down to read my own book in print.

The experience was completely different to the 800+ times I’d read it in A4 size electronic format. It was even different from the version I downloaded from Kindle. It was a revelation.

Every author has probably read their first chapter hundreds of times. Trying to get it right. The one chapter that sets the scene, hooks the reader and foreshadows the tale to come. As I read my first chapter for the first time in print the book took on a different feel. I could almost see the words threading through the page ahead of me, like a narrow pathway leading me into the story. The plot unfolded more slowly, the characters seemed sharper and the hints on what was to come were more subtle.

It was a different book. It was an actual honest to goodness novel, not just electronic words dancing on a screen that one day would become a book. It was real.

I reached for a party hat…..

Then I noticed that some of the typeset wasn’t quite right. The chapter titles weren’t centre-justified. There were grammatical errors even after the two professional edits and the hundreds of searches through the text for missed capitals, commas in the wrong place and quotation marks not closed. The hundreds of hours spent finishing the book for a Kindle upload looked hopelessly inadequate. The book just wasn’t publishable, I’d jumped the gun like so many of my fellow writers. I’d wanted to finish the book so badly I ignored the advice to ‘edit the book to death’ before it went public.

So, on a plane last night I sat with a pen and a highlighter going over the text once more. I edited it backwards so that I wouldn’t get wound into the story and end up being more interested in the hero’s arc that the punctuation.

It’s going to take some time to fix. No-one said it would be easy.

But, to date, it’s the most important writing lesson I’ve learned.

And it’s a lesson that we all probably have to learn at some point.

A Book’s First Chapter

When I started writing my book I envisioned a flash-bang-wallop start that shook the reader up. You know, throw the reader into the middle of noisy mayhem. (and I still like the idea of doing that).

All the advice given to writers is to grab the reader by the lapels on the first page. But as I redrafted the book and reworked and reworked the first chapters I decided to wind the readers in to the story by slightly devious means. In the finished version, the story starts with a retired German policeman watching a group of people in a coffee shop. They’re a weird looking crew and he worries in case they’ll cause trouble for the cafe and its owner. He’s quietly in love with Elise, the owner, but she’s been playing it cool. The way women do.

The story opens in Munich in Germany. In a cafe styled like a Starbucks, because the owner likes to keep up with current trends. The windows stream with rain and Max, the policeman, is in his favourite chair keeping an eye on things. He knows from experience what people will do next. Usually.

I read the chapter over recently while I sorted the book out for upload to CreateSpace. Every time I do an edit or look at the book for any reason I get engrossed in the story and a part of me wonders what will come next. Which strikes me as an odd thing for the writer of the book to think.

So, reading it again I was struck by how the chapter had changed since its first outing. As it was rewritten again and again the basic structure stayed the same but more and more detail crept in. Text was layered on text but the chapter never increased in size, its still one and a half pages long. But the slight touches to the descriptions and some nuances to the sentences have created (pardon me saying this since I’m the author) a depth that the reader can wander through.

At one point Elise finds that Max is carrying a gun and she flashes with anger touched with concern.The sentence also embeds a memory in the readers’ minds for a significant event in the next chapter. The gun is there to tell the reader that it’s not a lightweight story, there’s violence to come. The trick was to show all of that to the reader in one short burst using as few words as possible.

Reading it struck me that I’d fallen upon one of the secrets of writing, to rewrite and keep adding to the story but to use the same number of words or thereabouts. To keep enriching the experience of the reader with touches that they might not consciously see, until they feel as if they were sitting beside the retired policeman watching the scene. But without making the prose dense or confusing.

I also paint (portraits mainly) and the analogy of starting with the basic outline then working and working at a face to put layers and layers on the canvas to give the image depth, is the same process as writing. The reader doesn’t realise that they’re looking at the work of days and nights to make every small detail just the way the writer intended. But they enjoy the experience even though they may not understand why.

And it doesn’t matter, because they should be concerned with what happens to the characters next and not about how the writer transported them to that place and time.

Writing in the Middle East

WordPress is overwhelmingly Western orientated and from some comments I’ve seen, people can assume that everyone lives in America or Britain. You know, ‘our tax system is hopeless’ kind of note, with the author not explaining what tax system they’re talking about.
It’s not a serious flaw but amongst our numbers there are people who live in places vastly different from ‘The West’. Their experiences in writing then publishing a book is very different from what people in the West might imagine.

I’d like to take you on a short tour of my writing experiences in the Middle East to shine a faint glimmer of light on what it’s like. Not just the mechanics but also how it affects the way you think and by extension the way you write.

A bit of background. I describe myself as Scottish by birth, European by nature and Middle East resident by choice. I travel around the region from Kurdistan to Oman and places in between. I’ve lived for extended periods of time in Iraq, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Although I’ve been in the region for 12 years this time round I hardly speak a word of Arabic (Jim hangs his head in shame).

The Amazing Diver Sculptures in Dubai Mall

The Amazing Diver Sculptures in Dubai Mall

On writing. I currently live in Dubai and you can sit here in a hotel lobby and you could write a thousand novels based on an evening’s observations. The mix of people, cultures, dress, habits never cease to amaze. At present the number of people from the Former Soviet Union is expanding – lots of hotel staff are now from that area. The other noticable change is the number of Chinese and Koreans. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a vast bazaar, a massive souk where people come to live, do business, holiday and stop-over on their way somewhere else. Most International Oil Companies have regional hub offices in Dubai, mainly to service their operations in Iraq. But for British people its a home from home. You can actually get deep fried Mars bars here (a Scottish delicacy if longevity is not your aim in life).

So the UAE is a comfortable place for someone like me to live. BUT. And that’s a big big BUT. I never forget that I’m a guest in someone else’s country. The law here is not based on English law (like so many other countries), the law here is Sharia and woe betide anyone who thinks differently. Its all to easy for people to imagine somehow that ‘probably things are much the same here as back home’.

And how is this of significance to writers? Well, you can’t just find a publisher here and knock a few thousand copies out then get them into the shops. You have to obtain a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the government (I’ll not go into the process – it’s lengthy but not complicated). If the book contains anything deemed to be blasphemous or would offend local family values then its unlikely to get a NOC.
I’m going through the process right now and my book does contain harsh criticism of the Catholic Church – it may be a factor that stops me publishing here because the Ministry of Culture protects all religions not just Islam. There may be other factors but I couldn’t even guess what they might be. Like everything else in the Middle East your best companions are Patience, Good Humour and an engrossing book to read.

Tigris and the Baghdad Green Zone

Tigris and the Baghdad Green Zone

Going back to the process of writing. I wrote the outline for my book iNation when I lived in Baghdad in 2003. I was in the Sheraton Hotel, situated on the roundabout where Saddam Hussein’s statue was pulled down. I had a great view from my room overlooking the Tigris. I could see everything in the Green Zone (Saddam Hussein’s palace and other government buildings). I ate often at the palace and wandered through the grounds. I even swam in his pool. Despite what was said in the media at the time the palace. pool, etc were no bigger nor more opulent than a million other houses in this region. The scurrilous hype about Saddam living in grand luxury while his people lived in hovels conveniently forgot to mention how the President of the United States lives in the White House v people in shotgun shacks in some States. Ps, this is not an anti-American rant – I love America and I count many Americans amongst my friends. The media across Europe did hatchet jobs on Saddam every bit at vitriolic as Fox News.

Anyway it was these experiences that planted the seed in my mind. America runs the world now but what if there was a much bigger yet hidden country just around the corner. A country that holds no territory, a country that lives in the world wide web? What would it do, how would it work, could it change the world? Would the change be for good or would it produce a world dictatorship?
When the phenomenon of Facebook burst upon us the book practically wrote itself. I also took the opportunity to give some other global organisations that should be making the world a better place, but are not, a right good Glasgow kicking. A Glasgow kicking is considered by thugs around the world to be the very pinnacle of ‘a kicking’.

Returning once again to writing (I know, I ramble), the act of observing ones country and others from a distance and from within a different culture adds (IMHO) depth and gives a twist to how things are written. You’re less influenced by the propaganda pushed out in those countries, you more likely to see a bigger picture than a local election or the rise in the price of petrol. As many writers have observed, people who live on the margins of society, people who are ‘different’ and people who are from different cultures are often the sharpest observers. Gore Vidal and Jerzy Kozinsky spring to mind. The Middle Eastern culture is so pervasive and different it would be a miracle if your approach to writing didn’t change.

Apart from that, writing here is the same as anywhere else. Sitting at a computer in solitude bashing the keys and hoping something worthwhile will fall out and start reaching for the light.

Even as I write this, the call to prayer from the mosque next door reminds me that I’m a legal alien in Dubai. Humdalala!

Profane, and yet? Sacred? The Story of Thomas Pynchon

Somewhere between Burrough’s squat in Tangier and Dublin’s night alley where Joyce drunkenly urinates against a wall a rubbish bin lies overturned by Mailer hustling to take a whore to the big fight only to be cut by Hunter S as he hobbles to Valetta.
Passing you stumble on the trash street spewed a book lays on the cobbled filth its front page creased open by rotten cabbage and Gravity’s Rainbow shows through as you pick it up another book is underneath with the letter V on front to be put in your coat pocket and hurry away as the knife carrying policeman at the souk wanders by for the book is carried along talking to your hip as it’s regularly squashed by your uneven gait.

41WE3AJ6PXL._AA160_
Benny Profane wants you to know that he knows you know he knows and he doesn’t care who knows it as the story leaks into your vein twisting your mitochondrial dna in a mobius loop of death sickness depair wondering how to handle the hope the hope the vortex of despair spun by Welsh’s filthiness the story of V drags you down where the genius lies where the darkness watches as you search for faith in humankind the growl of the alligator making you hard to the wall you await the sound of Henry Miller’s quill on Kerouac’s scourged back painting Brooklyn’s final exit strategy.
The book whispers its the only read you’ll ever need trust me I’m a liar in waiting…Benny Profane knows you know he knows.