An Interview with Ian Wynne
Welcome to my second Author interview with the wonderfully witty Ian Wynne. Ian goes in depth about his creative process and his writing achievements, giving us a greater understanding of his volume of work and what drives him creatively.
Here is Ian’s interview!
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about you.
Man Bites Ref . . . a three-word headline on one of my first freelance articles and I was hooked. It was an ice-hockey report phoned in right on an 11 pm deadline and the whole adrenaline-rush journalism thing took hold in a way that would shape the rest of my life.
By that time I’d already flunked out of my engineering degree at Cape Town University (where my only real achievement was meeting my wife to be in the Pig 'n Whistle) and was working in a boring draughtsman job.
As a result of those freelance articles I cracked my first photo-journalism job – as sports reporter in South Africa’s Kimberley, a mining town otherwise known as “The Big Hole”. And I went on to work in sports, then news, with the highlight working for anti-Apartheid editor Donald Woods (central character in the movie Cry Freedom) during the height of the Apartheid era.
Berry and I, and our two girls, emigrated to Australia in 1985 and I worked briefly in Journalism at The Courier-Mail in Brisbane before a stint in PR and 15 years in management at QUT. I later worked for four years at Amnesty International Australia, some of it as Publications Manager and editor of their Human Rights Defender magazine.
Somewhere along the way I turned to writing fiction, with my first novel, The Pawn, winning third prize in the inaugural Random House/New Idea fiction competition in 1989 and a publishing contract with Random House.
When did you discover your penchant for writing?
I think it was in around year 9 at high school where, instead of asking for an essay on "what we did in our holidays" our English teacher read us stories from Herman Charles Bosman's Cold Stone Jug and told us to "write a story in the voice of Herman Charles Bosman". It was a highlight of my school career and must have been in the back of my mind when, after spectacularly flunking out of engineering, a friend said "What are you going to do now" and I glibly replied that perhaps I'd like to write.
What do you like to write about and why?
My fiction is generally in the form of "ordinary man against the system" thrillers simply because this is the type of book I enjoy reading – exciting plots, with characters that excite me in places or circumstances that educate me too. However, I also like to explore "what if" thoughts about things that puzzle me. For example my first novel The Pawn explored what it would be like as a father to lose a child and not know what had happened to her. And of course I put it in the Apartheid era, exploring how an ordinary white South African could come to understand the forces that drove a so-called "terrorist" to abduct his daughter – and how he came to find himself pitted against the state's Special Branch police who had a vested interest in hiding what had happened to his child.
Similarly Shadow by my Side (my only non-thriller) explored what it would be like for a child growing up with drug-addicted parents in the remote fishing village of Donnybrook. I had seen my own generation struggling with drug-addicted children, but decided to put myself in the shoes of one of the children of those who were drug-addicted. Needless to say, it was a very dark, confronting little book!
In Gavel I chose to explore the relationship of twins when one is an exceptionally high achiever (and flawed) and the other an ordinary, average man – and in The Seventh Vial I went more commercial in using my understanding of the South African Afrikaner mentality to explore the concept of genetic terrorism. For those who've seen the full series of the Netflix drama Designated Survivor, virtually the exact plot of The Seventh Vial is used in Series Three. Hey guys, I had it first!
My new novel, working title Harris, looks at the issue of PTSD and addiction to violence, with the central character a damaged Afghan War vet who lives down a mine in Lightning Ridge and gets drawn into a confrontation with criminal motorcycle gangs and corrupt police. I am currently seeking a publisher but if not it will be up on Amazon within six months. Aside from "The Pawn", my other books have all been self-published and are available on Amazon.com.
Where do you derive your inspiration from?
I usually start with a sense of place, then put interesting characters into that space, letting situations and the plot develop along the way. Unfortunately this can lead to long periods of stagnation when I wonder where the hell I'm going (and why I'm doing this), but somehow the characters eventually tell me where to go.
How does writing make you feel?
Frustrated! But on the days when it flows it is like an adrenaline high with the endorphins running wild. A beta reader of my latest book, commenting on the opening paragraph of Harris, last week hesitantly said . . . "I compared it to the start of Chapter Six and felt that the person who wrote that could have written the opening paragraphs so much better." And he was right! I'd had an all-time high writing the description of Harris's mine and caravan in Lightning Ridge, knowing it was my absolute best work. The opening paras by contrast were an over-written cliche designed to hook the reader in at any cost.
Fiction aside for a moment, in my journalism and business writing I still find a tremendous satisfaction in expressing complex issues in a language that makes them clear to the average reader. I also love helping people analyse what their customers want to know as opposed to what the client wants to tell them – and developing appropriate messaging to do the job.
And of course there's nothing better than "exposing the bad guys" as we did during Apartheid and at Amnesty International.
Who is your favourite Author and why?
Oh Wow, that's a difficult one. Many years ago, it used to be Dick Francis and the way he could educate you in everything from gems to air transport, all the while weaving bad guys and horses into every book. Then there was the Lee Child phase with his "Jack Reacher" books until I became sick of the formula and realised that characters like this need flaws. I've also been through a lot of Harlan Coban's stuff as well as Michael Connelly's Bosch series, James Patterson etc.
But I think my real favourite in the past ten years has been James Lee Burke. I absolutely love the way he brings America's deep south to life with such beautiful writing while exploring a dark world of extreme violence and flawed heroes.
My favourite Australian authors are Jane Harper and Chris Hammer, both for their ability to create a uniquely Australian sense of place, in which they put interesting characters and solid plots.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Do a Creative Writing course, start writing fiction earlier and, above all, have the courage to create vivid word pictures without fear of failure.
Do you have any other artistic/creative interests/talents?
Not really, I was a keen photographer but, having to choose early between a career in photography or one in words, I realised that while I was an adequate photographer of record, I lacked creative flair. I still enjoy photography and still lack creativity!
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
To be honest, very little. As I don't plan my books out in advance, I tend to research what I need while I am writing (or sometimes after I've finished the first draft to see I haven't got anything terribly wrong). Needless to say, Google is a wonderful resource but it is no substitute for the "feel" of a place and talking to people who live there.
What is your favourite piece of writing that you have written?
In terms of fiction as a whole, probably Shadow by my Side, which I wrote in the voice of a young woman!
Can love be measured by the quality of a sandwich? . . . was the start of one chapter.
But I am also very proud of the start of Chapter Six in Harris . . .
I emerged from the mine in the pre-dawn before the sun's harsh shadows could harden the shapes around me; give edges to my caravan and my shed; glint off the incongruous solar panels and highlight the blistered paint, the dents and the dust. It's my favourite time above ground, a time when the brutal reality that is Lightning Ridge is hidden; a time before the sun throws the raw ugliness of abandoned machinery into sharp relief; before it rises ever higher, ever hotter, until the landscape grows flat and dull under it's weight.
In terms of non-fiction, it was probably an interview I did with Terry Hicks for Amnesty's Human Rights Defender magazine. Over three hours Terry told me what it was like to have his son David locked up in Guantanamo Bay, and to see him prior to his trial, shackled to a metal plate in the floor, while he told his father how he was anally raped with a broomstick by the guards.
The hardened human rights lawyer who had to approve the copy prior to publication admitted to shedding a tear. And I admit to shedding plenty when I was writing it!