10 Questions with Tony Park
1. Mr. Park, thank you for stopping on my blog. Your newest thriller, THE DELTA, came out on Tuesday and marked your North America debut. Tell us a bit more about this book.
It’s my pleasure to drop by. The Delta is a contemporary African thriller set in Botswana and Namibia. While purely a work of fiction the premise for the book, the construction of a dam on the Okavango River, which would seriously harm the renowned Okavango Delta and Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana is, amazingly, based on fact. There was a plan to dam the river, though fortunately in real life it was shouted down. The book, The Delta, sees the proposed dam constructed and a group of environmentalists and safari operators pays a mercenary firm to blow up the dam.
2. Who is Sonja Kurtz and how did you come up with her character?
Sonja Kurtz is female private military contractor – aka a mercenary. She was born in South-West Africa, now known as Namibia, and left Africa as a young woman for the UK (her mother was English) to join the British Army. A woman of action, she ends up serving during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and later leaves the arm to work as a mercenary. I was reading non fiction book, Against All Odds, by Eben Barlow, about Barlow’s private military company, Executive Outcomes, when the idea for Sonja came to me. Barlow mentions in the book that when he was recruiting, mostly from the ranks of ex soldiers in South Africa, a number of women who had served in the military came forward and asked to join his company. I’d wanted to write a novel with a mercenary lead character and after reading that book, I thought hey, why not make my mercenary a woman?
3. Most writers stick with a series, but you work on standalone thrillers. How do you find creating and developing new characters every time? And where do you suggest a new reader start with your books?
I generally like starting with a clean slate, as I enjoy the process of creating a whole new ‘family’ of characters. It’s like meeting new people. Two of my novels, African Sky and African Dawn, do feature the same three families, but they could also easily be read as standalone stories. Readers can start in order they wish; I find that if people have visited the continent of Africa, or perhaps lived there, they tend to gravitate towards stories set in places that they know. I’ve set books in Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa, Rwanda, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Kenya.
4. Africa, its politics and its wild life are recurring themes in your works. What is it about her that you love?
It’s hard to put a finger on it. I’d classify my fascination with Africa as more of an addiction than a love Affair – the more I see and learn about this amazing continent, the more I want to explore. As a first time visitor it was the incredible wildlife that drew my wife, Nicola, and I in, on our first visit in 1995, but since then we’ve met some wonderful and fascinating people and visited some truly beautiful places. Africa is dynamic, always changing. Countries that were in conflict or recovering from civil war when we first visited are now forging ahead while, conversely, places that were relatively stable and prosperous back in 1995 – Zimbabwe in particular – have deteriorated in that period. As a writer, I find the mix of cultures and the ever changing political landscape make for an endless supply of material.
5. Why do you write?
The only thing I ever wanted to do as a child, through to adulthood, was to write a novel. It sounds corny, but I’m living my dream and there is nothing else on earth I’d rather be doing.
6. What are your writing habits? Outlines or not? How do you go from the idea for a book to the finished manuscript?
When I first started writing I tried writing an outline and failed. I worked out pretty quickly that the only way for me to write is simply to sit down, start writing and make it up as I go along. I enjoy not knowing what will happen next and I figure that if I don’t, then hopefully the reader (or, more importantly, my wife, Nicola, who is my first reader) won’t either. I’ll pick up an idea or premise for a book from something I’ve read, or heard on the radio news here in South Africa and think, that sounds like a good start and just take it from there. The characters, the plot and the theme are all strangers to me at that point.
7. What was your experience like in Afghanistan when you served with the Australian troops in 2002?
I was very lucky to serve with an extremely dedicated and professional bunch of people in our military’s Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan. I was a mere Army Public Relations officer, but I got to see our best people in action, and to meet many people from many different countries who were serving in the coalition. My war was mostly conducted from behind a desk, but I did get out occasionally to see some of Afghanistan. What interested me was how deep the wounds of September 11 2001 had cut into the psyches of the Americans I served with. Australia, like most of the rest of the world, was appalled by what happened at that time, and our military was ready to serve when asked, but for the US military men and women I met it was as though they had each been personally attacked. It’s an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life; it was probably harder on Nicola than it was on me and I think we should all remember that for every serviceman or woman serving overseas there are family and loved ones who go through a lonely, sometimes harrowing time.
8. I’ve always wanted to go parachuting but I’m scarred the parachute will not open. As a qualified military parachutist, what do you do in such a scenario?
The army has an incredible knack of turning any fun activity into something repetitive, boring and even painful. The Australian Army parachute course is nearly three weeks long and much of that time is devoted to learning drills about what to do if something goes wrong. Given our strong emphasis on checking equipment and knowing what to do if there is a problem our safety record is excellent. Twenty-five years after attending that course, and ten years on since my last jump, I could still recite to you, verbatim, the drills for deploying my reserve (back up) parachute!
9. What is your greatest satisfaction as a writer? What is your greatest disappointment?
I think they’re one in the same – finishing a new book. It’s a great feeling to type ‘The End’, and at the same time as soon as I submit a manuscript to my publisher I go through quite a ‘down’ period. I get restless and moody in between books (as Nicola will attest, I’m a pain in the you-know-what to live with at that time). It’s a mix of wondering if the book will be accepted and separation anxiety from the characters I’ve just finished with.
10. What is your next book going to be about?
My next book for the UK, Australian and South African markets is called ‘The Hunter’ – it’s about people faking their own deaths for insurance claims, a common crime in Zimbabwe and South Africa. The next book scheduled for release in the US market is ‘Ivory’, one of my earlier novels, about a gang of modern day pirates operating off the coast of Mozambique. I’m currently writing a new novel which, in contrast to my previous stand alone works, will be a sequel to ‘The Delta’, featuring my favourite female lead, Sonja Kurtz.