On freedom, a very special parrot named William, and Indie publishing

It appears that Indie publishing has somehow become all things to all men.
There are those who claim it has freed the artist from the shackles of conventional publishing, others who claim it has brought a decline in literary standards, the like of which we have never seen before.
For many, previously established authors, it is the devil. For those who once sat languishing in Rejection Slip Land* it is deliverance. For those who have published and been damned, by the fickle whims of amateur critic and book-buying public, it is a cruel and heartless judge of literacy and creativity.
A pet adult Congo African Grey Parrot in Norway.
But, there is another way to view the Indie revolution, and to do that we first need to meet William.
I met William on a number of occasions, and considered him a very special parrot and a very special character. Sitting in his cage by the bar, of the aptly named Port William Hotel in the picturesque North Cornish hamlet of Trebarwith Strand, William entertained passing clientele with his own special and unarguably ribald, commentary.
English: The Port William, Trebarwith At one t...
Each syllable had been learnt, in true parrot-fashion style, from a succession of smiling faces, many of whom were the worse for drink. They would stand before his cage, and repeat vulgar and inane words and phrases, ad nauseam, until he had dutifully mimicked the sounds. Only when he had modulated his own high-pitched squawk with their inane commentary would they chortle in triumph and leave William to his solitude.
However, few of those who peered through the bars understood that lurking beyond William’s chirpy and cheerful facade was a depressive bird, with a dark and unhappy secret. What each of them failed to realise was that when William was alone he would cling to the bars of his cage, and peer out of the window across the rocky North Cornwall coastline to the Atlantic Ocean beyond.
In those moments of loneliness and solitude William would dream his dreams of fresh air and freedom, and remember a time long ago when he had been as free as the endless expanse of fresh air and space that he now so secretly coveted.
But then, one day, two humble cleaners gave William the opportunity he had dreamed of during all those years of captivity. While cleaning his cage, one cleaner had let him out to wander around the bar area, not realising that the other cleaner had left the door to the outside world open.
A Congo African Grey Parrot flying. Deutsch: G...
William took his chance. Like a shot he was out of the door, into the air, and away.
He flew first over the cove and along the cliffs, and for a while they thought he might return, but then William did the strangest thing. . . he turned to the west and headed out to sea.
It was only a matter of seconds before he began to tire; only a matter of a few hundred yards before untrained wings, left weak through so many years in that cage, began to fail him.
William was swallowed by the Atlantic Ocean that day. Some say he was disorientated and lost his bearings, others that he was just a bird-brained parrot who knew not what he was doing or why.
I disagreed. I believe that William chose freedom over servitude. I believe that, whether he had made it all the way to his homeland and natural habitat or drowned in the Atlantic Ocean, William cared little, because for those few brief moments of fresh air and ozone he was truly free.
I choose to believe that, as he headed out to sea, William resolved that he would never again be confined to amusing the drunk and the moronic from an ugly cage in a smoke-filled bar.

English: Tintagel: near Treknow Looking toward...And that, to a certain extent, is how I and a great many other Indie authors feel.
We have no idea how successful we may or may not become. We may become best-selling novelists, or sink and drown in the deepest oceans of our own inadequacy, but there is one thing that we are certain of. . . We will never again be caged, and abused, and patronised, and ignored, by agents and publishers and those inane guardians of the literary slush piles.

Have a good one.

*For those unfamiliar with the term, Rejection Slip Land did actually exist. It was a dreary and depressing island, with many hundreds of thousands of brutalised subjects. All were furiously writing the next blockbuster novel, and all had applied for literary asylum with less astringent regimes. It boasted a governing Presidium of six, who occasionally accepted proposals but rarely acceded to the enclosed entreatment, and an Olympic team of one, whose entry for the ‘20 yard dash from study to greet the postman’ was declined on the basis of an incorrectly worded application (I blamed his editor).

On negative reviews and hidden agendas

I have always maintained that e-book reviews, and particularly negative e-book reviews, so often tell us more about the people who write them than they ever do about the work under consideration.
You don’t think so? O.K. so imagine this. . .

So, you’re sitting in a fancy new restaurant and about to treat your family and friends to a special meal out. Money isn’t flowing from your ears and so you pick a salad, followed by something made with chicken, and hope the others follow suit.

The waiter arrives and takes your order.
You ask for the wine list.

It arrives, courtesy of a pompous-looking sommelier, who then hovers in suspended judgement as you peruse the fare on offer.

You look at the prices. Wow! Not cheap.

You briefly scan the left-hand column, and then carefully peruse the right-hand column. You privately wince as you dismiss the vintage Champagnes, first growths and chateau-bottled, skip past the grand crus and premier crus, on to the next page, and the next, and the one after that, along and down, past the basic Burgundy and Bordeaux sections, through the Italian, Spanish, and German, past the New World and Eastern European, and on to the bin-ends. Still pretty pricey. Hmmm, too many guests for a half bottle, and you don’t want to look like a cheapskate.
You close the wine list and hand it back to the sommelier, look knowledgeably at your table guests, and say. . .
“Tell you what, let’s be different tonight. Let’s not start with the same old Grand Cru Chablis, move on to Chateau Lafitte, and finish off with the same old boring Chateau d’Yquem.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve not tried this place before, and I always say the house wine tells us more about a restaurant than anything else, don’t you?”
They all nod. They’re on a free meal, what else can they do? You smile a smile of knowing superiority and look up, to where the sommelier has clearly read your every thought, and say. . . “The house wine. . .  what is it?”
“The sommelier explains that it’s an unpretentious little paint-stripper from the slopes to the south of Mount Otgontenger in Central Mongolia: grown, harvested and pressed by a distant cousin of the owner’s next-door-neighbour’s pen-pal. You nod wisely. “Good, good.” You recall a re-run episode of ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ and say “Oh, yes, Otgontenger, in The Hangai Range.” And then, while everyone does a double-take, you press your good fortune. “In that case I think we’ll start with a couple of bottles of the house white, and a couple of the house red, see where we go from there.”

A Sommelier decanting and serving wine

You dismiss the sommelier, smile broadly at the semi-circle of dumbstruck features looking back at you, and privately hope that by the time they’ve drained a couple more bottles of Mongolian paint-stripper most will have forgotten all about your mentioning of Sauternes’ finest.
The wine duly arrives. You check the label. It certainly looks Mongolian. The sommelier checks the quality and temperature, and then passes the final decision to you. You sip, swill, savour, swallow, and savour again (no, you don’t spit), and then nod appreciatively and say to your spellbound audience. “I tell you something, that’s not at all bad. I reckon these Mongolians know a thing or two about wine. In fact that’s really rather good. I think you’re going to like it.”
English: Relief map of Mongolia Equirectangula...
Now, I guarantee that, when you sum-up your evening, whatever criticism you might consider valid about food, service, ambience, and price, and whatever damning judgement you might otherwise levy at the meal’s conclusion, you won’t be offering anything other than complimentary murmurings about the wine.
O.K. So now, having read that, you all know that if I ever offer to take you out for a meal you will politely but firmly decline. I don’t blame you, but what else do you know?
You know that when you are given a description of the goods, allowed to actually sample the goods before purchase, and instantaneously supplied with the goods as sampled, it is very difficult to legitimately complain. . . or is it?
Now, let’s move on to e-books, and talk about those people who choose a genre, look at the book cover, read the blurb, consider the author, download three sample chapters (often around ten-thousand words), then buy the book and proceed to write a scathing review.
Why would they do this? They had every facility and chance to make an informed buying decision. They were offered every opportunity to sample prior to purchase. So why then buy and decry?
Perhaps the first three chapters bore no relationship to the next twenty or so. It can happen. Perhaps the rest of the book was a genuine stinker. Perhaps they made an honest mistake in the purchase, and now feel obliged to prevent others making the same mistake? All perfectly legitimate.
English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...
Or perhaps they are writers themselves, taking time out to damage the competition. Perhaps they feel insignificant, and want the author and the rest of the world to sit up and take note. Perhaps they need to somehow validate an otherwise unfulfilled life. Perhaps they read something in the book that touched a nerve, from childhood or some previous unhappy experience. Perhaps they have some sort of hidden pain, and are taking the opportunity to relieve the symptoms by transferring a little of that pain to the author. Then again, perhaps they are just sad people who delight in hurting and damaging others.
So the next time you see a negative e-book review, especially one among numerous positive reviews, don’t just take it at face value, take a closer look. Don’t just read the words as written, but see if you can read between the lines. It may well be that he or she genuinely didn’t enjoy the remaining chapters, and that’s fine, but so often it’s something more, something that lies dormant and undeclared.
Try it, and see if I’m not right.
As an author I don’t write book reviews, either good or bad, because I refuse to say bad or negative things about the work of my fellow authors, and if I only ever said good and positive things my stated opinions would, quite rightly, be treated with suspicion.
I’m also in agreement with dear-old Walt Disney’s Bambi, and the endearing Thumper who once so famously sang. . .

Young adult Thumper thumping his foot from Bambi

Young adult Thumper thumping his foot from Bambi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
Reviews are important. The people who write them are important to any author, be they famous infamous or unknown. A constructive and informed review will significantly help the buying decision. I know all that, agree with all that, heartily applaud those who write them, and heavily rely on those same constructive reviews and reviewers to sell my books. I am extremely grateful for them.
But let us not allow the review to be an excuse for hidden agendas, self-aggrandisement, and vitriol.
Perhaps I should leave the final judgement, on my mistrust of scathing e-book reviews and the people who write them, to the deliciously immoral Mandy Rice-Davies, who, when confronted in court with Lord Astor’s denial of their alleged affair, is often quoted as saying. . .
“Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”
Well, of course I would.
Nevertheless, you take my point (and if you don’t it was probably that last bottle of Chateau Mongolia 2013).

Have a good one.

On conspiracy theories, those lunatic conspiracy theorists who give us all a bad name, and the truth behind the Bilderberg Group

As something of a conspiracy theorist I am often amused, and occasionally infuriated, by many of the people who share that same frequently-scorned and wildly-diverse platform.
I recently watched a UK television interview, conducted by political and publishing grandee and all-round BBC smart guy, Andrew Neil, who, along with London Times columnist and Conspiracy Theorist Witch finder General, David Aaronovitch, had chosen to discuss the Bilderberg Group.AN

To add some ‘balance’ to the ‘argument’ they invited the much maligned Alex Jones as a third man (pun intended) to sit between them, and a flanking attack on the voices of dissent was ready to air.meeting
Now Alex Jones is part of the sometimes endearing, but more often than not ridiculous and annoying, conspiracy theory lunatic fringe.
His radical views are aired, or more frequently screamed, at any microphone or camera that is placed in front of him. The result is an often amusing, and more often tiresome, tirade of fanatical nonsense that may or may not be intended to convince.
This particular interview was brought to my attention, because it had apparently been watched by a great number of people in a very short space of time, or ‘gone viral on YouTube’ as those with nothing better to do than further pollute an already sadly polluted English language were saying.
Now The Bilderberg Group is a clique of supposedly influential individuals from both sides of the Atlantic, whose raison d’etre was first mooted in the fifties by Polish political exile Józef Retinger.
Retinger enlisted the aid of Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands, and a couple of other European heavyweights, who in turn enlisted the aid of CIA chief Walter Bedell Smith, and another of Eisenhower’s advisers, former OSS member and psychological warfare expert, General Charles Douglas Jackson. The group then went on to further enlist the services of the crème de la crème of U.S. and mainland European political, economic, and social society. . . The Bilderberg Group was born.

The original stated intent of the group was to combat anti-Americanism in Europe, and presumably smooth the ongoing passage of cultural imperialism that has subsequently proved such a blessing to each and every one of us on this side of the pond.
The actual result was to bring together a group of rhetoric spewing politicians, favourite sons, and media luvvies, to act as a sort of decoy, catalyst, and general punch-bag for people like Alex Jones and the rest of the conspiracy theorist lunatic fringe.
Or so I had previously thought, and that brings me to my, somewhat laboured, point.
Conspiracies are, by their very nature, complex and secretive.
If they weren’t they wouldn’t be conspiracies they’d be failed plots, and easier to spot and piece together than the dismembered body parts of Guy Fawkes. Conspiracy theories require a degree of cynicism, much time to develop, vision, lateral thought, in-depth research, and the application of rationality and intellect.
Cynicism apart, I didn’t see or hear any of that on this particular episode of the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show, but if you’ve not already done so you can judge for yourselves by clicking on this image.b021nq42
Now if there is a conspiracy to be unearthed in the activities of The Bilderberg Group, it won’t be found in a Sunday screaming match at the BBC.
Nor will it be found by ‘Alex Jones and the gang’ hanging around outside the group’s published meetings and haranguing the contributors as they come and go.
However, it just might be found in the actions of a an extremely clever BBC television interviewer, and a respected London Times columnist, on a mainstream political chat show.
Did the BBC bring the discredited figure of Alex Jones on to said mainstream political programme because they respected his rabid point of view? Were they adhering to the timeless wisdom of Voltaire, or did they feel The Sunday Politics Show was a little too dry and needed the debating equivalent of a Whitehall Farce to spice it up a bit?

Or was it because the easiest way to negate a point of view is to turn the spotlight of ridicule on those who purport to represent and adhere to that point of view?
Despite the obvious parallels to The Council on Foreign Relations, I have never bothered with The Bilderberg Group in the past.
You might think that, after listening to the Andrew Neil and Alex Jones Punch and Judy show, I would have even less interest in it now, but you would be wrong.
I don’t know the truth of The Bilderberg Group, whether that truth be malignant or benign, but when I have finally finished with The Etzel Trilogy I think I’ll look into it.Etzel Seal

And so, thank you Alex Jones and Andrew Neil and David Aaronovitch and the BBC, you have heightened my curiosity and maybe even outlined my next project.
You see, that’s the nature of the true conspiracy theorist, as opposed to the lunatic rantings of the Alex Jones’s of this world. We research the facts behind the headlines, and consider the motives of those who are or were chartered to govern, influence, or inform. We do that not just in a superficial way, but in every way, at some depth, and from every angle.
This can lead us and those who read our work into a complex maze of impossible scenarios, implausible hypotheses, and unanswered questions.
But it can also lead us to the truth.
For example. . .
images (1)What is Alex Jones’ role in all of this? Is he, as Andrew Neil and David Aaronovitch would have us believe, a loud-mouthed and incompetent idiot with a lunatic point of view, or is he a misguided and misunderstood champion of intellectual freedom and true democracy? Or, then again, maybe he’s an establishment stooge, put in prominent place to hog a fickle media’s attention and overpower any rational assessment of The Bilderberg Group by drowning the great unwashed in a sea of unpleasant noise and irrational rantings?
And why did someone at the all-powerful BBC feel it necessary to illuminate and ridicule such an already acknowledged figure of scorn, and, ipso facto, by applying that same indiscriminate process, tar and feather every other Bilderberg Group conspiracy theorist?
It might be that they genuinely thought it in the public interest. It might simply be a case of incompetent programming and human error at the BBC. It might well be nothing more than one loud-mouthed fanatic being given a public platform through lack of proper research. . .

Or it might, just might, be something that is far more complex and sinister.

Have a good one.

On Beyoncé, and the cruel reality of human kind

As a student and lover of all things past, I always found the lessons of history to be both terrifying and salutary.

And yet, when I hear of another conflict in some far-flung corner of the world, I am saddened that so much of humankind doesn’t seem to have learnt from that history, and has made so little progress from those days when we clothed ourselves in animal skins and made fire with flints and tinder.

In that, I am not referring to technological progress; our ability to develop and apply technology has been remarkable. I am referring to the evolution of our innate ability to show compassion and kindness to those around us, and to accept the social responsibility that comes with being the planet’s dominant species.

Yesterday morning I watched the singer Beyoncé, admitting that she had lip-synced her way through The Star Spangled Banner, during the recent presidential inauguration, and it got me thinking.

English: The Star Spangled Banner

Now I’m not interested in debating the political implications of a pop singer doing what pop singers have done for the last fifty years, and miming to a recording, but I did wonder why she had felt compelled to do such a thing at such an historic and important event.

For those, sadly too few, of you who have read my previous ramblings, you will know that I despise a celebrity culture that fetes ordinary individuals for no other reason than their ferocious ambition and fluke luck. I consider it to be inane, and patently unfair to genuinely talented individuals.

However, Beyoncé clearly doesn’t come into that category. The girl is both easy on the eye and hugely talented. So why would such a genuine talent feel the need to deceive us in such a way?

The answers come thick and fast. The weather wasn’t conducive. The proper sound checks hadn’t been completed. She’d had so little time to rehearse. The ambient noise might have polluted the rendition.  The microphone might have dissolved in her hand.

All perfectly plausible, well, apart from the last, but all symptoms that conveniently ignore the underlying disease.

The real answer is, of course, simple. . .  One of the most talented and famous singers in the world was scared to death of perceived failure.

Now I couldn’t have cared less if her voice had cracked and her knickers had fallen down, in fact it would probably have endeared her to me, because to my way of thinking the occasion was all that mattered. Beyoncé was honouring her nation and saluting a great man at a special moment in history. The quality of her performance was, and rightly should have been, secondary. However, there are a great many people in our society who could and would have slated her for anything less than perfection. . . and therein lies the problem.

Over the centuries, we in the west have apparently become sophisticated and educated. We no longer repeat the atrocities of the past, because we have learnt through bitter experience that such horrors as The Circus Maximus, The Inquisition, and two World Wars, not to mention those genocidal atrocities for which we must all bear some responsibility, were not only acts of unspeakable inhumanity and cruelty but also terrifying examples of mankind’s ignorance. We have learnt, through those same lessons from history, that anger and resentment can soon breed hatred, and that hatred is so often born of that same dangerous ignorance.

Or have we?

Isn’t the real truth that, although we appear to have become more educated and socially tolerant, beneath that veneer of 21st century sophistication lurks a massive underclass filled with anger and resentment.

Which brings me back to Beyoncé and the accursed celebrity culture.

Just as race and religion are still used as excuses for terrorism and warfare, so the celebrity culture has become a catalyst for anger and hidden resentment.

You see, while Joe Soap is slaving away at his menial nine to five labours, scratching a meagre living and wondering why the world seems such an unfair place, many of our celebrities are living in the lap of luxury and looking down their noses at the world. Now I’m a massive fan of The Rolling Stones, but when Mick Jagger castigates the ‘Doom and Gloom’ that he apparently hears and sees all around him, he fails to appreciate that the rest of the world isn’t comprised of multi-millionaire superstars immune to the hardships of our current economic woes.

English: Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones NYC...

The Fourth Estate knows it. That is why any headline that implies some sort of celebrity ‘faux pas’ or ‘indiscretion’ is guaranteed to increase sales.

Television companies know it. That is why shows such as The X factor, and America’s Got Talent, and Celebrity Dancing on Ice, and Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, are so popular. Their popularity is, in part, because ordinary people want to see the talent on display, but also because a great many of them want to see all those amazingly fortunate celebrities and celebrity wannabe’s making fools of themselves or falling flat on their arrogant and ambitious faces. It’s the ‘downfall of the pampered’, the ‘embarrassing disaster that will cheer everyone up’ syndrome.

Poor old Beyoncé knew it, too. Because for every man, woman, and child who enjoys her singing and dancing, and for every teenage cutie wannabe, hoping to emulate her phenomenal success, and for every male fantasist, ogling those magnificent feminine curves, there are a dozen more just waiting to tear down an icon.

That was the real reason she couldn’t take the chance of delivering anything other than a faultless performance. It’s all down to the fact that we in the 21st century may not be quite so predisposed to violence, but in many ways we really haven’t evolved from the lynch mob mentality of those days of Ancient Rome.

Have a good one.

End of year thoughts. . .

Well, the new  year is almost upon us, and I can’t say I’m sorry, because 2012 has been an annus horribilis for so many reasons.

The year began with The Costa Concordia disaster, and the loss of thirty innocent lives, and ended with the massacre of twenty-six innocents in Newtown Connecticut. Both tragedies were, arguably, preventable, but somehow I think that only the Costa Concordia disaster will see any meaningful measures taken to prevent a recurrence.

Some say the answer to the Newtown massacre is a ban on handguns, but I just don’t know.

Irrespective of how unfair, unconstitutional, and undemocratic, the lobbying power of the NRA is, I don’t see how amending The Constitution to deny ordinary decent and law-abiding people the right to defend themselves against cranks and lunatics, can possibly bring an end to such tragedies.

Here in the UK we have no fundamental or constitutional right to bear arms. Following the Hungerford massacre of 1987 semi-automatic centre-fire cartridge rifles were banned, weapon sales strictly limited, and gun licenses equally-strictly controlled, and yet we still saw the horrific tragedy of The Dunblane Primary School massacre just nine years later. This was followed by another amendment to the firearms act in 1997, which effectively made owning firearms illegal in The UK, and yet, thirteen years after that, we saw a lone gunman in Cumbria kill twelve people before turning the gun on himself.

I just don’t have the answers, and I’m not sure that anybody else does. All I do know is that my heart goes out to all those parents, family members, and neighbours who have been so devastated by such a wholly evil and terrible event.

On a lighter, and yet still serious, note; 2012 saw the end of freedom of speech in The U.K.

It began with a racist insult, allegedly, made by John Terry, a former England soccer captain, to an opponent during a match, and ended with the English Football Association overruling a ‘not guilty’ court ruling, and effectively banning any comment that might imply or include some sort of racist slur or insult.

On this I have to agree with Voltaire. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right in any civilized society, irrespective of the diatribe spoken and the apparent ignorance of the speaker. When we start to erode that fundamental right, we cause all manner of problems down the line.

Like many others, I have no time for any form of racism, or for the man in question and his alleged behaviour, but when organisations overrule the courts of the land, irrespective of the weasel words used to justify that process, they place us and them on a very slippery slope.

Freedom of speech is fundamental to democracy, and the rule of law is the cornerstone of that democracy. Did we learn nothing from The McCarthy era, or from all of those Warsaw Pact police states?

On a personal note, 2012 was a very sad time for my own family. During the year we lost three of our five Burmese cats, and now the house feels very empty without them. Never let anyone tell you that pets don’t give and generate love, and never let anyone tell you that their passing causes anything other than acute heartache and pain. We will miss Monty and Fred and Suki very much, and we will always remember how their living so enriched our home, our family, and our lives.

But on to 2013. The year during which I will become the world’s number one best-selling author, the year during which my ship comes in, the year during which. . . well, who can tell, but I’m sure it won’t be as sad and as bad for me as 2012 has been.

Because that is the true beauty of any New Year: It gives us all hope. It rekindles the flame of aspiration, and it offers each of us a new beginning and a fresh start.

And so I wish each of you a Very Happy Christmas, and a New Year filled with all that you wish for yourselves.

Have a good one.

Digital Book Today – Author Interview #132

Author Interview #132: the Folks at Fifty-Eight by Michael Patrick Clark

November 12, 2012


The Folks at Fifty-EightOur author interview today is with Michael Patrick Clark author of The Folks at Fifty-Eight (4.3 stars, 24 reviews). Before we get to the interview a brief book description: Gerald Hammond is the exception to the rule; an honourable spy, whose lofty principles have brought him nothing but loneliness and isolation. Catherine Schmidt is the stunning young daughter of an assassinated spymaster, whose murderous quest for vengeance has left her at the mercy of the infamous Head of Soviet State Security. On a covert operation, in Soviet-occupied Germany, Hammond has no knowledge of the unseen forces that sponsor and oppose his mission. He only knows that he must somehow save her to save himself, but, as ever-more disturbing revelations come to light, begins to wonder which poses the greater threat; the enemy he runs from, or the friend he runs to? Set against a factual background of government conspiracy, and one of the most audacious espionage coups in history, the Folks at Fifty-Eight is a beautifully-paced tale of seduction, betrayal, blackmail, and murder that blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction.

Author Interview with Michael Patrick Clark

Why did you choose this particular story?
Some claim there is nothing new or interesting left to write about The Cold War. I disagree. The truth is, for all those thousands of Cold War espionage stories that largely focused on a physically-partitioned Germany, many of the most audacious and significant events occurred before The Berlin Wall was even thought of.
The story of how Russia came to develop the atom bomb, in so short a period, is a good example. Although a few of those involved in coal-face espionage were named, prosecuted, and widely reported on, and stories abound of individual spies stealing individual secrets, it is remarkable that no one has previously used the strategic-level plot as background for a best-selling espionage and conspiracy novel.
Part of this is due to the enigma that was pre-internet, pre-Gorbachev, Russia, and the paranoia of its leadership; making in-depth research virtually impossible. Part is due to the understandable reluctance of western politicians and security chiefs to acknowledge the damage caused by political in-fighting and bickering incompetence.
For all of that, perhaps the most compelling reason lies in the refusal of either side to publicly admit the true extent of their own lies, hypocrisy, and shameless opportunism.
What was unique about the setting of the book and how did it enhance or take away from the story?
The Folks at Fifty-Eight is set in occupied Europe and The United States, during the immediate aftermath of The Second World War. As espionage novels go, this is a somewhat unfashionable period. At this time there was no Berlin Wall, no KGB, no STASI, and, in a Cold War sense, no acknowledged belligerence between the former Allies. If there was a ‘phoney war’ prior to WWII, then this was The Cold War’s ‘phoney war’.
At the time, the United States and Britain were largely in the grip of post-war euphoria, while mainland Europe was gripped with both the fear and reality of Stalin’s rapidly-descending ‘iron curtain’. This temporary ‘state of flux’ allowed the ‘men in grey’ to plot and scheme, and me, as a novelist, the freedom to take so many little-known facts and weave them into a truly fascinating espionage and conspiracy novel.
What specific themes did you emphasize throughout the novel? What were you trying to get across to the reader?
Apart from the constant blurring of fact and fiction, the overriding theme is one of a decent man’s gradual descent into corruption. If there is a motto, it is ’don’t trust anyone’ no matter how well-intentioned they appear. Everyone in the book has a guilty secret, everyone has a selfish agenda, everyone has a price, and no one is as they appear.
Are the characters real and believable? Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
The Folks at Fifty-Eight is based on a true story. The backcloth of little-known fact, is interwoven with the fictitious thread of an espionage and conspiracy thriller, with obvious parallels to the Faustian legend. I have intentionally altered the backgrounds and descriptions of certain key characters, but kept the story historically accurate, with personalities, motivations, and activities as close to the truth as possible.
For example. . .
Marcus Allum (Hammond’s boss at The State Department) is based on Frank Wisner; the ‘handler’ of defector Reinhard Gehlen, who ran an Eastern European spy network for the U.S. Wisner was a former OSS chief in the Balkans, a manic depressive who later became head of CIA covert operations.
The character of Daniel Chambers (The sinister manipulator of both Allum and Hammond) is based on Allen Dulles. The former President of the Council on Foreign Relations later became the longest-serving head of the CIA.
The character of Morton Simmonds (The FBI agent from whom Hammond finally discovers much of the truth) is based on Indiana State graduate William King (Bill) Harvey: the senior FBI agent who headed up almost two-hundred-and-fifty agents, in a largely unsuccessful purge of the Federal Government and White House.
History records that Lavrenti Beria was, arguably, Stalin’s most infamous henchman; a mass-murderer, and serial rapist, who controlled Stalin’s terror apparatus from his third-floor office in The Lubyanka. Perhaps less known is that Beria was also an espionage genius, who devised and implemented one of the greatest espionage coups of all time.
How do characters change or evolve throughout the course of the story? What events trigger such changes?
On the whole, I have received some fantastic reviews, particular when it came to characterisation, and I would like to thank those who have given up their time to provide feedback and encouragement. However,  one or two of the critics felt the ending was flawed, because they felt the hero, Hammond, does something out of character. This was the most disappointing criticism I received, because I tried, throughout, to show how Hammond’s values are slowly and inexorably compromised. Given that progressive degeneration, the ending should not have come as any great surprise, and lest anyone forget. . .  this is the first book in a trilogy. There will be plenty of time and opportunity for salvation or a change of heart.
In what ways do the events in the books reveal evidence of your world view?
The problem with conspiracy theorists is they have a bad name. Today, any pronunciation of the words ‘conspiracy theory’ can only be accomplished with a glance to the heavens and the eyebrows raised. When I refuse to take the word of any government at face value, I find myself apologising at the same time, and yet, whenever we turn on the television or pick up a newspaper, we are constantly bombarded with evidence of various high-level and government conspiracies.
That is not to say  I adhere to the rantings of the ‘lunatic fringe’.
No, I don’t believe the Wall Street Crash was the work of The Council on Foreign Relations. No, I don’t believe that America faked the lunar landings. No, I don’t believe the  9/11 and 7/7 attacks were the work of the CIA and MI5. No, I don’t believe that Elvis is alive and living in South America with Adolf Hitler.
You see, that’s the problem for anyone who questions the world around them, or is sceptical of government and establishment rhetoric. They are immediately branded as ‘conspiracy theorists’ with all the associated vilification that such a title implies and generates.
The Council on Foreign Relations is a case in point. In the ninety-odd years since its inception, I believe the organisation has been good for American foreign policy and good for the general health of western economies. However, I also believe that, during that same period, certain individuals with selfish and specific personal agendas have succeeded in manipulating the organisation for their own ends.
Was there a basis for your story? A previous experience? Something else?
When I quit the computer industry and moved to Spain I did very little, other than swim, play golf, and drink Rioja. For a while that was great, but I soon discovered that I needed something to keep the wheels turning and the brain active, and so I began writing.
At first it was difficult, because I had to learn the craft, and that, literally, took years. When that was done, and I began my first spy novel, I had another dilemma: what to write and how to start? The first answer was easy; I wanted to write, à la John Le Carré, but that still left the question of how and where to begin.
And so, for my first spy novel, I employed a technique used by feature film directors. Start with the close-up of a face, and then slowly pan-out, until we can see the clothing, then farther, until we see the immediate surroundings, and so on, until we can see the complete picture. At each juncture I had to make a decision about the next revelation.
I began with a character: a young man. As I slowly panned-out, he became a British soldier. The soldier was sitting in a truck. The truck was in the middle of a battle. The battle was in a war. The war was WWII. The location was on the banks of the River Weser, in Germany.
The time was late 1944. . .  I had my start.
The more I wrote, the more I needed to research. The more research I did, the more I learnt. The more I learnt, the more I developed both plot and background. The entire trilogy grew from that one face.
That book became the third part of The Etzel Trilogy: The Dreams of Etzel. Through my thirst for more and more knowledge, I was able to outline the second part, Hierarchies of Greed, and finally outline, develop, and write the first part: The Folks at Fifty-Eight.
What research did you have to perform to back up your story? Any research which really opened your eyes or gave you new respect for a topic or profession?
The research effort was massive. Not only did I have to learn about everything day-to-day 1946, but I also had to research 1946 occupied Europe and post-war Washington D.C. I also had to research Stalin’s Russia, and there is very little definitive material on that. You see, I wanted to write a book based on little-known fact, interwoven with a fictitious story of spies, sex, and sedition. I didn’t want to have Cold War and modern history buffs pull apart my story, or be able to ‘see the join’.
It was through my research on The Dreams of Etzel that I discovered the truth about the early Cold War period, and through that I developed both the espionage fact and espionage fiction forHierarchies of Greed and The Folks at Fifty-Eight. One effectively fed the other two.
As for opening my eyes. . . every successive day did that. I couldn’t believe how naïve and amateurish so much of the earliest western espionage efforts were, and how accomplished Lavrenti Beria was by comparison. It was a fascinating period, with larger-than-life characters, and I loved every minute of my research.
What is your method for writing a book? A certain amount of hours every day? A certain routine? Are you character/story builder or an outliner or some other method?
I write every day, sometimes seven days a week, and sometimes all day. Because there is, by necessity, such a high level of research, I usually sit down to write at eight a.m. If I haven’t got the words flowing by nine-thirty or so, I stop and move on to more research, or maybe start writing a blog article or something of that ilk. On top of that, and being an Indie published author, there is always so much to do that doesn’t necessarily demand creativity. Just fitting it all in is a problem.
How do you get past writers block or distractions like the internet?
I don’t. If I’m in the mood to be distracted, I’m probably not about to write anything worthwhile. I love writing, and so if I’m not in the mood to write, for any reason, I just go with whatever has caused that emotion. As for writers block; I have no idea what people mean by that. We each lack creativity at different times; that’s a human condition. I sometimes think that giving it a fancy title merely prolongs and exacerbates what would otherwise be a temporary blip.
Favourite book from childhood?
That’s easy; Shadow the Sheepdog, by Enid Blyton. I read it over and over again, and only stopped when the teenage years arrived and it became slightly embarrassing to admit to loving.
What’s on your desk? Can you see your desk? Describe what you see when you look around.
My desk is a clutter: computer, printer, keyboard, software, trinkets from my wife, telephones, pens and notebooks, coffee mugs, digital photo frame, Dictaphone, and a pair of binoculars. When I look out of my window, slightly to the left, I see the Atlantic Ocean and the cliffs of North Cornwall, all the way up to Hartland Point and out to Lundy Island.
If I look slightly to the right, I see cattle and sheep and goats and ponies, patchwork fields, and tourists by the truckload. If I look around the room I see my favourite painting by David Cartwright, of the charge of the Scots Greys at Waterloo, and bookshelves crammed with reference material and all manner of other books, discs, Arsenal memorabilia, and Dresden military figurines. There’s also a globe, a detailed map of the world, a music keyboard (I’m definitely gonna learn to play one day), a huge painting of men playing pool, picture of my wife, picture of mum, and a leather armchair that I  like to slump into when I’m feeling precious.

Website http://www.michaelpatrickclark.com
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Amazon links:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Folks-at-Fifty-Eight-ebook/dp/B007X5KN5C/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1346491271&sr=1-1&keywords=the+folks+at+fifty-eight