I love your action-thriller No Remorse. It’s your first published novel. How did that come about?
My kids were almost finished school and I had the opportunity to sell my business. Also, a couple of friends’ health scares made me realize I didn’t want to die wondering if I could write the action thriller I had always dreamed about... So I took the plunge, just as I had when I started my own company. I’m single-minded on a task (so my wife says). Once I put my mind to it, I just wrote. And wrote. The plot and characters sort of evolved. I wrote 300,000 words in nine months.
Three hundred thousand words?!
At the time I had no idea a novel was supposed to be around 80,000-110,000 words. Later, of course, attending writers’ courses, I found out many things I hadn’t been aware of.
You chose to write a thriller with the main character having a military background – why?
I’ve always loved thrillers and have had an interest in all things military, so I guess maybe it’s a way of linking this interest with my writing. No Remorse isn’t a military thriller though – the main character just happens to have that background.
The main character, Lee McCloud, is described as “a loose cannon” by his superior in the secret organization he is forced to join. Why?
McCloud is a special ops guy, trained for the toughest missions, deniable, highly intelligent, used to making quick decisions under extreme pressure. You can bet his bosses worry about whether someone like that can be controlled. Especially after McCloud leads an unsanctioned mission to rescue two kidnapped girls, which goes terribly wrong. As it turns out, they actually want a military man who is a loose cannon. Can’t tell you more than that…
And what’s the background on Tally, the woman Lee McCloud has to work with?
Tally is a computer specialist with a photographic memory. McCloud feels that Tally belongs in an office, not in the field where it’s dangerous. Tally also has a haunted past, which sets up some good conflict and humour, because McCloud has had problems with women. Recall the Moonlighting TV series, and the movies Mr & Mrs Smith, and Romancing the Stone? Tally’s a strong woman, but not a stereotype. She has her own unique traits and point of view that make her strong in her own way.
How much research did you do for the book? You live in Australia, yet No Remorse starts out in Mexico, then is mostly set in the Middle East. Did you go to those places to find out firsthand what they’re like? Or did you mostly rely on online searches?
I enjoy the research side. I’ve travelled extensively through the Middle East, thankfully just before the “Arab Spring”. And I like to get hands-on experience. For example, I want the weapons to be right, to understand more about how they feel, so I go out and shoot a sniper rifle.
What made you decide to go the self-publishing route?
I probably submitted my manuscript before it was ready. It was rejected by about twenty agents and publishers. Later, I was told by an agent that out of 120 novels submitted to him at Thrillerfest, about 85 were about terrorism. They were looking for something fresh. Still, I wasn’t going to have my work sacrificed, so (thanks to Amazon) with self-publishing considered a viable route for both new and published authors, I decided to publish it myself. I’m glad I did. With the industry in its current state of turbulence, there are many authors out there waiting for a publisher or agent, who will die before they find one. The world of publishing has changed dramatically in the last three years.
On the upside, we’re also seeing a large number of new publishers emerging that are offering a new publishing model, with higher royalties, and fewer levels of bloated bureaucracy than the traditional firms. The first thing the industry should do is combine wholesalers and distributors, to cut out one of the unnecessary layers of people on the take. I have now created a publishing imprint, Marq Books, which I am making available to other indie authors. Even so, I would still prefer to use a traditional publisher to do the marketing, so I can spend my time writing.
But you used professionals?
Oh yes, this is critically important for any indie writer. I used the editing services of Jodie Renner, who, in addition to copyediting, was of vital assistance in suggesting several new chapters and various other changes that improved both character and plot. Jodie also helped with American idiom and French. I also used a professional designer for the cover.
What are the things you’ve had to overcome, in order to be published?
Having confidence in what I’ve written. Of course, not everyone will like the story, but so far all the reviews have been quite complimentary. The second thing is the distribution network. Most buyers of fiction buy debut authors on impulse. So I am working hard to get the book known through social marketing and traditional media. I’ve produced marketing material, media releases, and information sheets, and have had copies printed for the Australian market, where I can take a more active role. Again, I am using professional PR people and distributors.
Is there any advice you would give to emerging, unpublished writers?
Listen to the criticisms carefully. Most people are reluctant to be critical enough early on, but it’s important to identify weaknesses so you can address them. Network in the industry wherever possible. The wallflower writer will not be published. Attend writers’ courses and writers’ conferences, and buy books about writing such as Donald Maass’ The Breakout Novelist. And don’t give up – keep writing, submit to wherever you can, and start the second book while you’re still editing the first. And dream about being a best-selling author by all means, but don’t expect this to happen. You can build it, but they won’t come without the marketing.
The process seems frustrating. Why would anyone want to be a novelist?
Good question. I think publishing must be one of the toughest industries to be in. Many people tell me they have a novel inside they’d love to write. But most won’t. You have to be a certain type, and willing to sacrifice money and social contact to follow through. I gave up managing thirty-five staff, a good salary and profit share for a solitary existence with a computer screen, living off my wife’s income for three years. It’s not for everyone. Sometimes I think I’m crazy.
Has writing changed you as a person?
I’m definitely more relaxed, more self-reliant, and paradoxically a more social person. Still very driven, but I don’t have to worry about others delivering to the standard I expect. I only have to meet those standards myself. And I enjoy the social networking with other writers and readers.
What is your next challenge?
Finding the balance between promoting book one and working on book two. Credibility is built through completed works in this industry. I’m also keen to help other writers get published, so they don’t have to spend the time I did learning what to do.
I’ve sold several thousand copies of No Remorse in about six weeks, which is good for a debut novel, I’m told by other authors. And having a book in print is a great motivation to keep writing.
Ian’s debut action thriller, No Remorse, is available at http://www.amazon.com/No-Remorse-Ian-Walkley/dp/0980806607/
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Ian’s second novel, Bait, a crime thriller set in Australia, will be released in late 2012.