Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Interview with Author Michael Mac Carthy

Give us a quick introduction on yourself and your book.
At different times of my life I have been a helicopter pilot flying for the
South African Air Force; an advertising copywriter and creative director
working in Johannesburg and New York; a director of TV local and international
commercials; a screenplay writer of TV series and feature films. (Three of which
are currently in development); a director of TV series and a single feature film; a
Conceptualizer and a partner in the development of Cape Town Film Studios.
End Time is my first novel. It started life as a kind of Stieg Larsson political conspiracy story―but somewhere along the way the story hijacked me and I found myself having to explore how our hubris as a species and how our misconception of the true nature of God had led us to the amoral exercise of power and the abuse of the planet of which we are caretakers.

What inspired you to write your first book?
I can’t really point towards any particular Damascene event or moment as an inspiration for writing my first book. I am a fairly omnivorous reader with an eclectic interest in politics, finance, religion, ecology. So I’d have to say it came more from an inchoate urge to express concern about the way we are conducting ourselves as one of the premier species on earth today.

Do you have a specific writing style?
In general terms I try to keep my writing simple and unadorned. For End Time I strove for a style that was almost laconic, almost journalistic. And I consciously kept the sentences crisp and short to augment the pace of the book and heighten the drama.
How did you come up with the title?
Because the message of the book was subliminally connected to the prophecies connected to the Mayan Calendar – although this not referred to anywhere in the my story - I thought it was appropriate. With the wisdom of hindsight I am not sure now that it was a good idea.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. I think it is time for us to take stock and seriously reappraise how we interact with each other, with all the rest of God’s creatures and plants, and with the earth we live on.
How much of the book is realistic?
A great proportion of the book is very realistic. Intentionally so. It is based on carefully researched facts that any reader can substantiate for him or herself. The idea was to lend an authenticity and plausibility to the fictional narrative.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Yes, many of the events and characters, too many to mention here, derive my experience of life

What books have most influenced your life most?
There have been so many―but the ones that stand out in my mind as life transformative would be: Germinal by Émile Zola; The Lost Weekend by Charles R. Jackson; Cannery Row by John Steinbeck; The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and, most recently, The Mind of God by Paul Davies.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
John Steinbeck

What book are you reading now?
The Great Hunger by Cecil Woodham-Smith

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Abraham Verghese with Cutting for Stone; Carlos Ruiz Zafón with Shadow of the Wind

What are your current projects?
I am about 40 pages into my next novel―The 10% Manwhich is all about the murkier side of diamonds and the exercise of power versus probity.

I am also quite involved with a feature film and a concept for TV series.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Google. It was like having an army of research assistants. I couldn’t have written the book without it.
Do you see writing as a career?
I would like to hope so. I have two or three other stories fermenting in my subconscious that I would like to write about before I hit senility.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Yes, there is a character named Bill Byrd who is a kind of metaphor for the brutality of war waged against people fighting for a righteous freedom. The way it turned out he was rather shoe-horned into the story. I should have edited him out.

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I think my interest was kindled when I was a young boy. I grew up on an isolated farm with a wonderful library of books are my closest companions. There was a selection of books from James Hadley Chase to Tolstoy to choose from and I read and enjoyed all of them.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Sure, here’s a taster from The 10% Man:
Hillbrow, Johannesburg. 26 February 1976. 08:43

The three men stood watching the street below like hunters waiting for their prey in a hide. It was raining steadily and the street in the canyon formed by the tatty high rise apartment blocks of Hillbrow looked like a river of oil. The tangy smell of their nervous sweat filled the small room. They had been there for over an hour and they were beginning to get antsy.

In the dim light of the darkened apartment they looked like successful business execs in their expensive suits―until you looked closer. Chief Inspector Floris de Lange, head of von Oppell Diamond Inc.’s Illicit Diamond Buying Unit was a short, powerfully built man in his 60’s with the eyes and physical menace of a pit bull terrier. The craggy faces of his subordinates, Lieutenant Willie Maree and Sergeant Wilson carried scar tissue that spoke of lessons learned, and survived, in the University of Life.

They tensed as, illuminated by a flash of lightning, a lone taxi entered the street from a side road, cruised slowly to a position right below them. Stopped. Lt. Maree lifted a pair of binoculars to his eyes and examined the scene close up. He let out a grunt of disgust as a young couple exited the taxi and ran giggling towards the entrance of an apartment block.

“Damn. Not him”, he muttered defensively.

Chief Inspector Floris de Lange turned and aimed a baleful look at Maree.

“Nine minutes late. You think he’s chickened out?” Maree swallowed hard. This whole operation had been his idea.

“I think your mate’s chickened out, Lieutenant.”

“Nah, Chief. He may be a nebbish, but ten thousand’s a big score for him. He’ll come”

“Yah? We’ll see.” De Lange didn’t sound convinced. “Give me those binocs.” Taking them from Maree he scanned the street below. There wasn’t even a hooker in sight. Peevishly he tilted up the binoculars and checked out the activities of the apartment dwellers across the street. People were eating supper, watching TV, putting the kids to bed. Boring.

“What’s Page doing Chief?” Maree asked, trying to get back on de Lange’s good side.

De Lange swept the binoculars across the building and settled on the brightly lit bedroom of an apartment opposite. Through the open French doors he could a see a giant of a man rogering a full breasted young black woman from behind. With his long mane of tawny hair, his lips drawn back from his large yellowed teeth and the muscles of his powerful arms and torso tensed into ridges, he looked like an old lion close to coitus. This was the man they were hunting tonight. Paddy Page. The grizzled survivor of three decades of African mercenary wars – and illicit diamond smuggler extraordinaire.

“The same,” said De Lange laconically.

“Bliksêm. Give him one thing. The boy’s got stamina,” Sergeant Wilson couldn’t keep the admiration out of his voice.

“He’s coming, Chief,” said Maree tersely.

“I can see that, Lieutenant,” De Lange answered dryly.

“Not Page, Chief, Jabor.”

De Lange whip panned the binoculars off the couple and tilted them down to search the street below. A short, rotund man with a pronounced limp stepped into frame out of focus. De Lange tweaked the focus and found himself looking at the Middle Eastern version of Popeye’s pal, Wimpy. He was in his early 40s and, apart from the thick Groucho Marx eyebrows and pronounced Lebanese conk, he had the same pudgy moon-face, the same wispy hair glued by the rain to a balding head, same pregnant paunch beneath a scruffy old raincoat that looked like it came from the Salvation Army. Incongruously he was carrying a smart leather briefcase.

“Jeesh, Maree, you sure about this guy?”

De Lange tracked Jabor as he awkwardly crossed the street favouring a gimpy leg supported by a heavily built up orthopaedic boot. He paused at the entrance to Page’s apartment block and looked up nervously straight at the detectives’ hideout with the big trusting brown eyes of a puppy.

“Don’t look at us asshole.” De Lange seethed.

Jabor flapped open his coat and bent his head to speak into his hidden radio mike. He voice came through, tinny and shaky, to the detectives.

“Testing, testing. Is okay I go in, Lieutenant Willie? You hear me, Lieutenant Willie? Is okay I go in?”

“Oh Jesus,” De Lange rolled his eyes. “Wait one” Whipping the binocs off Jabor he ran them up the block and found Page’s bedroom again. Just in time to see Page, naked, walk through to his lounge and pull a beer out of a bar fridge. Popping the cap with his teeth, Page poured half of the beer over his head before swallowing the rest with gusto. Then he disappeared into a bathroom for a pee.

“It’s okay,” said De Lange, “give him the signal.”

Maree picked up a torch and flashed it rapidly three times in Jabor’s direction. Down on the street Jabor smiled with relief and gave him a big thumbs up before turning to limp into the building.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
The days went absolutely nothing gels and the words won’t come and you wonder if they ever will.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
John Steinbeck. He writes with such exquisite purity and simplicity. I remember reading a short story of his called Breakfast. It was just one-and-a-half pages long and was so poignant it reduced me to tears.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I didn’t need to travel to write End Time. I have lived in or visited most of the principal locations in the book. Those that I hadn’t I researched intensively.

Who designed the covers?
A fabulously talented lady by the name of Caitlin Truman Baker who runs her own design studio: ctbdesign.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Studying and understanding supercomputers and the global economic system well enough to write about them intelligibly.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, and that if you methodically keep putting one foot in front of another you will reach the end of your journey.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Invest in a good editor and a good proof reader.