Confessions of my Past, Present and Future
Eric J Gates
When childhood memories come to mind there’s a year in particular that stands out. I was 14 years old and, for the first time in my young life, I was to travel to Europe on my own! Well, not quite; it was school trip organised to visit France and Switzerland over the Easter break. Almost forty unruly kids, and three teachers supposedly trying to keep us safe, and the French and Swiss safe from our mischief. That trip was memorable for many reasons, one of which was that, on the overnight train journey from the UK to Switzerland, I read my first Ian Fleming novel.
I was hooked, so much so that in the summer of the same year my parents had planned a family trip to Bavaria, Germany, via France and Austria… and I was still reading more Ian Fleming as I heaved my stomach’s contents into the Channel during a particularly rough crossing (no nice tunnels back then). I finished all twelve of the Fleming 007 novels and both of the short story collections by the end of that summer, then made the mistake of reading the Robert Markham (Kingsley Amis) novel ‘Colonel Sun’, a supposed first novel in the continuation of the 007 mystique. What had they done to my beloved character? Why was this book so distasteful after Fleming’s masterful works?
Looking back now, with the wisdom and critical thinking of age, with knowledge acquired during a lifetime of living events not too dissimilar to those related by Fleming, I can clearly conclude my own writing is heavily influenced by this iconic author. No, I don’t write about a sadistic, laconic MI6 spy working alone against megalomaniac enemies while he beds exotic women in equally glamorous locations during the mid to late fifties and early ‘swinging sixties’. My own novels do deal with intelligence organisations and their agents, but in the frenetic pulse of the twenty-first century. However, Fleming influences almost every word I write, and the way I craft my thrillers, even today. Let me explain why.
Spy novels in those bygone years were very much of the ‘Boy’s Own’ variety, featuring immaculate heroes with unswayable moral codes, impeccable manners and boatloads of derring-do, where the strongest word would be ‘Gosh’ and the bad guys always apologised before launching their masterful plan to take over the World. Then came Fleming… and with him a ‘rule-breaking’ like none seen before, or, I would say, since.
Not only did he give us a hero we could simultaneously loath (for the actions he performed – a true ‘cad’ by definitions previously in vogue) but loved (again for his actions, which we all wished we could apply to our daily lives… and get away with as did Fleming’s protagonist). No he revolutionised popular novel writing too. His tales are imbued with a pace unlike that of previous novels, full of little tricks that jolt the reader out of their comfort zones, such as the vitality he created in sections of dialogue by breaking them into small sound bites. He also introduced the grey world where heroes did not wear white hats, where their actions were tinged with immorality, arbitrary and bloody violence, and sexual innuendo (almost the very definition of the villains beforehand) and the antagonists had motives for their despicable behaviour, motives we could understand and even sympathise with, Heaven Forbid!
He even dictated marketing lessons for many authors today with actions like selling his first novel at the ludicrously low price of 10 shillings and 6 pence (roughly 2 pence in today’s money, or 3 cents in US dollars… and you complain about royalties!) He was also an author who did not fear to stray outside his genre boundaries; the magical ‘Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang”, which most recall from the musical movie starring Dick Van Dyke, was also penned by the author of “Bond, James Bond”.
Truly a man born before his time.
If there’s one characteristic that can easily be attributed to me it’s that I used to be an inveterate traveller. Pick any day of the week, including Saturdays and Sundays, and you could find me at an airport somewhere. Pilots may have a limit to the number of hours they can fly, not so people like myself who managed to work in three different countries, thousands of kilometres apart, in the same eight-hour day! Thankfully I no longer jump on planes like others use buses, but the sentiments are still fresh. Now although buzzing around like a madman has many downsides, it does have one fantastic positive benefit, that of encountering many different places and interacting with other cultures. This has also been a constant in my reading habits and I particularly enjoy novels whose authors are capable of transporting me to other places. Some, which I have read in recent months, have been particularly notable. The first that comes to mind are Judith Lucci’s Alex Destephano medical thriller novels for their hard-hitting, scary storylines and their ability to place me on the streets of New Orleans; to fill my nostrils with the smell of fresh beignets and my taste buds with strong coffee. Definitely recommended for their sensory impact.
Then writer John Dolan for his ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ series where his fictional PI takes us on his unusual cases in Thailand. Mark Fine’s amazing ‘The Zebra Affaire’ not only transported me to South Africa but also dropped me there during apartheid, thus moving my mind in both space and time. His poignant tale of mixed-race love revealed many aspects of ordinary life lost to those of us who witnessed it through reporting from afar.
Another recent read was the gritty crime thriller ‘Time to Think’ by Andy Laker which not only made me travel back to my country of origin but it put me in prison too. Laker’s descriptions of the trials and tribulations his policeman protagonist, endured while wrongly imprisoned, were based on solid sensory stimulation that brought back (non-incarcerated) memories of my youth. An amazing novel from an equally laudable writer which I highly recommend.
Being able to take me to foreign lands isn’t a guarantee of a good read however. To even up the scales I’ll mention another novel set in old Europe which, although it did draw heavily on the places where it was set and their historical significance, turned out to be a wet firework as thrillers go. ‘Inferno’ by someone called Dan Brown; an insult to the intelligence of his readers, I’m afraid.
What will I be writing/reading in 2045? He asked. More accurately will I be writing/reading in 2045, or even breathing for that matter? Assuming the answer to the latter is positive, how will my own novels have evolved by then and what kind of books will be nourishing my little grey cells in thirty years? I suspect, from a genre point of view, thrillers will still be leading my preference list. There’s something timelessly appealing about their structure and possibilities that attracts me as both a writer and reader.
The thriller is not really a genre but a flavour that can be encountered in many others, like the use of a particularly piquant spice in everything from soup to ice cream. This characteristic alone assures it will always be challenging those who would seek to buttonhole a given writer’s work into predefined categories. It invites ‘fusion’; a trendy way of saying ignore boundaries, mix’n’match, follow your heart rather than the rules as a theme in your writing. That’s what I do in my novels now and the freedom it gives as a creative is intoxicating.
Intelligence agents, Vatican conspiracies… and vampires (not like you’ve ever seen them); a writer wrestling with the consequences of a pen sent to him by a professional assassin, a pen that changes Destiny; the race to control a device capable of weaponising the weather; the suffering of a President under attack from rogue military factions as he chooses to reveal the truth about extra-terrestrials.
These are some of my playgrounds, worlds you know intimately, yet will disconcert you. They speak to my readers from my own heart, based upon today’s reality and my own experiences, yet they read like sci-fi because they relate matters unknown to the majority. They are the ‘Suspense Thrillers with a touch of Strange’ I see myself creating for the foreseeable future.
Maybe they will change in presentation as the eBook evolves; instead of reading evocative words on an electronic page, we may be immersed in the fiction through virtual reality headsets, free to participate in the tale as we wish. I only pray they do not reduce the author’s work to that of a creative computer programmer. I started work in Information Technology, an existence based on binary zeros and ones, and would not like my writing and reading to bring me to a place and time where the technology is more important than images in my mind. Remember Einstein’s quotation: ‘Logic will get you from A to B; Imagination will take you everywhere.’
Good writers do both.
You can read my review of Outsourced here.
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Eric J. Gates has had a curious life filled with the stuff of thriller novels. Writing Operating Systems for Supercomputers, cracking cryptographic codes under extreme pressure using only paper and pen and teaching cyber warfare to spies are just a few of the moments he’s willing to recall.
He is an ex-International Consultant who has travelled extensively worldwide, speaks several languages, and has had articles and papers published in technical magazines in six different countries, as well as radio and TV spots. His specialty, Information Technology Security, has brought him into contact with the Military and Intelligence communities on numerous occasions.
He is also an expert martial artist, holding fourteen black belt degrees in distinct disciplines. He has taught his skills to Police and Military personnel, as well as to the public.
He now writes thriller novels, drawing on his experiences with the confidential and secret worlds that surround us.
And for more about Eric, visit his site or find him on social media: