Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Interview with author Phil Rowan

Jill:  When I began research for this interview, I immediately came across the cover image for Weimar Vibes.  Love it!  How and why was this image chosen for the book cover and what does the image say about the story?

Phil: This is a fabulous shot of Marlene Dietrich in Josef von Sternberg’s 1930 movie, The Blue Angel. I licensed it for the cover of Weimar Vibes because I think it gives a feeling for how it was in the final years of the Weimar Republic – decadent and crumbling, yes, but with a lot of enticing temptation in the night life! My Weimar Vibes story is a dark humour thriller that mirrors elements of 1930s German chaos in the UK and the rest of Europe tomorrow, and I think that Marlene in The Blue Angel gave a great snapshot of this period – as indeed did Lisa Minnelli in Cabaret.  

Jill: If Rudi Flynn had a profile on one of those internet dating sites (i.e. Lavalife, Match.com, eHarmony, etc.) what would it say?

Phil:  Age: 39. Height 5’11”; flat(ish) stomach; good but occasionally nervous eyes. Empathetic with women, who frequently feel he needs their guidance. He enjoys occasional windsurfing, followed by lively discussions on the beach about politics – with intermittent gossip. Salsa in the evening with wine and emotional good humour (with maybe whisky later). Flynn is separated from his previous partner who’s now writing a novel about their relationship, which worries him a little. No kids yet – but he’s often had dreams about families. Well ... it’s a lovely thought, of course ... and he’s definitely trying to become more decisive about things generally ...

Jill: Your novels are set in far-flung locals (Greek Islands, Cuba, Middle East, Ireland...) What are the challenges to you as a writer of using various settings

Phil:  I guess it helps if you’ve been to wherever it is you’re writing about, but a brief trip to almost anywhere can offer exciting writing prospects for both fiction and journalism. I think the challenges are almost entirely emotional, in that you probably need to go with your feelings, so intuition and interpretation are important. It’s only in my third upcoming story ‘Under Cover’ that I’m writing about India, where I spent almost eighteen months. But Cuba, the Middle East, Greece, the US/UK and Ireland (where I was born) all offer marvellous possibilities, which I constantly want to return to. 

Jill:  If Hollywood were to make a Rudi Flynn movie, who would be cast in the lead role?

Phil: For Flynn I’m thinking of a slightly wayward/uncertain Daniel Craig – with maybe an alcoholic weakness extension of his performance in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. But if Craig wasn’t available, then a more flustered Dominic West from The Wire would be fine; with maybe Penelope Cruz or Rachel Weisz as Flynn’s illicit love interest, the gorgeous and almost saintly Julia Stein ... and I’d want a star turn for the cool Glenn Close as Flynn’s ice cold and very focused US Homeland Security controller.

Jill: What was the best thing about your stint as a tabloid journalist?  What was the worst

Phil:  On the up side, I loved meeting a whole range of interesting people – from dodgy politicians, villains and often venal celebs to nice ordinary folk who had somehow become involved with difficult and occasionally quite worrying situations. On the downside, there was a constant pressure/expectation for one to deliver, and if one couldn’t do it legitimately (and I hate to admit it) then it was frequently seduction/inducements, temptation, provocation and outlandish fabrication.   

Jill: Part two of the above question (and you had to have seen this coming!) What comments do you have on the Murdoch & News of the World scandal?

Phil:  Disgraceful, of course. But it’s been building over quite a while and the NoW practices are now rife with most tabloids + some quite prim broadsheets – all of whom would deny the charge. However, if you can bring in reasonably experienced phone hackers – and it’s not that difficult to find them – then you either do it or your competitors get the stories.   

Jill:  You’ve written fiction and nonfiction.  Which one is easier to write?  Which is more fun to write? (These aren’t necessarily the same things.)  

Phil:  I’ve always found it easier and more fun to write fiction – starting with little magazines when I was a student at Trinity College in Dublin. More recently (as Jack Jameson),  I was commissioned to write a serious story for the UK New Statesman about British National Party (far right) goings on near their leader’s farm in Wales. I called it Weimar in Wales, and I wrote it as an allegorical piece with factual elements. It caused a media furor, with the local Chief Constable and publicans demanding to know where exactly were the pubs and meeting places I was alluding to where British Nationalists were sieg heiling with Nazi salutes to Deutschland uber Alles? I couldn’t really say as the locations and characters were all composites and the piece was essentially allegorical – so on this occasion the journalist became a scandalous story, and my editor refused to pay me!

Jill:  What do you wish you had known about the publishing world before you became a novelist? 

Phil:  To know a little more about how difficult it was going to be might have helped (or diverted) me. Not long ago, I had a good agent who sent my Dark Clouds story to, I think, six publishers.They all liked the story and the writing, but didn’t feel they could publish it because I seemed to be dealing with a potentially very serious matter (al-Qaeda trying to nuke London) within a dark humour framework ... and who knows what the jihadists might have lined up for such a cheeky publisher!  

Jill:  Who are some of your mystery author influences?

Phil:  My big influences early on were Hemingway, Fitzgerald, James Joyce, JP Donleavy and Henry Miller (the latter three were all banned in Catholic Ireland for quite a few years!). The mystery/thriller writers I’ve enjoyed are Raymond Chandler, Lee Child, Jeffrey Deaver and Stieg Larsson.

Jill:  What are your thoughts on the rapid changes in the book world (that is, digital books a la Kindle and such)?

Phil: It’s exciting, but there are problems for authors trying to self-publish on Kindle + Nook etc. If a publisher takes your book, they will usually do a lot of editing and promotion for you. But if you go for self-publishing an e-book, there’s an incredible amount of work to do, first in formatting, picture design and uploading, and then in promotion via Twitter etc – for which one needs a huge amount of time. I rather envy John Locke who says he sold a million self-published e-books in five months, which certainly is a great achievement. 

Jill:  What can you tell me about your upcoming releases?

Phil: ‘Dark Clouds’, out now on www.amazon.com/dp/B006RXHVTW  has al-Qaeda trying to nuke London, with Flynn doing what he can to thwart them. ‘Under Cover’, which is my next, has Flynn once again working for a US/UK intelligence alliance. Only now he also has links with Israeli intelligence and the rightist French Front National. His mission is to help foil a plot by Iranian agents who are intent on serious anti-Western provocation, which includes dirty bombs with nuclear ingredients. This will be followed by ‘Harps and Tears’, which features Bronkovsky, a loopy/disappointed in love Polish American nuclear scientist whose wife leaves him for a Jewish environmentalist. He is embittered and intent on revenge against the state of Israel. When Flynn meets him, he is making a nuclear bomb in Ireland’s rural West Cork for Islamic activists in the Middle East.   

Jill:  Last question – and it’s a bit of a freebie: What question do you wish I had asked you?  Go ahead and ask & answer it.

Phil: What would I do if I were starting out again? Instead of mistakenly going for medicine and then switching to Economics & Politics, I would like to have tried for a scholarship to a London drama school. After which, I would have hugely enjoyed a bit of acting on stage and (possibly) screen. I would also have written a few more plays and tried to get screen-writing commissions.

For more on Phil Rowan, check his website:  www.writerrowan.com

Or follow Phil on Twitter @WriterRowan 

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