Just a Chalk Outline on the Ground: Iain Edward Henn Interview

Photo of thriller author Iain Edward Henn

Thriller author Iain Edward Henn

Author Iain Edward Henn lives in Sydney, Australia, halfway around the globe from me. We “met” in the Suspense/Thriller Writers Facebook group, where I was impressed by his low-key humor and thoughtful, positive attitude.

As part of The Next Big Thing blog-hop, Iain answered 10 questions about his novel-in-progress. You can read those on his blog Take It As Read.

But I, of course, had more nosey questions to ask him …

Iain, I read your first two thriller novels, The Delta Chain and Disappear. Good stuff. How would you describe them?

Disappear concerns a man missing 18 years, who turns up as an accident victim in the same place he was last seen, his body still the same age as it was almost 2 decades earlier.

The Delta Chain is about young drowning victims, whose identities cannot be traced – who were they?

Without spoiling any surprises for those who haven’t read them yet, I’ll just say that both books incorporate elements of research science. Is that going to be the “brand” or hallmark of Iain Edward Henn novels?

No, I am interested in all aspects of the mystery/suspense genre. Science, forensics and high-tech may resurface from time to time.

Growing up in the 60’s I loved thrillers set just slightly ahead in time that envisaged future gadgetry and scientific developments. Forty years later I’m living in a world where many of those far-out concepts exist and are taken for granted in our day to day lives – cell phones, the internet, space stations, DNA. I’ve followed and researched scientific developments through the years.

Do you think it’s harder to write a convincing thriller or mystery nowadays? I mean, it’s a pretty short novel if the good guys can track down a crook in three pages, using the Internet and all that scientific technology.

Not at all, more likely the opposite. Criminal elements always find new ways to cheat the technology, or use it to their own ends. A troubling statistic is that cyber crime has been on the increase in many countries. Forensic details can be planted or misinterpreted. In The Delta Chain, a computer virus causes chaos and false trails, creating a whole new set of problems for the protagonists to solve.

Book cover of The Delta Chain by Iain Edward HennThe Delta Chain takes place in the Florida Everglades as well as locales in Australia. You successfully depicted the colloquialisms of both Australian and American characters—no small feat. Have you spent time in the United States?

No, most of my travels have been throughout the South Pacific, though I’ve been friends with and have worked with many American citizens, which helps – all is grist for the writer’s mill after all – but mostly I’ve exhaustively and extensively researched via books, maps, images, first person accounts, discussion, to the point of knowing more about some places than I do my own backyard, LOL.

The swamps of the southeastern United States are a natural setting for The Delta Chain because crocodile/alligator poaching figures into the plot, right from its opening chase scene. Thrillers are supposed to thrill, and it doesn’t get much more thrilling than good guys getting strung up for crocodile bait!

Have to admit, Iain, I already had a vivid mental picture of gator baiting (the legal kind) from watching “Swamp People” on TV. Fascinating, in a terrifying kind of way. Not just the gator action, but the fact that I probably share Acadian ancestors with some of those guys boating around the bayous with shotguns. 🙂

In my Amazon review of The Delta Chain, I joked about the “croc-shock” giving me nightmares. But really, both of your books treat violence and sexual encounters with a degree of restraint and good taste I found refreshing in a genre where “realism” often means ultra-graphic blood and guts, constant profanity, and boom-chicka-wow-wow sex scenes.

I believe in the old adage that “less is more.” Sex, violence, bad language are sometimes necessary in thriller fiction, but that doesn’t mean the reader wants to be totally immersed in them to the detriment of the other elements of the story and the characters – the right balance is essential in all storytelling. Having said that, balance can be difficult. The scenes you refer to are the ones that received the most revision and rewriting and editing in order to strike just the right note.

I think you managed to enhance, not diminish, the suspense and romance by toning down the graphic stuff. Well done!

What else have you written besides The Delta Chain and Disappear?

Short fiction, twenty of so of which have been published in magazines.

Are any of those accessible on the Internet?

No, however they will be featured in an upcoming collection that I’m publishing. Currently I’m working on two collections of short fiction and a new novel.

How do you choose your projects?

They choose me.

Meaning…?

An idea will jump out at me and the more persistent ones will keep on doing that until I pay them some attention.

What idea pestered you into writing The Delta Chain?

A few years ago I read in a local paper about an unsolved case – the body of a drowned man that had been found in a bay, and who remained unidentified after several months. Curiosity led me to research whether there were many cases like this and to my surprise I found there were many from around the world going back, in some cases, decades.

Have you had formal writing training?

Self taught, constantly reading/studying the craft of writing and editing fiction.

Do you have a local or online group of fellow writers who support and critique your work?

That’s something I’d like to develop, it’s ad hoc at the moment.

Book cover of Disappear by Iain Edward HennWhat aspects of writing come naturally to you?

I have a passion for stories. If I’m not looking for them, they find me anyway. I’ve usually got more ideas than I can possibly find the time to work on.

Which aspects of writing do you struggle with?

Finding the time and …pretty much everything, actually.

You and me both. 🙂 Time is always an issue for a writer, especially if you have another job that pays the bills. Do you have a “regular” job?

I’m a print production guy and have worked in ad agencies, newspapers and magazines.

Does that experience help you in your writing career, like cover design or publicity?

No, my work involves organizing print orders, distribution, proofing and other technical details. The magazine world is very different to the book world and in particular to the digital publishing revolution.

Over the years I’ve gone browsing in bookshops most days of the week, looking at covers, watching what people are buying, so that’s probably been more of a help to my own books than anything else.

Your work has received many good reader reviews—at least two of them from me! Any other awards, accolades, or accomplishments?

The Delta Chain was a Quarterfinalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, which partly provided the impetus to publish. And both novels have been on the Amazon UK bestseller lists for over two months.

Any wretched failures you’d care to admit to?

Probably more than I’m aware of, however where does one draw a line between what is success and what is failure? All is perception.

On your deathbed, how will you define/measure your success as a writer?

I don’t define or measure my writing. I’m grateful for any opportunity to write and be read.

Same question about your success as a person?

As above, but with the addition of my marriage and family, which come first.

<applauding> You’re obviously not a self-aggrandizing kind of guy. How do you feel about the necessary task of promoting your writing?

Not my natural habitat, I have to push myself and constantly research new ways of tackling it.

What methods do you use to promote your books?

I’m experimenting with that. Kindle Select Free Promotions have been the most effective coupled with sponsorships on various websites, although the sales results after each free giveaway have varied greatly.

Do you do speaking engagements?

No, I’m fairly private in that regard, but never say never.

Speaking of private matters, I’m always interested in other people’s faith. If willing, tell me about your faith/spiritual philosophy/religion/whatever you call it.

I have a belief in the basic core values expressed by most faiths, but tend toward a more personal spiritual path rather than one of religious dogma. Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. The villains in my novels don’t get that, LOL.

Yeah, villains follow a different Golden Rule: “He who has the gold makes the rules.” Or maybe “To get the gold, you’ve got to break the rules.”  Part of the fun of reading thrillers is anticipating those nogoodniks getting their just deserts.

My books are primarily entertainment, however thriller fiction also serves as cautionary tales of the evil that is our world, and of the struggles and triumphs of the human spirit. People’s actions, responses and relationships are constantly influencing my fictional characters’ motivations.

Please answer the question I haven’t asked but would have if I’d known how interesting the answer would be.

On my first day in my first job, as a teenage despatch boy, I was sent on a foot errand to hand deliver letters in the Sydney CBD (Central Business District). I left the building via a back exit into a small narrow alleyway where I saw the body of a man crumpled on the ground. He had apparently just jumped out of a window in the building behind ours. There were several people pointing above and paramedics already approaching. I watched for a moment then went on my way to perform my trivial task in a bustling, crowded city.

When I returned an hour or so later, the body and all the surrounding activity was gone, there was just a chalk outline on the ground where the body had been.

This was just a couple of weeks before Xmas and I read later that Xmas was the worst time for suicides. I wondered who the man was and what had pushed him to this, and was struck by the irony that everything is very important to us while seemingly insignificant at the same time.

Over forty years later I still think of this from time to time and that chalk outline is often in the back of my mind when I’m telling the stories of my characters’ lives.

What a profound experience for a kid! For anyone, really. Hmmm… That image is going to stick with me for a while, too …

Iain, I really appreciate your sharing some insight into yourself and your writing. Thank you for graciously answering all my nosey questions. 🙂

Readers, to learn more about Iain Edward Henn:
Amazon Author page
Blog: Take It As Read
Twitter: @IainEdwardHenn
Facebook
Watch for Iain’s website, coming later in 2013.

Please leave comments and questions for Iain in a reply below. If you’re a first-time commenter, your comment won’t appear until I approve it, which I am unable to do while sleeping. So please be patient if you live on the “other” side of the globe.

 

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