Can you tell me about yourself: where you’re from, where you grew up, and what you have done with your life?
I grew up in the slum-lands of 50’s North East England and left school at 15 years of age without any form of qualification. From school I went to work in the local shipyards on the River Tyne. At 19, I went into the merchant navy, drifted, or bobbed, through life until it became pointless, gave it up in favor of working in a quarry in Essex. When I married, I realized my life was plodding along without horizons; it looked bleak. I started studying. After completing O and A levels, I began a degree course and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and computing. The qualification got me a job in the Ford Motor Co. IT dept where I became a project business analyst. I took an early retirement at 50 and that was when I began writing seriously.
How did the idea of the book come to you?
I have relations who lived in ‘The Pale’ (a barren place where the Jewish population was forced to live – think Fiddler on the Roof). They escaped the czarist pogroms in the late 19th century. Some came to England, others to the US and Canada.
Because of them, I looked into Jewish history in Russia and was shocked to learn of the suffering there. But it gave me an idea for a story. However, 19th century Russia didn’t fit. I trawled through Russian/Soviet history until I came to the post-war period. The setting was perfect for me, but I had to take away the protagonist’s Jewish religion. First, to fit in with his military ambitions and also to demonstrate that it isn’t only about religious belief – prejudice is prejudice.
What made you want to become an author?
Being an avid reader, I’ve always had an aggravating yearning to write something serious, I wanted to replicate, or do better, than what I was reading. Of course, when you start, you don’t do it right, but I’m the type of person that can’t leave a thing alone until I feel I have a handle on it. I’m not sure if I intended to write a full length novel, but the learning process became all consuming and here I am.
Is this the only book you’ve written? Do you have others planned?
Birth of an Assassin is a debut novel and is the first in a series. The second episode is complete, but needs a final sweep to smooth it. I’ve also written the third in the cycle, but that needs at least one more draft. The time period of the second book runs in parallel with Birth of an Assassin; this time the setting is in Turkey. As for the third novel, it pulls the previous two together to create a single unit.
What made you want to write about human trafficking, prostitution and organized corruption in Russia?
It was because of one of the episodes I’d learned about early in my research. A child was reported kidnapped, and later found murdered. The czarist state pointed the finger at the Jewish population. Why? To avert a growing hatred from ordinary workers against the fat cats who exploited them. And the state succeeded; pogroms began, culminating in1903at a place called Kishinev. Later, it came to light that the child’s family had been guilty of the murder, but by then the state had achieved its objective: diffusing the worker’s anger. I moved this story to a place in history that fit, the post-war period, but I needed an analogy for the child’s death. That my protagonist was framed for human trafficking and murder because of corruption within the state seemed the perfect conduit.
You enjoyed writing the book, but were there times you found it difficult or harrowing
Yes, of course. My research travelled from 1900 to 1960 and took in too much of the inhumanity practiced between human beings during that time. To feel it as you read it is distressing, whatever color, creed or religion of the people involved.
How important do you think education was for your writing and is it ever too late to learn
I studied the sciences, but it expanded my mind enough that I could embrace other disciplines, so I can’t emphasize how important education is. I think I’m a good example of how it’s never too late to learn, as I was in my early thirties before beginning my degree. I got a reasonable career out of it and now spend more hours writing than I ever did working in harness – and I love it. What more can I say?
Is there any special reason you chose a Jewish protagonist
In the main because of the respect I have for my wife’s family.
Can you give any advice to aspiring writers?
Each time you fall, and you will, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. In other words keep on keeping on.
What books did you enjoy growing up with?
Huckleberry Finn, don’t ask why, but in my mind’s eye I always saw myself in his shoes and my best friend as Tom Sawyer; he was Tom because his family had more money than mine.
Who is your favorite author?
Too many to say, but I do get particularly absorbed reading John Connolly.
What book should everybody read at least once?
Reading is subjective, so one book can’t appeal to all. All I can say is that if a book lives on in your mind, there will come a time that it will be worth reading again.
Set against the backdrop of Soviet, post-war Russia, Birth of an Assassin follows the transformation of Jez Kornfeld from wide-eyed recruit to avenging outlaw. Amidst a murky underworld of flesh-trafficking, prostitution and institutionalized corruption, the elite Jewish soldier is thrown into a world where nothing is what it seems, nobody can be trusted, and everything can be violently torn from him.
Genre - Thriller, Crime, Suspense
Rating – R
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