George Eccles left London in 1994 to move to Russia and Central Asia during the tumultuous period that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union. His work involved extensive travel throughout Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – often to places with restricted access to foreigners. During his time there, he advised a number of real-life oligarchs how best to take advantage of the opportunities that became available as regulation crumbled and government became increasingly corrupt. Against this background, while his novels are fiction, many of its anecdotes and scenes are based on actual events. George now lives in a hilltop village not far from Cannes in the South of France.
His first novel, The Oligarch: A Thriller received considerable critical success, being awarded a Silver Medal both at the Global E-book Awards 2013 and at the Independent Publishers Book Awards 2013, as well as being selected as IPPY Book of the Day.
His second novel, CORRUPTION OF POWER, is to be published as a paperback and ebook by Peach Publishing: 15 December (Kindle) and 16 December (Paperback).
Thank you Mr Eccles for agreeing to this interview.
How did you think of writing a book? Who inspired you?
I think it was my time in Russia and Central Asia that was the main inspiration. I’ve always been interested in writing, but was too busy with the day job to get around to it. But working in Moscow in the mid to late 90’s, and then some of the Central Asian ‘Stans’ after that, provided me with a wealth of potential stories. It was an exciting time to be in both places. In Russia, Yeltsin was standing on his tank in front of the White House; the oligarchs were acquiring massive chunks of Russia’s major businesses on the cheap from a severely weakened Yeltsin government; turf wars foreshortened the lifespan of numerous chief executives in the oil, banking and natural resources sectors; the Rouble crashed, wiping out the savings of many Russian workers and pensioners; and a relative unknown called Putin suddenly appeared on the political scene. In Central Asia, Turkmenbashi, a former Communist apparatchik, now President, crippled the country with his excesses and eccentricities; Western businesses fled Uzbekistan, sick to death of State and security service interference; and in the courts, judges sized up the weight of their bribes rather than the evidence before coming to their verdicts. Against this background, who wouldn’t want to tell a story?
How do you find time to write?
After I left Central Asia I had a couple of non-executive directorships, but no fulltime job. The NED roles related to companies based in Eastern Russia and Kazkahstan, so there was a fair amount of travelling involved. Nonetheless, there was plenty of time to write – and even the time in Russia and Kazakhstan proved useful as it allowed me to stay current on developments there.
Have you done a formal course in writing or is it natural?
No, I haven’t done a formal course in writing. However, about thirty years ago, I wrote a number of legal books on corporate and employment matters which were published by Tolley’s and Longman, so I got plenty of practice then! Most importantly, these books got me used to the discipline of writing and editing, and taught me a lot about the process of getting from manuscript to final proof.
From both your books, who is your favourite character?
I have to say Alex Leksin, the hero of both books. At his most simple level, he’s a very clever, intuitive troubleshooter with highly developed financial and forensic skills. But, set against this, he’s a man with significant flaws. He’s so driven and success-orientated that he finds personal relationships difficult; he pushes himself physically and mentally to the limits, resorting to artificial stimulants to keep going; without meaning to do so, he always manages to hurt the women he loves; and despite his confident appearance, he is constantly tormented by self-doubt.
Although it’s something you can’t plan for, it fascinated me how my initial concept of his character developed and increased in complexity as I wrote the two books. In the third one, which I’m writing now, we learn a great deal more about his background.
I know it is difficult for an author to choose between his books, but which of the two, is closer to your heart?
The Oligarch was my first, and that will always make it special. That said, Corruption of Power – like many second books – is (in my view) more sophisticated in both style and plotting.
How much say did you have while designing the covers?
My daughter designed the cover for The Oligarch. (She’s not a professional designer, just very talented.)
Peach Publishing designed the cover for Corruption of Power. I discussed it with them at length, then they sent me a first draft on which I commented. Based on my comments, they sent me two alternatives from which to choose. I had a definite idea what I was looking for, but also accepted the need to listen to their advice because they are the experts. I hope you like the end product.
What were the challenges faced while writing the books?
Plotting, first and foremost, given that I write thrillers. The plots are intricate, involving a number of different threads that at some point need to be brought together, and the twists need to be properly set up, otherwise the reader feels cheated. Luckily this is the part of the process I really enjoy most.
Next, discipline. There are always other things I could be doing other than writing, and I have to force myself at times to get on with it – especially if I’m stuck on a difficult passage to write.
Finally, the editing process. I find that it takes me at least as long to get from draft to finished manuscript as it takes me to write the first draft. Editing is hard work, often involving complete rewriting, but it’s absolutely key.
Who is your favourite author? Any author who has influenced your writing?
John Le Carre is undoubtedly the major influence – gosh, he’s good, isn’t he? Plot perfect, word perfect, timing perfect. I tend to read thrillers for preference, and Robert Harris and James Patterson are definite favourites.
What is the next project that you are working on? When is the next book scheduled for release?
I’m working on the third in the Leksin series of thrillers. This time the action alternates between England and Russia and concerns a major business scam.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring authors?
Keep at it, and good luck. Publishing’s a hard world, especially now that publishers are so concentrated and risk-averse. All authors, but especially aspiring ones, need perseverance.
Thank you once again for sharing your thoughts with your readers.
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