Scottish author, Ron McMillan - his Bangkok Belle was on the blog yesterday, here - takes a turn in the stocks as I fire a few question in his direction.....
I see from your biography on your website you have had a successful photography career, are you still operating in this field?
Ron: I was really lucky to be a freelance photographer during a golden era, just before digital killed film, and before the Internet smothered the print media. For ten years I was based in Hongkong, and visited on assignment almost everywhere from Afghanistan to Japan. It was a great life that taught me a lot, and gave me a huge stack of memories that I pick from for my fiction.
Any anecdotes from your times spent in China and North Korea? North Korea, what little I know of it, sounds like a real fun place!
Ron: Many of the most vivid memories involve dodging death on wild road trips in places like China and Pakistan and North Korea. I once badgered a North Korean taxi driver to slow down so insistently that he started swinging punches at me. And I was in the back seat at the time. I was young, brash, and had little respect for authority, which meant I was forever getting into sticky situations. It is no exaggeration to say that I lied to men carrying guns in at least a half-dozen countries. For now, at least, only the conceit implicit in setting out to write an autobiography holds me back.
How did you get into writing?
Ron: In 1983 I drifted into South Korea during exciting times. The military regime didn’t know it was on its last legs, and the upcoming 1988 Seoul Olympics were on everyone’s mind. I was able to start freelancing as a photographer and a business journalist for overseas publications simply because I had almost no competition. Massive student demonstrations that threatened the Olympics meant I got photo assignments I didn’t deserve and business magazines were hungry for stories about one of the emergent global economic powerhouses. With a lot of luck and a bit of determination, I got toeholds in photography and writing.
Ron: The publication of my first book, a travel book about the Shetland Islands: BETWEEN WEATHERS, Travels in 21st Century Shetland (Sandstone Press, 2008). I had been dreaming for at least twenty years about having a book published. Up until then attempts with fiction had found no success, so I went back to travel writing and was fortunate to find the fine people at Sandstone Press (www.sandstonepress.com), who put me in print for the first time. Two years later, Sandstone also published my first crime novel, Yin Yang Tattoo.
What’s your typical writing schedule?
Ron: I wish I had one. I write what I can when I’m in the right frame of mind. That can mean early mornings or quiet afternoons or sessions that don’t even begin until after midnight.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
Ron: Not consciously. Almost inevitably, every character is a construct of many people I have known, though I relish building traits from people I dislike into the bad guys in my books.
Ron: I usually set out on a new novel not knowing much more than the beginning and the ending. When I began writing the first Mason & Dixie thriller, Bangkok Cowboy, I had nothing but my two central characters and an opening scene that was based on an actual event that a friend witnessed – a vicious assault on an Australian tourist outside a Bangkok night club. That poor bloke staggered off after being repeatedly kicked by club bouncers, and allegedly died later in his hotel room. In Bangkok Cowboy, my Australian died on the spot, setting off the main plotline.
Are there any subjects off limits?
Ron: The supernatural and politics.
You’ve had two books out so far in your Mason and Dixie Bangkok series, plus one earlier crime thriller – a standalone – Yin Yang Tattoo and some non-fiction. From your books is there one you are more proud of than any of the others? Which and why?
Ron: I always set out with the goal of writing books that I myself would enjoy reading, and that I can still enjoy them, years later, is a small source of pride. As for a favourite, that’s always the next book, the one that’s a work-in-progress.
Regarding Mason and Dixie can you tell us a bit more about your main characters? Where did they spring from?
Ron: When I was in my early teens, my Dad recommended a book at the library, a Travis McGee crime novel, from the wonderful series by John D. MacDonald. McGee was the one of the defining figures of modern crime fiction, and I, along with many others, take inspiration from him. Mason is an ex-British Army veteran of the Afghanistan conflict; he witnessed horrors up close that left him with recurring symptoms of PTSD. After he left the army he took his meagre pension to Bangkok and set up as a private investigator. One of his early Thai clients was a feisty, drop-dead gorgeous transgender woman called Dixie, who was the victim of a porn website hosted by a Middle-Eastern diplomat. After Mason helped sort that out, she became his business partner. They are not romantically involved (though who knows what is to come?), but their friendship and loyalty makes them fiercely protective of one another.
Ron: No gems. One complete crime novel and two others, partly-written. Though none of them will ever see the light of day, they were important parts of a painfully long-drawn-out learning process.
What’s the current project in progress? How’s it going?
Ron: The third in the Mason & Dixie series, tentatively entitled Bangkok Z, is well under way. Zed will be known to those who have read either of the first two books in the series; she’s the hacker who gets on the wrong side of governments and gangsters alike. The main plotline revolves around twin threats to Zed’s safety – from American Federal forces and the Russian mob.
I also have had a screenplay in the making for some time. It is about a Thai blues musician stranded in Scotland after he goes there to be with the Scottish girl he fell in love with on a beach in Thailand. It has generated some very positive feedback, and I still hope to find a director interested in taking it on.
After BETWEEN WEATHERS came out, a film-maker in Scotland asked for a fictional story set in Shetland. I wrote an original storyline that has undergone considerable development over the years. Just yesterday I heard that it could be going into production soon, which might mean I get to spend some time back in Shetland in the coming year. www.BetweenWeathers.com
What’s the best thing about writing?
Ron: The sense of satisfaction in completing a new book, and getting positive feedback from anyone who has enjoyed it.
Ron: My pet hate: the fearless anonymous keyboard warrior who gives a book a one-star review because he ordered it by mistake, or received a copy with a printing error. (I have experienced both).
Who do you read and enjoy?
The Australian (by way of South Africa) crime fiction writer Peter Temple is almost without peer. Craig Russell’s ‘Lennox’ series set in 1950s Glasgow; the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series by Robert Crais; John Harvey’s ‘Resnick’ series set in Nottingham; anything by Stuart Neville, Roddy Doyle, Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, Jorn Lier Horst; the late Henning Mankell and the much-missed Robert B. Parker.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Ron: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin. Quite simply the best book I have read in the last thirty years. Another book I re-read recently that inspired considerable envy was Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith.
Ron: Cycling, watching good TV or film drama, catching up on current affairs on the web.
In a couple of years’ time…
Ron: Writing novels, perhaps another travel book, developing TV documentary ideas with a British TV partner, still working on an entirely speculative TV crime series set in the Scottish isles. And more writing.
Many thanks to Ron for his time, you can catch up with him at his website.
Ron McMillan: www.ronmcmillan.com
BETWEEN WEATHERS: http://amzn.to/2nGsoZA
Yin Yang Tattoo: http://amzn.to/2np1jIE
Bangkok Cowboy: http://amzn.to/2nJIALgBangkok Belle: http://amzn.to/2dmeBR2