Thursday, 19 October 2017

A thoroughly modern genre – the eco-thriller

Sue Knight’s second book, Waiting for Gordo, published this year by Fantastic Books Publishing, is billed as an eco-thriller. I’m not entirely sure what that is but I know it doesn’t do justice to the emotional range that this short novel evokes. It’s laugh-out-loud funny in its beautifully observed relationships, but within a paragraph unease has crept up and turned into terror. And all within an incredible landscape.

One reviewer said of the book that it took them right back to the Maldives, and it’s hard to imagine any other setting provided the inspiration and back drop, though the location is never specifically mentioned. I ask about what inspired the setting?

Sue says, ‘It was indeed the Maldives and I am so pleased that was recognised. I did want to convey the beauty of the islands. We had many many dive trips there in our expat days, staying at various small islands. And I wrote and edited quite a bit of it on those trips.’

So what exactly is an eco-thriller?

‘Yes. That is an excellent question,’ says Sue, adding into our live chat interview the line <...looks evasive and tries to change subject...> but she goes on to say, ‘Perhaps because one of the book's main themes is the way we find a paradise destination, go there, in our droves, and in doing so, do we spoil it? And yet we are wanted and needed there. The issue of global warming is touched upon too. But I take no sides politically speaking, and have no political answers to offer.’

I wonder were there things about the Maldives and society there that made her uneasy while she was there or have her misgivings emerged with hindsight? Or indeed are these misgivings entirely fictional?

‘I wouldn't say I had any misgivings really - the tourist islands are very separate from the day to day life of the Maldives and I never even travelled to Male, the main island. My thoughts over the years were mainly about the increasing luxuries tourism requires, and how it weighs with these small isolated islands, so remote and set so low in the beautiful Indian Ocean.’

The story at times is very funny as it charts the different relationships of the group on the island, but there are moments of dreadful unease that become real terror. I ask Sue if she has walked around a remote island at night on her own? And if so, how did it feel?

She thanks me for finding the book both funny and frightening as that was what she was aiming for. ‘Yes,’ she says. ‘I have walked on the islands at night, though not all the way round as my heroine does. It was lovely. And felt safe. I liked the evenings and nights there best of all. There are no cars, no traffic noise, just the sea beating and beating against the island edges. The stars are bright and the air smells of frangipani blossom. I wasn't so keen on Disco/Karaoke night blaring out from the bar at the other end, but that was only one night, and it is what many tourists want. I never felt at all uneasy about walking on my own in the dark there. I enjoyed it. But it is nearly ten years since I was there, and sadly things may have changed, as violence seems to be on the increase everywhere.’

Sue’s first book, a novelette called Till They Dropped, was very different in terms of its setting and characters, yet it had that same edge-of-seat tension and was perhaps giving the same message from a very different angle. I ask if she would agree.

‘Yes, “Till they Dropped” could be described as an eco-thriller I guess, as, many many years ago, I began to wonder about all the shopping malls being built, and whether the world would run out of shoppers. So I decided to write the story of the last shopper left alive, and the deadly danger that would put her in. But that was also about the brave new world we tried so hard to build in the wake of WW2.’

Will there be any more Maldives-inspired books?

‘I don't think so, no. So I hope I have done them justice in this one.’

Undoubtedly, she has. Waiting for Gordo perfectly captures the beauty and remoteness of these small tropical islands.

What is next?

‘I am working on another thriller inspired by my childhood family home and another paradise which was my granny's rambling old house and garden - a fairy tale place for us grandchildren. And I am using a Rebecca-ish theme in that my heroine is the second wife haunted by the memory of the first wife. I even have a Mrs Danvers figure. It is nearly finished. And I hope it is scary, but also funny.’

I for one, can’t wait for the next book, and I’ll leave the last word to Sue who, in response to that genre question again, says, ‘I would like to call it a post-modern version of Rebecca, but the problem with that is that someone might ask me what that means. And the only thing I can think of to say with reference to “post-modern” is that it is a phrase that testifies to the foolishness of calling any movement in art “modern”.’

Follow Sue’s blog HERE

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