CZ: Last time we met, you in Las Vegas you had just released your excellent book The Fine Art of Murder. We were so excited by all the guns and gambling we didn’t think to talk about your very cool past.
T: Yeah, I have been lucky over the years and got to work for some very interesting folks. I spent five years at the legendary Fleetway Comics, publishers of Judge Dredd and 2000AD. I worked on dozens of titles there and developed amongst other things a young adult title called Mystery and Suspense. While it was cool to work there, it was also kind of sad as the British Comics industry was on its last legs.
CZ: How so?
T: Fleetway was bought out by a monster European Entertainment Corporation.
CZ: You also worked for Hard Rock Magazine Metal Hammer.
T: [Laughs] I will never live that one down. The amazing Felix Dennis sold the magazine pretty soon after I left. Felix was a publishing legend and an inspiration. Proof that you can still be a billionaire entrepreneur and a kick ass dissident. Sadly Felix died recently, but his poetry lives on. [Laughs]
CZ: When did you start writing?
T: I have been writing for as long as I can remember and reading too. I read a very wide range of writers from classics like Chandler, to just about every modern crime, mystery and thriller writer you can imagine. I also get a big kick out of literary classics and serious investigative journalism. Writers like Ahmed Rashid rock. I think the trouble with reading so many good writers is that one tends to set the bar very high in terms of personal literary achievement.
CZ: Hence your reputation for pushing barriers?
T: I worked for magazines and newspapers for years. Much of the work was quite dull. I swore that when I started writing for myself, I would write books that had character, backbone and a sense of humor too. Entertaining is a serious business and I treat it as such.
CZ: So you have another genre defying book out. Explain yourself.
T: Conspiracy of Fire is a high-concept thriller. I wanted push my creativity to the limits and offer a very commercial and highly entertaining book that readers would dig because it was so different. I have always been a massive fan of writers like Ian Fleming, who managed to balance a wry pulp sensibility with mass-market appeal.
CZ: This is your seventh book, Most of your other works have been strongly Crime/Mystery centered, how is this one different?
T: I think one of the major things about Crime and Mystery writing is that it shows readers just how bad things can get and then turns that around into a psychologically palatable form that reassures. I think that while a thriller such as Conspiracy of Fire deals with a different structure, the aims are fundamentally the same—murder and redemption, fear of the unknown and the ability of truth and justice to conquer all, despite the odds. I have been a massive fan of thrillers for years and it was always my ambition to write a really good one. I must say I have been disappointed in recent years how jingoistic and repetitive the genre has become. I wanted to kick that into touch and come up with something different.
CZ: How so?
T: I got sick of hearing about square-jawed special-forces loners who had got a political axe to grind. I wanted to develop a more complex and vulnerable character who had strength, integrity and a true moral compass despite the odds. Someone who had humor and decency but who still kicks ass. Someone who is a beacon for justice, freedom, integrity; Someone who supports and stands strong for democracy, but isn’t scared to break the rules when necessary. I think I managed to achieve that in my protagonist Karyn Kane.
CZ: A woman in a man’s world? Isn’t that the other end of the thriller cliché?
T: [Laughs] I think there are very many thriller fans of both sexes who are sick to death of hearing about some dude with his polo shirt tucked into his nomex under-crackers, waxing lyrical about firearms and “suspicious” foreigners with bad personal hygiene. There are exponents of the genre who have taken that stereotype to quite ludicrous extremes. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, there are others who paint their women protagonists as mad and drippy man wannabes, which isn’t very convincing either.
CZ: So tell us about Karyn Kane.
T: The character is in part based on my wife Jeanne, who is an internationally successful commercial Real Estate executive and entrepreneur. I also have a great deal of corporate experience and I wanted to reflect how the struggle against the corporate status quo can affect people of ambition. Karyn Kane, like my wife is a high achiever, like her, she has to deal with a mother who is dying of cancer. Kane is also obsessively dedicated to her work and has a young child who is living with her estranged husband and his feckless new wife. I think anyone who has had a bad divorce will identify very closely with that kind of personal crisis. Then of course there is her day job—Karyn Kane is a deep cover operative for the CIA. She works for the Deep–Five division, who specialize in operations that run outside of the limits of United States Law.
CZ: She sound like quite a gal. What is she up against?
T: Across the world, there is a great deal of anxiety about where the new political and social equilibrium will be. Also, where will the energy to power the future come from? I deal with this directly. Karyn Kane is pitted against a global corporation that has developed a limitless new form of energy production. But the worlds of money politics and power are closely intertwined, as she quickly discovers.
CZ; Politics? Barf. Good luck with that one.
T: [Laughs] We are living in a time where you have to stand up and be counted. Are you going to be part of the problem, or part of the solution? Writers I admire, like Dashiell Hammett and George Orwell understood that. That was in the 1930s and 40s. Well, desperate times are with us once again, and it is my sworn duty as a writer to offer a moral antidote to the horror of it all; something that will inspire and entertain and raise questions amongst anyone who is strong enough to care about anything other than the consume and obey rhetoric that tries to keep us powerless. In America right now there is a political malaise that prefers conspiracy over action. I wanted to draw out that puss-filled conspiracy into the open and offer uplifting and insightful alternatives that offer not only hope, but kick ass entertainment.
Conspiracy of Fire by Tony Bulmer is out now.