AN EMPTY COAST | REVIEW & INTERVIEW WITH TONY PARK

Ooooooh oooooh – this looks great, I love my Matthew Reilly and from Kernel Fi’s review I am going to love Tony Park. AN EMPTY COAST is Tony Park’s latest novel and is out now from the peeps at Pan Macmillan – I pass on huge thanks to the Pan folks for getting us the opportunity for Kernel Fi to interview the scribe himself. AN EMPTY COAST is available from all bookstores or you can grab it from HERE. Now as this article contains the interview and the review it is quite long, but a wonderful read as usual, so enough from me, enjoy Fi’s article………..all the best……………JK.

BY FIONA FYFE

Australian author Tony Park divides his time between Sydney and South Africa where he owns a home bordering Kruger National Park. His career has seen him working as a journalist, a government press secretary, a PR consultant and a freelance writer. He is a major in the Australian Army Reserve and served six months in Afghanistan in 2002. AN EMPTY COAST is Tony’s twelfth novel. Spanning the globe from Vietnam to Africa it’s non-stop action from go to whoa.

Described by The Canberra Times as “one of our best and most consistent thriller writers”, he has been likened to such names as David Baldacci and Ken Follett. I find his style rather more like Wilbur Smith and no less intriguing. It’s probably safe to say that until his death in 2012, my ninety six year old grandfather had read most of Smith’s work and made numerous attempts to procure my interest in these tales of adventure and espionage. I can now say with confidence that Mr Park has reeled me in with this character-driven thriller and I can’t wait to go back for more.

At first glance, the book appears to be directed at a certain macho market that prefers their reading material to be laced with a lot of blood, action and shoot-outs. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to discover that while AN EMPTY COAST certainly contains these boyish elements, it also includes three very strong female characters.

Protagonist, Sonja Kurtz is a former soldier and mercenary, supposedly retired from that lifestyle. While carrying out a revenge operation in Vietnam, she receives a message from her daughter Emma, a student archaeologist who is working on a dig site in Namibia. Emma has discovered the body of an airman whose remains date back to Namibia’s war of liberation in the 1980’s. The body in the desert (initially identified as Hudson Brand) is an important key in the location of a missing plane and a cargo of treasure. A treasure that is so valuable, people are prepared to kill for it.

When Sonja returns to her homeland to find Emma, she realises that her daughter has disappeared, along with her fellow archaeology students and eminent Professor, Dorset Sutton. Meanwhile, former CIA agent Hudson Brand is actually alive and well and he too is recalled to Namibia to finally piece together a puzzle whose many secrets lay in an empty corner of the Etosha National Park. What starts out as a missing girl and a lost plane soon turns into a gripping race against time.

 

an empty coast book cover image
An Empty Coast | Tony Park | Salty Popcorn Review and Author Interview | Book Cover Image

 

As a fan of Indiana Jones and with a love of a “good” villain, I felt like I had skidded to a halt at the end of this book, almost out of breath. There is something distinctly Bondesque about the baddies in AN EMPTY COAST and heroes who can still manage a cheesy, sarcastic quip in the face of extreme danger. This is only part of its appeal. There are a whole host of characters in this book with a myriad of emotional and psychological issues. While that might sound like a downer, it actually adds a certain spice and verve to the individuals that lend the story a greater depth than your run of the mill thriller.

Married with the dysfunctionality of the personalities is a complex commentary on the bloody history of Namibia, Angola and South Africa and the colonial powers that shaped these countries. Park provides a casual but intelligent background to the major players – UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola) and SWAPO (South West African People’s Organisation) are explored effectively. He goes further still by incorporating details of the German occupation of Namibia and drawing so intensely the curious character of Hudson Brand – a former CIA agent.

Clearly Tony Park’s South African haven has resulted in the development of a great reverence for Africa, its wildlife and the beauty of its landscape. His depictions of the topography and game are nothing short of breathtaking and thought provoking. Until now I was unaware of the terrible poaching of African animals by Asian crime syndicates and the trafficking of rhino horn and elephant tusk. Nor was I familiar with the billions of dollars that these items fetch.

Although Park has created an action-packed page turner that one can fully imagine on the big screen, he has meticulously researched innumerable background concerns that cover the gambit of social and political subjects. His characters have the added bonus of wearing a number of facades or masks so that the reader soon realises that no one is as they seem at first blush. As a boy from the western suburbs of Sydney, Tony Park has established himself as one of our most exciting literary exports. Grandy would have loved his work.

AN INTERVIEW WITH TONY PARK:

Dear Tony,

I so enjoyed An Empty Coast that I have been inspired to go and read your other novels. Admittedly this genre is not something I would normally prefer – probably because I have regarded action/thrillers largely as “boy’s books” – but you have definitely hooked me in and I was pleasantly surprised to discover interesting female characters in this book. It was also really satisfying to meet the other characters who are so well drawn. I found that whether you liked or despised the characters in this book, they were all curious.

Your depiction of southern Africa, in particular, Namibia, is quite beautiful. I have cousins who live in South Africa and as a child I was always delighted and enthralled by their descriptions of life in Africa and the treasures they would bring when they visited Australia. I found your descriptions of the African landscape and topography both vivid and passionate.

I enclose a series of interview questions for your attention.

Kind Regards,

Fiona Fyfe

Salty Popcorn

 

Hi Fiona, Tony here!

Thanks so much for your kind words about the book and for your feedback – much appreciated! As you’ll see from my answers below I was pleasantly surprised to find early on in my writing career that probably the majority of my readers are women! (I, too, thought I was writing books for boys!).

Anyway, hope you enjoy the other books!

Cheers

Tony

 

tony park author image
An Empty Coast | Tony Park | Salty Popcorn Review and Author Interview | Author Image: Photo credit – Annelien Oberholzer

 

  1. There are three very strong female characters in the book – Sonja and Emma Kurtz and Irina Aleksandrova – did you have anyone in mind when you created these characters?

I didn’t have anyone in mind for any of the characters, though I bounced my idea to have a female lead, Sonja, off my publicist from Pan Macmillan at the time I was contemplating writing ‘The Delta’, the prequel to ‘An Empty Coast. I asked the publicist what she thought Sonja should look like and she said, ‘auburn haired, blue-eyed, with a swimmer’s build’. I used that and someone later remarked that my publicist was describing herself!

I think that when I started writing my books I thought I was writing books for guys. However, as time went on I discovered that probably the majority of my readers are women. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to experiment with a female lead in ‘The Delta’ and why I wanted to bring her back.

 

  1. Sonja, in particular, is a tough customer and an interesting choice as a protagonist. I note she has featured in one of your previous books – The Delta – are there any plans to revisit Sonja in a future novel?

I’ve avoided writing a series of novels, though I have brought back the odd character from time to time. I really enjoyed writing ‘The Delta’, because of Sonja and I’d been tempted for a while to bring her back. I actually used social media – facebook – to test the waters with my readers. I put up a post asking people if they’d be interested in seeing Sonja return. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many repliese – all positive – to a facebook post prior to or since! I’d definitely consider bringing her back.

 

  1. On a number of occasions, Emma the student archaeologist plays detective (the bullet casing, the spent fire extinguisher) and does an admirable job of piecing together the mystery of the Dakota, yet it is Hudson Brand who is the private investigator. Is there an important comparison to be made between the two and perhaps a further nod at capable women?

Emma finds herself in danger and has to think for herself and I think she’s inherited from her mother a no-nonsense approach to life and a sense of independence. Neither of them is good at playing the damsel in distress – they take charge of their own fates.

 

  1. Both Sonja Kurtz and Hudson Brand appear to be suffering from varying degrees of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of their occupations; did you particularly want to explore the symptoms of this disorder when you started writing the book?

I’ve co-written a non fiction book, Walking Wounded, about military veterans of Afghanistan with physical and mental injuries. Many of these guys have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, so I’ve gained some knowledge of the condition.   Sonja and Hudson have certainly been in situations that could have seen them develop PTSD. I have tried to make them as realistic as possible.

 

  1. When Emma finds herself in trouble during the search for the missing plane, she contemplates her hitherto poor relationship with Sonja and yet finds herself wondering more than once, what action her mother would take in the same situation? Do you think their dysfunctional relationship is typical of many mother/daughter connections or is it simply the case that Sonja is an exceptionally unusual parent and emotionally thwarted?

I don’t have children of my own, but Emma and Sonja’s relationship, particularly when Emma was younger during the ‘The Delta’, was no a million miles away from the relationships I’ve observed between some of my female friends and their daughters! In one sense they’re a normal mother-daughter, but they had the added complications of Sonja being a sole parent whose work took her away from Emma for prolonged periods during Emma’s youth. Sonja’s carrying some guilt about that and Emma had a lot of resentment. The two of them become closer in ‘An Empty Coast’ though.

 

  1. Irina Aleksandrova reminded me of an old school Bond-type villain. Was this your intention?

I hadn’t thought about that, but it’s not a bad observation! I love the Bond movies so the influence could very well have come from them. Like Sonja she doesn’t rely on men to do her dirty work – she quite enjoys doing it herself.

 

  1. Although essentially falling into the Action/Thriller genre, did you hope to raise awareness amongst your readership about the trafficking of rhino horn and elephant tusks and the poaching of wildlife?

I don’t want to use my books as a soapbox, but I do feel very strongly about the illegal trade in wildlife products and poaching. Unfortunately it’s a very real and prominent issue in southern Africa today, so it fits in a thriller. If people gain a better understanding of the issue by reading my novels then I’m happy with that.

 

  1. Stirling Smith and Sam Chapman are both wildlife warriors and depicted as law-abiding and honourable. Is it an unfortunate coincidence that Sam’s story arc and to a lesser extent Stirling’s, are somewhat tragic given that they are focused on conservation and the protection of African animals?

Sam and Stirling have both made sacrifices in the name of their love of wildlife. It’s almost as if animals are more important to them as people in some respects – particularly with Stirling – and I do know people like that in Africa. In that sense, I think they’re realistic, if tragic.

 

  1. There are two lawyers in the book – Matthew Allchurch and Sebastian Lord. The men couldn’t be more different in terms of morality. Was this comparison intended to illustrate that greed can corrupt people from all stratums of society? As a former lawyer myself, I particularly liked seeing a lawyer (Allchurch) portrayed as a “good guy” for a change.

That’s a good observation. I’d love to say that I intended that! What concerns me in relation to the trad in rhino horn is that this stuff (while useless in terms of its perceived value in traditional medicine) is so valuable that it can corrupt good people. I have heard of vets, national parks rangers and police officers who have been corrupted by greed for this trade, so it’s certainly understandable that a lawyer could be. Matthew is a grieving father and an honourable man, and I think, also, a credit to his (and your former) profession.

 

  1. You have had a very interesting and somewhat diverse career – how much did you draw on from your experiences as a government press secretary, your role in the Australian Army Reserve and your time spent in Afghanistan?

I think the old adage of ‘write about what you know’ is a good one. I didn’t serve on the front line in Afghanistan, but I have friends who did. I think your life experience, whatever it is, is helpful when writing fiction – whether that’s about war zones or relationships, it all helps.

 

  1. Would you agree that many of the book’s characters are emotionally dysfunctional? From Alex Bahler and Natangwe to Hudson Brand and Sonja Kurtz?

Oh yes, definitely! I think ‘normal’ well adjusted people are not only a relative rarity in life (most of us have some baggage), they’d also be a bit boring in a thriller. I have a friend who is a psychotherapist and she helps me analyse and round out my characters while I write them. I want my characters to be sympathetic, and I like to find ways for them to help themselves during the story.

 

  1. There is certainly a theme running through the novel regarding parental love – Sonja’s search for Emma and Matthew’s search for Gareth. Do the lioness and her cubs serve as an animal kingdom illustration of this relationship also?

Yes, they do. The lioness who pops up throughout the book is one of Namibia’s rare desert lions. She’s a hunter, like Sonja, who does whatever it takes to provide for her young and keep them safe.

 

  1. The novel’s sex scenes are not the gentle kind. Did you feel this was apt given the raw nature of the characters and the situation they found themselves in?

Sex for Sonja is ‘survival sex’, a raw, instinctual act that comes in the wake of a near death experience. I’ve watched lions mating in the wild many times and it’s often the lioness who initiates contact, with claws extended – cue Sonja!

 

  1. I was intrigued by your procedure of choosing names for characters by handing the task over to a number of charities. Did you write some of the characters “around” the names or did the names seem to immediately suit your existing characters?

Actually, no. I write the manuscript using names I just pluck from thin air and later, as the book reaches maturity, I’m typically attending charity fund raisers where people bid to have their names used at auction. I then have to assign the names to characters I think would fit with them. It’s not always easy, but it is fun.

 

  1. You seem to explore the idea of facades and identities in that many of the characters are not what they seem at first blush. Would you say this device was a clever way to include red herrings?

I don’t have a plot when I start writing book and I don’t know who the characters are, either. They reveal themselves to me while writing and more often than not I don’t even know if a character is going to end up ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I figure that if I don’t know who the hidden villain is then hopefully my readers won’t either!

 

  1. Your descriptions of Africa’s wildlife and landscape are quite breathtaking. Do you feel that an appreciation and understanding of those aspects of Africa is an important and necessary contrast with the political struggles and bloodshed?

The last thing I want to do is turn people off visiting Africa because of the gunplay and other mayhem that I write into my novels. I love to showcase the beauty of the continent and its wildlife. That’s what keeps me going back, and why I choose to spend half my life on the continent. There are success stories in Africa, even in the area of wildlife conservation. For example, there are 10 times as many desert lions in Namibia today than there were 18 years ago, and that’s something any country would be proud of.

 

  1. The book contains all the exciting elements needed for a movie adaptation – action, shoot-outs, political intrigue, spies, buried treasure, love scenes, heroes and villains. Can you envisage the novel being adapted to the big screen?

Oh, yes please! I’d love to see this movie or any of my other books turned into a movie. I may be biased, but I think Sonja the hard bitten female mercenary and single mum would be a great movie character!

 

4 and a Half Pops

 

 

Kernel Fiona was a criminal defence lawyer in a former life and now critiques books and writes short stories. She can’t resist spending large tracts of time in libraries, book shops and at writer’s festivals. Hopelessly in love with the written word, she told JK when applying for a writing position that “I would rather read then breathe” – I knew I had my next reviewer right then. You can catch her and her tweets at @FionaJayneFyfe1