Spies on Safari

Join AuthorsReading as we delve into the thrilling world of industrial espionage with novelist Oliver Dowson. In this interview, Dowson unveils his latest novel, "Spies On Safari," the exciting sequel to his former novel, "The Repurposed Spy." His new novel takes you into the enchanting but dangerous jungles of Africa as Dowson's unique storytelling immerses you in a world of intrigue and adventure.

We are glad to have a chance to work with Oliver Dowson. He is the author of a Spies series, which we’ll discuss today, and then we'll get to know Oliver better.

Oliver, what got you involved in this lonely and often unrewarding profession of writing?
The pandemic! I officially retired in 2015, but then created an international consultancy business to keep me busy. It wasn't as successful as I hoped, and the forced termination in March 2020 initially came as something of a relief. However, I needed something to do! When I was working, I used to come back from overseas business trips and regale my colleagues with anecdotes about what had happened to me. Many of them told me I should write a book. I knew that most of them were just indulging me, but the lockdown decided me to sit down and do just that! The result, 'There’s No Business Like International Business', which I like to describe as a light-hearted travelogue, was published in March 2022. I enjoyed writing so much that I turned my hand to fiction.

How long have you been writing, or when did you start?
I've been writing something or another since I was in high school, where I edited the school magazine. Even before I was 20, I went on to do a one-year stint as the first full-time editor of a UK student newspaper, Felix for Imperial College and SENNET for the University of London Union. After that, throughout my business career, I wrote trade literature, articles, technical specs…

What did you do before becoming an author?
I started a business providing consultancy, software and data management services for energy and environmental management to multi-national companies. We were well ahead of the curve, starting in 1979! That business grew to be a small multi-national itself, with 13 offices in 9 countries. I and my colleagues sold that to a US company in 2014, and I stayed another year after that to help the transition.

Do you outline your book before you start writing the real story, or do you just let your imagination take you to wherever it takes you?
For the Spies series, I just start with an idea and a geography – for example, The Repurposed Spy is set in Latin American countries, Spies on Safari in Africa. For the first 20,000 words or so - about a quarter of the finished book - I just let my imagination rip. Then I stop and put down all the ideas that have occurred to me along the way and plot the rest. That said, none of the books so far have actually ended exactly as planned!

How many books have you written, and what are they about?
So far three - the travelogue I mentioned before, and two 'thrillers', The Repurposed Spy and Spies on Safari. I didn’t write The Repurposed Spy expecting it to become the first in a series, but then it sort of naturally evolved. This series is about industrial espionage - yes, they're spies, but they don’t work for the CIA or MI6 or KGB, and the books are set in the present. Industrial espionage is going on all around us, and most readers will have unwittingly been somewhere where it's been going on.

How many more books are planned for your Spy Series?
I don't have any number in mind. I’m part-way through writing the third, Spies on the Silk Road, which is set in the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and I have the concept in mind for a fourth which will be set in Myanmar and China. I like setting books in places I've been and know something about, but I've travelled to about 150 countries, so there’s quite a lot of the world for my spies still to cover!

What is the official name of your series? Is it The Repurposed Spies Series? OR?
When it became a series, I had to give it a name! In the end, I settled on ‘The Repurposed Spies' as all the characters, not just my initial protagonist Ronald Jones, have been repurposed in one way or another.

Do you use your author’s platform to bring attention to social issues?
No, because I think it's best to avoid politics. Find me in a bar, buy me a glass of wine and I'll put the world to rights for you, but I don’t think it's right to publish my own opinions. In my world, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, politics and religion, and if they’re happy with that and we can all leave peacefully together, that's what I want!

Do you find writing therapeutic?
Most definitely. For me, it's a hobby. If an idea occurs to me and I've got an hour with nothing better to do, I'll sit and write. Often that hour will spread into two or three. Writing it down clears the mind and creates inner calm. For me, anyway!

What's your favorite and least favorite part of publishing?
The favourite part is the actual publishing, turning typescript into a printed book. I thoroughly enjoy getting feedback from my beta readers, practical suggestions from my developmental editor, and corrections to all the minor issues from my copy editor. My least favorite is marketing. Although I'm probably much more into it than most self-published authors, since most of the techniques are the same as I had to use in my business career, a lot of it is unrewarding -or, rather, take so long to come, it's easy to get demotivated.

Let's talk a bit about your book "Spies on Safari." What is it about?
The title says it all, or most of it. A team of somewhat unlikely agents is sent to a remote part of Africa, where Botswana borders Namibia, in search of illegal mining activity, invisible from aerial photos - a mission funded by a businessman who is not all he seems. What they find is not what they were told to look for – but nevertheless proves to be the fulfilment of the mission. They knew they had to be prepared for crocodiles, lions and other wild animals – but meet other unexpected threats to their lives.

What inspired the idea for your book?
My own travel experiences. Since I started writing novels, I found that when I travelled, I began to speculate about my fellow travellers – were they really the tourists or business people they claimed to be, or were they under cover on some secret mission? Right now I’m in a hotel and I'm beginning to have strong suspicions about a French couple sitting at the next table...

Was it your plan from the beginning to cast your book with some comical characters and comical scenes?
Yes, indeed. Well, not deliberately comical, but some people who incite amusement and some incongruous situations. I'd like my books to be entertaining, not deadly serious all the time.

How did you come up with the title for your book?
That was the easiest part! It was about spies, they went on safari, and the alliteration 'Spies on Safari' appealed to me.

What was your hardest scene to write, and why?
The main action sequence. I tend not to like books or films with gratuitous violence or unnecessary fights; I wanted the scene to be credible in relation to the characters involved. I did a little research, looked at a few videos online, found one that I liked and turned the action there into prose.

What part of the book was the most fun to write?
Resurrecting Ronald Jones, the protagonist and anti-hero of the first book, 'The Repurposed Spy.'  Some critics, thinking that I had killed him off, complained that there couldn't be a sequel. I took great pleasure in proving that indeed there could, and Ronald Jones lives!

What is a significant way your book has changed since the first draft?
The action scenes that come about two-thirds of the way through. In the first draft, I just couldn’t think of how to handle them. I hit what’s called "writer’s block."  So I decided just to leave a place marker and carry on to the end, then go back and put it in.

What perspectives or beliefs have you challenged with this work?
I hope that I've challenged the belief that spy novel = (cold war OR middle east) + CIA/KGB/MI6. Compared to governmental spying, the amount of industrial espionage that goes on is massive, and most people never think about it, even if it is happening right under their noses. Companies that pay "covert researchers" to discover plans, formulas and advance information. Yet there aren't many authors writing novels about it.

How would you describe your book’s ideal reader?
Anyone who enjoys a novel with mystery and the occasional thrill, about scenarios that are unlikely but just about credible. To market the book, I have to select one of a list of standard genres - and it's awfully difficult. So whilst it's classified as 'Thriller/Espionage,' people who would never pick up a spy novel or thriller find it really enjoyable. If anyone has better ideas for how to classify my books, please tell me!

What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
I suppose writing about situations that I haven’t experienced myself and making the dialogue convincing. What does a nasty individual threatening another's life actually say? The same cliches as they use in films? I doubt it…

How long did it take you to write this book?
I wrote the first draft over about four months. The next three months or more were spent on editing, working with two experts who have become good friends who act as beta readers and editors.

What would you say to an author who wanted to design their own cover?
Don’t, unless of course you’re an artist, done it before and won awards for it! I believe in using professionals for cover design, editing and even typesetting.

At what stage (or Stages) of your life have you done most of your writing, and why is that?
In my youth and again now in the last few years – between that, although I write stuff all the time, it was from business necessity.

What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?
Only write fiction if you enjoy writing, have a really good story to tell, can construct grammatical sentences naturally and don’t need to make money from it. Ignore all the stuff you'll see on social media about making a career out of writing and scheduling your life around it - the chances of even a good writer of books in the most popular genres earning a living wage from their books is a million to one.

What other advice do you have for new writers?
It can be an expensive hobby. Spend wisely. Don’t be afraid to contact other self-published authors for their advice (but don’t be surprised if many of those you contact don’t help).
There is nothing more important than genuine reader reviews. Even average or bad ones! Books without reviews don’t sell and there's no point in advertising them. It's the holy grail and sometimes just as difficult to reach!

Is there anything else you would like to add to the Interview?
If you're after an entertaining and different read, please do buy 'The Repurposed Spy' and/or 'Spies on Safari,' regardless of the genre you might usually look for. If you don't enjoy it and you write and tell me why with proof of purchase, I'll personally reimburse you. Can I say fairer than that?

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