Your novel The Magician of Lhasa is a parallel narrative split between the story of a novice monk fleeing Tibet for India in 1959 and a nanotech researcher in 2007. How do you tie such seemingly disparate stories together in the same novel?
The two stories actually have very powerful personal and thematic links. On the personal side, Matt, the researcher, finds himself transferred to Los Angeles and living next door to a Buddhist monk – something that turns out to be less coincidental than first appears. Thematically, the nature of reality described by Buddhism is the same as espoused by quantum scientists since Einstein, a subject explored in the novel – but not in a heavily intellectual way.
The Magician of Lhasa begins:
Zheng-po Monastery – Tibet
I am alone in the sacred stillness of the temple, lighting butter lamps at the Buddha’s feet, when I first realize that something is very wrong.
“Tenzin Dorje!” Startled, I turn to glimpse the spare frame of my teacher, silhouetted briefly at the far door. “My room immediately!”
What tends to make a good story opening, or what is an example one you especially like and what makes it stand out for you as a reader?
This depends so much on the genre of the novel, but when writing suspense I think one needs to grab reader attention from the very first sentence. Like a lot of great short story writers, Somerset Maugham was particularly good at this. The first sentence of The Painted Veil, for example, is ‘She gave a startled cry.’ As a reader you immediately want to know ‘why?’ – and willingly allow yourself to be drawn into the narrative.
You have written a number of non-fiction books on Buddhism. What are some of the skills from Buddhism which have been useful in your fiction writing?
There is a huge appetite among readers for things that are ancient, magical, symbolic and arcane. Unlike Harry Potter, the magic in Tibetan Buddhism doesn’t need to be made up – it’s already there, and provides a natural context for thrillers. Apart from the content, the process of writing requires a high level of non-attachment to outcomes, not to mention patience and perseverance – all qualities we try to develop as Dharma students.
A synopsis on your website for your novel Conflict of Interest begins:
It’s the job offer of a lifetime: £120,000 a year, a top-of-the-range BMW, and the chance to work with charismatic sportswear billionaire Nathan Strauss. But on the very day that Chris Treiger celebrates his new job, Nathan Strauss sends shock waves through the corporate world by falling off the balcony on his ninth-floor hotel suite.
Could you give us an overview of the process you went through writing Conflict of Interest?
That was my first published thriller. The process, though I didn’t realise it at the time, was to work for a PR agency involved in all kinds of ambiguous corporate activities and discover what amazing fodder it provided for suspense. Prior to Conflict of Interest, I had published a non-fiction expose on public relations. My publishers’ lawyers essentially emasculated the book, so I was eager to go out with a no holes barred revelation about the sorts of things that some PR people were up to.
Conflict of Interest is part of a trilogy of thriller novels. What were some of the most important things you considered to make those three novels work well together as a trilogy?
I’d describe it as a series, rather than a trilogy. Each focused on a different element of PR – corporate, celebrity and pharmaceutical or biotech PR.
You were born in what is now Zimbabwe, went to university in South Africa, lived in London for ten years and now live in Perth. How has your personal background helped develop your originality as a fiction writer?
Given the importance of ‘write what you know about’ I feel privileged to have been exposed to a wide range of cultures, experiences and people. I have always been passionate about writing, but when I started out, although I was eager to break into print, I really didn’t have anything original to say. I feel my personal journey has brought me to a place where I do have something to say that’s slightly different from other voices in an extremely noisy marketplace.
What kinds of fiction do you most enjoy reading, and do you have some favourites?
I read very widely, both fiction and non fiction. Everything from Fitzgerald and Hemingway to Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson. I enjoy them all and feel grateful to have near instant access to such a dazzling wealth of talent. My favourites are very personal – I love the way that Peter Godwin writes about my homeland of Zimbabwe and I also find Dominick Dunne’s evocation of wealthy American society since the 80s as spellbinding as Fitzgerald’s was earlier last century.
What advice would you like to give for new writers hoping to get their first novel commercially published?
I guess the same advice everyone gives – get yourself an agent who has an interest in what you’re trying to do. A good way of identifying such people is to read the Acknowledgement sections in novels published in your genre, where agent names are sometimes mentioned.
I also think it’s very important not to get into the ‘I’ll be happy when …’ game, where you think that getting published will make you happy, solve all your problems or earn you a fortune. There is no relationship between being a successfully published author and being happy – believe me, I’ve met a number of such authors who you wouldn’t want to trade places with!
What can readers look forward to in the sequel to The Magician of Lhasa?
The same cast of main characters involved in a stand-alone thriller with settings from the Himalaya region to Lake Como. Like Magician, there is also a science-Dharma theme, this time focusing on how we can more consciously harness the power of our minds to transform our own biology
More on David Michie and his fiction can be found at www.davidmichie.com.
The Australian Literature Review