For those unfamiliar with your 2010 debut novel, The Devil’s Tears, how would you describe it?
THE DEVIL’S TEARS is the story of the invasion of Portuguese Timor in 1975, or more accurately, it’s the story of Cesar da Silva who tries to get his family out of Timor before the invasion begins.
The main theme of the novel explores the idea of ordinary people living in extraordinary times, of confronting seemingly impossible odds. This has been a constant in my writing because it’s the human face of conflict that really interests me; I am inspired by real families caught up in the chaos of war, forced to act desperately to survive desperate situations.
Could you give us an overview of the process you went through writing The Devil’s Tears?
I have spent a great deal of time in Timor over the years in both a professional and private capacity and it has been a wonderful experience but also quite affecting. The scale of the tragedy that occurred in Timor still horrifies me. In some ways, the process of writing the book was probably a little cathartic. My story is fictitious but several of the characters are composites of real people I know, or knew as sadly not all of them are still with us.
The bio page on your website reads like someone who could be the main character in a military thriller novel. How did you find the shift from working in war zones to being a fulltime novelist?
I have always been gravitating towards a writing career so I have relished the opportunity to make the transition and I feel like my life has now turned in an exciting and eminently fulfilling new direction. I continue to travel quite a bit so there is still an outlet for my more adventurous side. As a matter of fact I have just returned from a visit to Somalia – which was frankly a little more adventurous than I bargained for!
How valuable is first-hand knowledge of locations you use as settings in a novel, and how did this enhance your writing in The Devil’s Tears?
I think it’s of tremendous value to have intimate first-hand knowledge of story settings. I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity of traveling quite widely in my professional life and I have collected a treasure trove of story ideas and precious local knowledge. Mostly, I have had the chance to see the very best, and occasionally the very worst, of human nature. That helped me as a writer because I think that the best stories always derive from the human experience, and that is what I’m looking out for when I travel.
What is one of your favourite movies, and what makes the story work so well for you as a viewer?
I am an avid movie-goer and have many favourites. One movie that resonated with me in particular was BLOOD DIAMOND. I have worked in Sierra Leone and elsewhere in West Africa and so the themes of the movie were very real to me. I greatly enjoyed the cinematic style but even more than that, I loved that the movie braided together some very important social messages with an incredibly compelling storyline. I can’t help but be a little envious of the talent it took to craft that story. It is very simply a terrific film in every sense.
What kinds of fiction do you most enjoy reading, and do you have some favourites?
I am an avid reader. I like all kinds of books, everything from biographies and memoirs, to the classics and popular fiction. Some of my favourite authors of popular fiction are Wilbur Smith, Robert Harris, James Clavell and Jeffrey Archer. Closer to home, I enjoy reading Peter Watt and Tony Park, both of whom are good friends and terrific authors.
What advice would you give for writers working on a debut thriller or adventure novel?
I think the best advice for any aspiring novelist, in any genre, is simply that the three ‘D’s’ will always serve you well: discipline, dedication and determination. Be disciplined in taking the time to write, dedicated to improving your craft, and determined to see your work in print. To paraphrase – and slightly misquote – Hemingway, don’t spend time talking about what you intend to write, just sit down and start writing!
What is next for your fiction writing?
My next novel is the story of Nina Strong, an idealistic American aid worker fighting to stop the Afghan poppy trade, which supplies 90% of the world’s heroin. Nina risks everything to expose the criminals and corrupt officials who are accumulating incredible riches while the rest of the country suffers crippling poverty. Nina meets Aisha Khan, a young Afghan woman struggling to make her way in a country devastated by thirty years of brutal conflict. Like so many other young women, the beautiful Aisha has thrown off the burqa only to find she is still shackled by the heavy chains of culture, custom and tradition. The euphoria following the downfall of the Taliban was short-lived and her beloved Kabul, sitting astride the Silk Road of ancient times, is once again at breaking point as the war lords—and the drug lords—wrestle for control of the city and the nation.
You can read more on Steven Horne and his fiction at www.stevenhorne.com.au.
The Australian Literature Review