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Wednesday 5 November 2014

Linda Davis


Lizzie Hayes talks with Linda Davis

Linda Davis is a British author of  financial thrillers. 
Linda read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at St Edmund Hall, Oxford,
graduating in 1985, then worked for seven years as an investment banker in
New York City, London and Eastern Europe.
Inspired by her City career, she left to write her first novel,
Nest of Vipers. She spent three years living in Peru, and then moved to London with her husband, merchant banker Rupert Wise, 
and their two sons, Hugh and Tommy. 
In 2005, when she and her husband went sailing in the Persian Gulf, they were intercepted by two Iranian gunboats and taken to Iran where they were held prisoner for 13 days.
Linda has written of her experiences in her new book entitled
she now lives in Dubai with her husband,
her two sons, and her daughter Lara.

Lizzie: You have just released your latest book, Ark Storm. Can you tell us about this book. and where the storyline came from?
Linda: What if you could control the weather…?
Some years ago, I lived in Peru.  Every so often I would escape the mayhem of Lima for Punta Sal, a little fishing village on the border with Ecuador. Hemingway used to fish there for Marlin. Framed photographs of him grinning beside his huge catches adorn the walls of the ramshackle bars. 
I went not to fish but to swim in the sea, body surfing the huge Pacific rollers.  Normally you could only stay in for ten or fifteen minutes without a wetsuit because the Humboldt Current kept the waters cold, but one Christmas, the waters were balmy!  I stayed in for two hours, marveling at the difference. El Nino had come, bringing with it warm waters.  That’s where it is first felt, in the seas off that remote and under-populated border.  Typically, the Nino phenomenon is felt around Christmas time and hence acquired its name – El Nino – the Christ Child.

The fishermen’s children, playing in the unusually warm waters, knew El Nino had come.  As did I.  But none of the world's media seemed to have picked up this event, and did not do so for months. It made me think, what if you had a superior weather prediction system to the competition? You could make out like a bandit using weather planted the seeds of a novel.  It was a good idea, but not the big idea.

As a thriller writer, I'm always on the lookout for a real-life factual nugget around which I can spin a tale. Then I got two really big ones, and they collided. 

I read an article in the newspaper about something called ARk Storm 1000 -  a catastrophic weather event where Biblical rains fall on the West coast of the United States and create more devastation that the feared ‘mega-quake’. 

And then I experienced at first hand the effects of a new technology which can make it rain.

I thought what if this technology were to fall into the wrong hands… what if somebody decided to use it to ramp up an ordinary atmospheric river storm into the ARk Storm 1000?

I needed someone who could understand and explain the science and so I invented her – my big-wave surfing meteorologist heroine - Dr Gwen Boudain.  It is from her point of view that I frame the novel.  Her interactions with journalist and former Navy SEAL, Dan Jacobsen, push that narrative along in a number of interesting directions.

So back to the science…ARk Storms take their name from “Atmospheric Rivers.” Most people looking up on a clear day would never think that just a few miles above their heads a huge ribbon of moist air hundreds of kilometers wide and over two thousand long could be coursing through the atmosphere at speeds in excess of 12.5 meters a second.

Small atmospheric river storms hit around the world every year.  But every so often, a monster emerges. In California they are preparing for the next one. A team of 117 scientists, engineers, public policy and insurance experts under the umbrella of the Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project worked for two years to create the hypothetical scenario of what such a storm could be and what damage it would wreak across the state of California.  In an ARk Storm 1000 scenario, this river, described by the head of the ARk Storm Unit as “like Forty Mississippis,” races from the tropics toward the west coast of the US, then hits, and keeps on hitting. The Storm Door opens and fails to close. Rain falls in feet instead of inches. There would be major landslides across the state, 1.5 million people would need to be evacuated out, 9 million homes would be flooded and damage would be up to $1 trillion.   This is a storm so intense it has been described as “like Hurricane Katrina pushed through a keyhole.”

Major ARk Storms have hit California on a regular basis, roughly every two hundred years. The last huge one was in 1861–62 when it rained continuously for forty-five consecutive days. Witnesses describe a “flying river” washing away livestock and humans. That storm turned the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys into a lake.  And bankrupted the state. And it gets worse. . . . The geological record shows six megastorms more severe than 1861–1862 hit in California in the last 1800 years.  History suggests the next one is due… 

That in itself is fascinating enough, but then I stumbled onto the technology where rain can be created.

It was the summer of 2010.  I was living in Dubai.  I read that dramatically heavy rains were falling in the deserts of neighbouring El Ain in the United Arab Emirates.  The historical average number of rainfall events for June through September is 2.  The National Weather Service forecast zero rain events over that period.  But it did rain. On 52 separate occasions.    And it hailed and galed and thundered.  It made the international news.  There were rumors of masts in the desert, of scientists and computer models.  It sounded like something out of a James Bond movie.  And then I read an article which explained what had been going on.

It was the work of scientists.  Technicians were mounting ionizers on masts, producing electrons which attached to dust particles in the atmosphere. These dust particles rose by convection till they reached the right height for cloud formation where they attracted water molecules floating in the air which then started to condense around them.  Billions of droplets of rain formed and fell…

So far, so Bondian.  Then I heard about the latest twist where the ionisers are sent up on drones… Which made me think of terrorists…

And I had myself a novel.   It had all the things I love to write about, science, terrorism, financial shenanigans counterterrorism and in the midst of it a wonderful heroine.

Welcome to Ark Storm

Lizzie: Ark Storm is your eleventh book. As you know, I am a long time fan, having read Nest of Vipers when it was first released in 1994 and being knocked out by it.  But Into the Fire was a departure from the world of high finance.  Having read the book it is clear that you fell in love with Peru. Is this what prompted this change of direction?
Linda: Thanks Lizzie!  I loved Nest of Vipers too – writing it brought me an escape, metaphorical and literal, from my job as an investment banker.  I’ve just released a twentieth anniversary edition with a preface where I attempt to analyse the major events in the past twenty years in the financial world – mad thing to try and do but interesting.

Re Peru and Into the Fire, I have been lucky enough to live in some amazing places, all of which have inspired me to write novels: New York for a year, Peru for three years, then, the Middle East for nine years.  Peru was a novelist's dream: beautiful, mysterious, riven through with ancient tensions and modern conflicts between the narco-trafficantes, narco-terrorists and the men and women who are supposed to hunt them.  Their intelligence service is known as SIN: the Servicio Intelligencia National!  In Into the fire I could explore all of that.  The hidden worlds I discovered were so fascinating I had to write about them.

Lizzie: Your books have strong characters, ie Sarah Jenson, who appears in Nest of Vipers and Something Wild. Are your characters purely imagination or based on people you know, or have a met or an amalgam of both?
Linda: I love creating strong female central characters.  I throw them into extreme situations to test their strength, I believe you can reveal huge amounts of character and indeed create new aspects of your own or a fictional character by hurling yourself or them into extreme situations.  That interests me as an amateur psychologist and I know readers respond to my strong heroines.  You know it's strange but I'm not exactly sure where my heroines come from. They seem to pop into my head entirely fully formed.  The heroines and the plot seemed to bounce off each other and mould each other in my subconscious so that when I sit down to plan I have a very strong idea of them. They do evolve during the course of my writing but they are very much their own people from the outset.
Lizzie: In 2005, you were living happily in Dubai with your family
. You and your husband went sailing on a maiden voyage of your new catamaran in the Persian Gulf and were intercepted by two Iranian gunboats and taken to Iran where you were held prisoner for 13 days. You were finally released on 11 November 2005 after secret efforts by the British Foreign Office and the Australian Government. Are you able to tell us about this horrendous experience?
Linda: I have written about it in my book Hostage which has just been released.  I tell the story of our kidnap at sea and near-execution and what subsequently happened but I also reveal what happened psychologically. Thankfully, it's not often in life that we are confronted with the big questions: what it means to be alive; the value of freedom; what keeps us strong when things really go wrong; what makes us happy; who and what matters to us; what do we want out of life...  But we were faced with those questions and in the moments when we weren’t subject to fear and terror we really had time to think.  This is obviously a very personal book, written from the heart as well as the head and so although I did weep buckets when I was writing it I am very glad that I did. It’s weird though.  It was as if I suddenly found myself walking into the pages of one of my novels.  On another note, looking back, I also found the experience very interesting from a political perspective: having been interrogated by multiple ministries in multiple different locations I got a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the Iranian regime and the people within it.  I feel I understand a lot better now what makes them tick.

Lizzie: Did you always want to write crime novels, or was it prompted by a desire to record your experiences?
Linda: I've always been attracted to excitement, adrenaline, mystery.  Thrillers and crime novels have all of those.  When I was a little girl I used to write stories and they were all adventures and who-done-its of some kind.  Also, my experiences as an investment banker working in New York, Eastern Europe and in London did expose me to a fair amount of nefarious goings-on.  Let's just say that crime was not an unfamiliar habitat!

Lizzie: Do you plan your plots before you start writing?  And, if so, do your books change during the writing process, or do they pan out exactly as you originally planned?
Linda: I think with complex thrillers you really do need to plan the major turning points of the plot in advance although it's always great to enjoy the surprises and discover subplots that evolve as you are writing.  I go on long walks with my dogs and dictate ideas into my phone.  When I get home I type them up into some semblance of order.  I might not look at them again but by that stage they are firmly embedded in my head.  I do multiple drafts normally between 10 and 12. The first three or four all work on getting the plot cracking along. Subsequent drafts deepen the characterisation and hopefully improve the quality of the writing.

Lizzie: What do you think your readers come away with after reading one of your books?
Linda: I have always sought refuge and entertainment in reading books. And I aim to give readers hours of complete escapism and entertainment when they read my books. I do like inspirational heroines. They are all flawed, they all face their own challenges but they are inspiring too. I have to live with them for a year or two as I'm writing the books and I have to find them deeply appealing. They are action women, they are risk takers, many of them making their way in what used to be typical male domains whether it’s investment banking or the intelligence services. They have great physical skills - my heroine in Ark Storm is a big wave surfer; my heroine in Into the Fire is an Aikido blackbelt.  Sarah Jensen in Nest of Vipers and Something Wild is a highly skilled assessor of risk in the financial markets, not so much in her own private life though! The other thing I aim to do in all my books is to weave into the fiction a large factual content so that I am taking the readers into hidden worlds whether it be behind-the-scenes in an investment bank, deep in the jungles of Peru where I spent a lot of time during the three years I lived there, or into the fascinating science behind atmospheric river storms and weather manipulation technology in Ark Storm or into the mindset of a regime which is commonly regarded in popular demonology as the evil Empire in Hostage.

Lizzie: When embarking on a new book, what area of the book challenges you the most?
Linda: I always find dialogue the most challenging part of the book.  But, interestingly, I have just written the first of a trilogy of young adult books that I'm delighted to say has just been bought by the wonderful Barry Cunningham at Chicken House Books (Barry being legendary in the business as the man who discovered Harry Potter whilst at Bloomsbury) and the dialogue in that flowed very easily.  I think it's because the book, Longbowgirl, is set in the Brecon Beacons in Wales, near where I grew up and so all the cadences of speech, the rhythm of speech, the word usage and all those things are part of my subconscious. All those voices felt as if they were crying out to be heard so it was a complete delight to write.

Lizzie: Do you have a favourite part of the writing process?
Linda: The second draft! All the hair-tearing-out difficult bit of wrestling the plot into shape has been done. I get to play with the second and subsequent drafts.   It’s huge fun and I love it! I also love it when the physical books arrive! I’m lucky enough to have had eleven books published but that thrill never goes away.

Lizzie: My favourite question – do you always know the perpetrator when you start writing, and has he/she ever changed during the writing of the book?
Linda:   I surprised myself in Ark Storm when a character whom I had thought was trustworthy, reliable and good turned out to have secrets which they (not saying if it’s a he or a she!) had kept hidden even from me. I won't say any more as I don't want to spoil the plot.

Lizzie: So Linda, what’s next? What are you working on now?
Linda: I'm finishing off the edit on Longbowgirl for Chicken House. That will be published in spring 2016. In January, I will start work on my next adult thriller which, like Ark Storm, will also have a plot that centres around a man attempting to manipulate our natural world to his own ends and a wonderful heroine, in this case a rock-climbing geologist who gets in his way.

Linda, thank you for a truly fascinating interview.

Books by Linda Davies

Nest of Wipers
A Wilderness of Mirrors
Into The Fire
Something Wild
Final Settlement
Ark Storm

Non Fiction:
Hostage.  Kidnapped on the high seas – the true story of my captivity in Iran

Young Adult Fiction:
Sea Djinn
Fire Djinn
Storm Djinn
King of the Djinn


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