The Writing Life of: Hugh Arthur
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author Hugh Arthur. Hugh will be sharing with us details of his writing life, telling us all about his latest book ‘No More Water‘, which was released on 21st December 2018 and answering a few fun questions too. This post contains affiliate links.
Hugh Arthur has worked and lived in Paris, Istanbul, Madrid, Edinburgh, London and other places. With a background in finance, he specialised in agricultural commodities and food marketing businesses in the commercial sector and later worked for NGOs with activities in Africa, the Middle and Far East. He has travelled extensively in the Middle East.
‘No More Water’ is his first published book.
1) As a child did you have a dream job in mind?
In those far-off days, if you were enterprising, persistent and lucky enough you could find school holiday jobs. These involved unsocial hours and, understandably as the youngster, you were given the most dirty or mundane tasks to perform. One of my first jobs was working in an Italian laundry at an old people’s home. The work was non-stop and serious but you knew the session had finished when the banter started between the two work colleagues and they shaved for the second time that day.
The experience taught me that hard work (which I didn’t mind), luck (which I couldn’t make) and skills (which weren’t apparent) were required to be successful. It also taught me that I didn’t want to work in a laundry, a mushroom canning factory, a paper mill or an off-licence; not that there’s anything wrong with those jobs. The dream job had to involve travel, farming and people.
2) Who was your favourite childhood author (s)?
Nevil Shute. His books were easy to read and, as a young kid, I found the stories stayed with me for some while, particularly ‘On The Beach’. I also recall reading a lot of the Edgar Allan Poe short stories, because that’s what older people were doing and I thought I had better try to catch up.
3) Was there a particular point in your life that you realised you wanted to be a writer?
In an English class when I was about 14, our teacher came to a lesson one day and gave us ten minutes to write the first page of a book. He was old-fashioned in certain ways like, if someone had done a bad piece of work, he would shout their surname, exclaim loudly ‘Rubbish!’ and then fling an exercise book in their general direction expecting those in the firing line to have quick reactions.
Much to my surprise, that day he said my effort was ‘brilliant’ and, unscathed, I was allowed to retrieve my exercise book from his desk. I just needed a smidgen of encouragement for something I enjoyed doing.
4) What is your average writing day like? Do you have any special routines, word count, etc?
My most productive sessions are in the early morning and then again in the late afternoon. I work best without distractions, facing a blank wall, with no internet; the writing book with plans, ideas and character profiles is my only prop to the laptop. 500 represents a solid daily word count for me; 200 denotes a struggle; 1,800 is incredibly satisfying but doesn’t happen very often. The photo is of me relaxing outside on a break, waiting to go back down.
5) How many books have you written? Any unpublished work?
I have one published called ‘No More Water’, another is set aside for now needing a lot of re-work and a third, which is my current work-in-progress, is the one I’m going to publish next.
6) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Definitely a plotter. All the characters are constructed, which takes some time; distancing the way they think, act and speak. Sense of place is important, it needs to be authentic therefore I have to revisit locations, reaffirming how people speak to each other in certain surroundings, what the place looks and smells like, before final editing.
Concerning your latest book:
Publisher – Hexford House
Pages – 252
Release Date – 21st December 2018
ISBN 13 – 978-1916417304
Format – ebook, paperback
An environmental thriller set mainly in Istanbul in 2002 details the devious way unscrupulous operators profit from water shortages. Whilst one aspect of the book describes the destruction of livelihoods through the lack of clean water supply, the underlying focus of the book is Turkey itself – its landscape, its politics, its people, its struggles.
Using friends and acquaintances to fund his Ponzi scheme was never going to satisfy Nurettin’s ambition. He schemes to profit from exploiting Turkey’s control of the water supply into Syria. He is at constant risk of being exposed by Arzu, his wife, or Jeder, his closest confidant. But, with his star in the ascendant within the business community, a moment of hope arrives. He manages to convince Tulon Holding to support his plan to exploit the scarcity of water supply downstream from the Euphrates. As support for his plan grows, an aid agency reports on severe drought impacts in Syria, prompting international furore.
With tensions rising, his backers desert him and his serene progress begins to unravel as Turkey sets about exposing the rogue agents and making them disappear….
7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
I’ll talk about ‘No More Water’, an environmental thriller set in Turkey and Spain in 2002. This was published in December 2018. I did a lot of reading in academic journals about water management, the creation of dams and the subsequent impact on displaced communities. I also researched the politics around water access, when countries’ main watercourses support the livelihoods of neighbouring states; China’s restriction of the Mekong flow impacting Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam is just one of several examples.
8) How long did it take to go from ideas stage to writing the last word?
This took a long time. The idea came to me in 1997 when I was living in Turkey but I did the bulk of the writing in 2017 and 2018. The Ilisu hydroelectric dam construction was approved by the Turkish government in 1997; the displacement of thousands of people, flooding of the ancient village of Hasankeyf and water shortages for Iraq from the Tigris river were just some of the potential consequences of the dam envisaged back then.
I invented the characters to scheme and profit from the dam water diversion and their collusion with big business and government. Incidentally, the foundation stone of the dam was laid in 2006 and the first turbines started to run in May 2020.
9) How did you come up with the title of your book?
Somebody did a very kind review of the book on Amazon and suggested it could have been called ‘Dams and Scams’! We are in the middle of a changing climate crisis with almost all parts of the world exposed to weather extremes. I’d spent some time working for NGOs with activities in Africa, the Middle and Far East and the overriding concern was the huge number of people without sanitation and access to drinking water. The hardship of communities trying to live without clean water prompted the title.
10) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
Nurettin is the schemer, he’s the ideas person who makes other people do work for him through force of personality. He looks for the contacts in the business world, in the military and in specialist government departments. Most people distrust his motives but are taken in by his ambition, his energy and his cheek. Rather than channelling his energies in a positive way he decides to make more and more money at other people’s cost – it’s the fascination of why he chooses to do that which intrigues me.
Jeder is Nurettin’s stooge; he’s an expatriate Englishman working in Turkey. He bankrolls Nurettin and then comes under the suspicion of the Turkish authorities for defrauding the state. Jeder, to his cost, underestimates Nurettin’s influence. In a way, their relationship reflected, in the late 1990s, Europe’s willingness to forge closer ties with Turkey (customs union in 1996, candidate country for accession to EU from 2000) only for suspicion and distrust on both sides to scupper a long term strategic alliance.
Arzu works in the same building as Jeder but is also Nurettin’s wife. She is outspoken at work and determined that, in the more liberal climate that existed in Istanbul at the end of the 1990s, she can reach the top of her tree. She doesn’t care who she upsets, the women in the office love her, the men are wary of her. She and Nurettin operate in a parallel universe.
11) What process did you go through to get your book published?
When I thought I had done everything I could with the script, including a complete re-write and then, from that, discarding over 20,000 words, I joined a really helpful writers’ group in Cheltenham that not only gave me the confidence I needed to self-publish but also bags of advice on how to do it. Very experienced and successful writers in the group shared so much information about their writing and marketing methods.
I then sent the book to a content editor who gave me more helpful feedback and told me what needed to change. It was working with the book cover designer that really gave me the final impetus I needed not only with her ideas but also by reminding me of exactly what audience I was targeting and the excitement of realising that finally I had a finished book.
12) What’s next for you writing wise?
My next book follows the agony of a young woman who has lost custody of her two pre-school age children and the processes she goes through within the courts to try to win them back and then, when that fails, to try to find them. She receives information that they might be living abroad with a partner of her ex-husband but that leads to a dead-end. She then decides to enlist the help of her estranged sister in Spain only for that to become a huge distraction as she finds out her sister is implicated in an unsolved murder…
1) If you could have any super power for the day which would you choose?
2) Do you have any pets?
Until quite recently we had a cairn terrier named Jools. I have included a picture of her when she was a puppy.
3) If you decided to write an autobiography of your life, what would you call it?
Streams of inspiration! Continuing the water theme!
4) Your book has been made into a feature film and you’ve been offered a cameo role, which part would you choose, or what would you be doing?
I’m the wordless security guard outside the Ottoman villa on the Bosphorus shoreline that Nurettin visits when trying to persuade one of the most powerful businessmen in Turkey to support his scheme. I’d need to bulk up for the role. All I do is pop in and out of the front pedestrian gate, nod my head to give the all-clear, drink tea and smoke in the gatehouse briefly before shepherding Nurettin to the front door of the villa. Generally shuffling around like Bob Dylan in ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’.
5) Where is your favourite holiday destination?
A few days in Havana and then proper R&R at Cayo Santa Maria in Cuba.
6) A baseball cap wearing, talking duck casually wanders into your room, what is the first thing he says to you?
‘Look at the floor! You could have taken off your shoes..’
I would like to say a big thank you to Hugh Arthur for sharing with us details of his writing life and for a wonderful interview.