When did you begin writing professionally?

I began writing in my teens, but not professionally until my early twenties. I had written several short travel pieces on Iceland, Mexico, and other places I'd visited en route from Australia, New Zealand (where I worked as an oceanographic technician for two years) to North America and Europe. But my first professional piece, for which I was paid the grand sum of $8.00, was a short story called "A Children's Tale," published in an Australian anthology, "Under Twenty-Five." The story is about the impact of colonization on the Maoris of New Zealand.

My first novel, Firespill, appeared in 1977, the same year that I received my Doctor of Philosophy degree in political science at the University of British Columbia. My doctoral thesis was on George Orwell, and formed the basis for my biography of him, the second edition of which was issued in October 2003. Firespill, the story of two massive supertankers colliding in heavy fog after which the oil catches fire, traps VIPs and poses an enormous ecological disaster. It first began life as a film treatment when I was a student at U.B.C. My instructor in creative writing, Jake Zilbur, a nice guy and a great teacher, suggested I develop the story as a novel. I did, and submitted it to Doubleday. They asked me to do revisions over a period of about a year, and I was so nave I went ahead and did it without getting a cent for it. Then about a week before Christmas of 1976, they said they'd given the draft to an oil expert who said my scenario couldn't possibly happen because of the built-in redundancies (that is, the back-up systems) and besides, they claimed crude oil wouldn't burn unless raised to a very high flashpoint. I then sent it to McClelland and Stewart in Toronto who ended up publishing it along with Bantam in the U.S. The morning the book was published, I got a call from a Toronto radio station asking me if I'd seen the news. It was 5:00 A.M. in Vancouver and no, I hadn't seen the news. They told me to turn on my TV (an old black and white because I couldn't afford a colour one) and they'd ring me back in half an hour. With my eyes full of sleep, I turned on the tube, and every station was leading with a newsflash that two supertankers had collided in heavy fog off the coast of South Africa. Two men had been killed and the oil, catching fire, was heading for shore. The book sales reached 500,000 and the book became a bestseller and was translated into six languages. My wife and I could now afford a colour TV! Doubleday sent me a nice note, saying they were rather red-faced about the whole affair. I accepted it in a very mature manner and ran around the kitchen hollering as if I'd just won the lottery.

What is your inspiration for writing?

I always loved hearing and telling stories. One of the people who influenced me most was an uncle who'd been a spy during the Gallipoli Campaign against the Turks in 1915. He told me how he'd gone out one moonless night to try to find the break in a communications wire and fix it. Unfortunately, a Turkish soldier had the same idea and they met head-on in the pitch blackness. A terrible night fight ensued, which I'm reminded of whenever I see the fight in Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan." My uncle won the fight, and to the end of his days retained a great respect for Turkish soldiers. He reminded of the young Mel Gibson in the movie about Gallipoli that was made by director Peter Weir. Ironically, years later, my son Blair (who was named after Eric Arthur Blair, George Orwell's real name, and is an actor) was directed by Peter Weir in the movie "The Truman Show." Movies have influenced me a lot and I was a movie reviewer for about seven years, reviewing about 500 movies in all. The names of my favourite movies would fill an entire website, but among my top ten are "Casablanca," "The Desert Fox," "A Beautiful Mind," "Casablanca," "A Man for All Seasons," "The Train" (with Burt Lancaster), "Casablanca," "Twelve Angry Men," "Patton," "Three Days of the Condor," "Dr. Strangelove," "Twelve O'Clock High," and "Casablanca." Did I mention "Casablanca?"

Where did you get the ideas for the WW III and Militia novels?

Despite all the progress we've made, wars still ravage the world, and, unfortunately, I think always will. As a political scientist and a reader who enjoys the study of history, I'm fascinated by the causes, strategies and characters that one finds in war settings. We see the best and the worst, and while the WW III and militias are set in the near future, they draw heavily on historical precedents going way back to the time of the ancient Greeks and their battles against the Persian invasions. Leaders such as George Patton, warts and all, intrigue me and I think you'll see this reflected in the protagonist, General Douglas Freeman, who is prominent in all these novels and who, while he has some rough edges, doesn't fall victim to the sloppy intellectual habit of thinking that everything in the world is relative. He sees that while a lot of things are relative, there are certain absolutes that are worth defending and even dying for. More about this in future novels.


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