By Basil Sands
Khaled Talib is a former journalist with local and international exposure. From his residence in the tropical paradise of Singapore, his articles have been published and syndicated to newspapers worldwide, and his short stories have appeared in literary journals and magazines.
Talib joins us in this month’s issue of The Big Thrill to talk about his fourth thriller, SPIRAL.
Tell us about SPIRAL.
Laurence Turner, a pharmacist from Sydney, is wracked with guilt after his fiancée dies on a sailing trip. The tragedy is followed by yet another fatal incident when he dispenses the wrong medication to a customer. Laurence moves to the Clare Valley in South Australia for a fresh start, but when he stumbles across the dead body of a visiting American reporter, things take a turn for the worst. The case explodes into far more than Laurence could ever expect with the arrival of a beautiful American woman, Skyler Hawthorne. Her troubles put Laurence in the path of both domestic and foreign agents, including a dangerous Russian spy who believes Laurence is hiding a secret.
What attracts you to this book’s genre?
During my visits to the State, I visited several farms and wineries. I had thought about writing another murder mystery at a winery, but at the last minute, I decided to shift gears. There are too many murder mysteries and I wanted readers to taste something different. So I decided to create a story that blends both mystery and thriller, and place it at a unique location.
Where do you get your story ideas from?
Everywhere and anywhere. I could just be having a conversation with someone and voila! Almost everything is a story material for consideration. It could also be something I read in a newspaper or a magazine or even a person. In fact, in the most recent incident, I was showing someone something from history and the person suggested I work on writing a historical novel. I might do that in future. Being at the right time and the right place helps. Stories are everywhere. Just pluck it from the branch and give it a bite.
Did any of your characters arrive in your imagination fully formed? Or did it take some ‘world-building’ to bring them to life?
I would say it was a mixture of both. The protagonist in SPIRAL was fully formed from the start, but he needed some world-building to see the change in him. I had imagined him to be physically well-built and tall, but not mentally strong. As for the others, they were already established due to their individual roles. Together, they formed a colorful story.
Which took shape first: plot, character, or setting?
Setting. For 10 years, I managed the external public relations account of the South Australian Tourism Commission for the Singapore office. The task included escorting journalists to the State for a familiarization trip. I decided one day to write a crime thriller set here, considering I am familiar with the place.
Was there anything new you discovered, or that surprised you, as you wrote this book?
I had never heard of the police rank Brevet Sergeant, but it exists in South Australia, and I confirmed it by checking with the South Australian Police (SAPOL). The stories passed down from generation to generation by members of the Australian indigenous communities are deep. They offer lessons and warnings, which are often described metaphorically.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
Maybe when I was seven. I was more interested in the realm of imagination than I was in math and science. I’d make up stories in my head all the time. I didn’t say I wanted to be a writer, but I wrote a lot.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
Too many to list down, but the first person that comes to mind is Robert Ludlum. The word is riveting. Agatha Christie is another author that has inspired me in many ways. She’s slick. I like how she plays with your mind before grabbing you by the throat.
Did you really see the platoon of penguins marching outside your window on Kangaroo Island?
Yes, I did. It was a magnificent show. I wondered where they were going. There are no cages on Kangaroo Island; it’s all natural. It is home to many animals. Sadly, the fires didn’t spare the island. I hope for the best. Such a beautiful place.
What advice would you give to someone just sitting down to start their first novel?
Go get it.
And now for the question that explores the depth and breadth of the mind and soul of Khaled Talib. You wake up early one morning to discover four leprechauns and a large green skinned troll standing at the foot of your bed.
“We have been sent to do your bidding for the next one hour and thirty-seven minutes,” says one of the leprechauns. “You have 97 minutes to get the most out of our magical powers, or out of Gerald the Troll’s massive physical strength. The rules are that you cannot request anything global in scope. We cannot change the weather or undo the past. You may only ask for tangible somethings you can see, hear, touch and/or feel in your everyday life specifically within a 10 kilometer radius of your bedroom. Oh, and you cannot use Gerald for violence against humans, as that would violate the oath that makes him able to interact with non-faerie folk.”
From the leprechauns, a new computer and a cell phone from the shop nearby. The ones I have are outdated. Let’s throw in a wall screen TV. I’d also like them to do some errands; I’d like them to get me five boxes of pizza, five tubs of ice cream (any flavor) and loads of good quality chocolates from the supermarket down the road. As for Gerald, my bedroom walls need a new paint job. Not asking too much, am I?
Khaled Talib is a former magazine journalist and public relations consultant. He lives in Singapore. SPIRAL is his fourth novel.
To learn more about the author and his work, please visit his website.