It’s pure pleasure to have John Gordon Sinclair on the Orenda Community Blog today, talking about his latest thriller Walk in Silence. Before we launch into this fascinating interview, let’s talk a little about the book. And I will begin by saying: John Gordon Sinclair, where have you BEEN? His first two thrillers (Seventy Times Twenty and Blood Whispers) somehow eluded my *fabulous thriller radar*, but that has now been rectified, and I cannot recommend Walk in Silence highly enough.
Driven by a deep-seated desire to right a wrong, feisty, sharp-witted, sharp-tongued and quick-thinking Irish lawyer Keira Lynch leaves her Glasgow offices to travel to Albania, to rescue a young boy whose life is at stake, whose mother lost her life in unimaginable circumstances. Keira feels guilt and a sense of responsibility for the child, and her mission is anything but clear cut, with unremitting danger rearing up at every turn, and some desperately moving, shocking and violent events unfolding as she seeks to outwit those who want her dead. Turning her back on the law (a considerable feat for a lawyer), Keira turns vigilante, uncovering a nest of corruption, in which some extremely unsavoury, dangerous and ruthless men roost, their activities driven by greed and power, their immorality blindingly evident in sickening acts of violence, trafficking, drugs and more…
Set in the beautifully, painstakingly described country of Albania, its poverty and chaos juxtaposed against its shimmering beauty, which masks unspeakable crimes, this is a stunning, nuanced, intelligent thriller, bravely highlighting serious issues while providing unadulterated entertainment and moments of pure jeopardy. Walk in Silence is vivid, raw, harsh, spellbinding, affecting and emotive; there are mind-blowing twists throughout its serpentine plot, breathless action scenes, and some exceptional and memorable characterisation. In a word, this book is outstanding. A massive achievement. A book that deserves to be on everyone’s summer reading list, like its two predecessors. John Gordon Sinclair is a real talent, and I cannot wait to see what he does next.
Find the boy. Bring him home. Keep him safe.
Keira Lynch is a lawyer who’s no stranger to trouble; but having only just landed in Albania, she’s already up to her neck in it. She thought money would help her find the boy, but in a brutal underworld where anything can be bartered – trust, loyalty, even lives – his kidnappers have other ideas.
They want the freedom of one of their gang members. A man Keira is about to help bring to trial back in the UK; a man who once put three bullets in her chest.
Can she walk away in silence, and save the boy? Or will she have to play the game, fight and risk losing everything?
Q&A with J G Sinclair:
- With a successful acting career, what prompted you to write fiction and, in particular, crime fiction?
The first idea I had for Seventy Times Seven was to write it as a film script: then pragmatism got the better of me. I figured if it was going to be ignored I’d much rather it was ignored in novel form. I’ve always been interested in crime fiction: it’s my holiday read, however I’d never read any that had made me cry. I set out to write the kind of book I’d like to take to a beach and one that would bring a tear to the eye of the reader (for the right reasons!).
- As an actor, you will be more used to scripts and screenplays; did you find yourself adopting this kind of approach when writing your first books?
Definitely: even to the point where I would have conversations with my editor at Faber & Faber where I’d ask her advice on scene fourteen (for instance) and she’d reply, “Do you mean, chapter fourteen. I also like to get as much of the narrative into the dialogue as possible, the intention being to cut back on the exposition and unnecessary prose and still tell the story.
- Walk in Silence features the return of Keira Lynch, a feisty, quick-thinking protagonist who risks her life, mainly from a sense of guilt and retribution. What was your inspiration for Keira, and why a female protagonist?
Keira Lynch made her first appearance as Niamh McGuire – a minor character in Seventy Times Seven. When I’d finished writing the book I knew that there was more to the story, but the main protagonists Danny and Sean McGuire were not the characters to carry the narrative forward. Because of Keira Lynch’s (Niamh) experiences in the novel she was the obvious choice. Her moral compass is – if not broken – certainly malfunctioning. The quote I attribute to her is “there is no law that says you have to obey the law”. That should give you some idea of her motivation. She is however compelled to help people, but because of her past experiences that ‘help’ can sometimes be a little unconventional. I’ve been asked a number of times why I chose a female for the lead character: the best response I’ve managed to come up with so far is, ‘Why not?’
- Keira doesn’t hesitate to break the law to achieve her goals, putting her job and even her life at risk, and she outwits her male counterparts at every turn. Do you think its necessary to move outside the law in order to achieve justice in a corrupt society? Both here and abroad?
I definitely struggle with the moral ambiguity. In my heart I recognise that the law is there for a reason and without the rule of law we have chaos, but in my head I recognise that its conclusions don’t always satisfy.
My grandfather used to say, “If you’re in a boxing ring, you’d better start throwing some punches.” If someone comes at you holding a gun, the best defence is not to argue with the perpetrator that their actions are against the law. That said I’d still prefer a world where guns did not exist. I’ve dropped in a few references to Zola’s Le Bête Humane: playing on the idea that despite advances in the modern world there are still dangers from the ‘beast within’. Propensity toward violence is an unpalatable side of human nature: even when all reason has failed, I try to make Keira Lynch’s use of violence just as unappetising: It’s not meant to be fun.
- The Albanian setting is richly described, the wealth, the beautiful tourist spots juxtaposing against the distressing poverty and rampant corruption. Why did you choose Albania, and is this somewhere you have visited? How accurate is your portrayal?
Despite it’s recent troubles – civil war in the mid-nineties, War in the Balkans, Enver Hoxa’s Communist rule, etc, etc – Albania has a lot to offer: A beautiful coastline fronting the Adriatic and spectacular mountain region to the north. It didn’t really have any cars until the early 1990s and is one of the only countries in history to ban religion. It’s complex. It’s criminal underclass have come straight from fighting in the Balkans, they’re battle-hardened and – as a result – much more prone to violence. Well-established criminal organisations such as the Mafia are reluctant to deal with Albanian criminals because of this. If you keep the wrong sort of company Albania can be a very dangerous place to be. It seemed like the perfect setting to put an equally complex and dangerous lead character. I wasn’t able to visit but spent a lot of time researching on-line and used a Brant Travel Guide written by Gillian Gloyer as my bible. It’s a compelling and insightful read even if you have no intention of visiting the country.
- Trafficking, of drugs and, in particular, people is an insidious and increasing global issue. Was this something you hoped to draw attention to, in the guise of a page-turning thriller?
I never set out to include politics in my writing, but it has invariably turned out that way. In Seventy Times Seven the subplot (and one I would like to explore further) deals with collusion between the Security Services and paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland, Blood Whispers tackles drug and people trafficking facilitated by governmental institutions and Walk In Silence hints at the ‘business’ of child trafficking into Europe. All of these subjects are unpalatable in their own way, and difficult to read about in a dry-fact context. I want my fiction to have a little more depth than just a ‘holiday read’ and hope – in some small way – they make the reader think differently or at least question and dig deeper than the narrative supplied by mainstream news outlets.
- Your plot is complex and multi-stranded, woven together immaculately. Do you plan out your story in advance, or do you see where your characters take you?
The writing process is a voyage of discovery for me. I set out with a backpack and a few meagre rations (beer mostly) and go where characters lead me. When I reach a crossroads my instinct is to ignore the signposts and head into the scrub. I don’t follow with the idea that you should write about what you know. I think it’s far more interesting to discover anew and come at topics from a different angle. I found the précis I sent into Faber & Faber outlining my ideas for Walk In Silence on my computer the other day: it bears no relation to the book I delivered: I’m aware that not all publishers give their writers this much freedom: it’s a great privilege.
- What authors and books have had the most influence on your work. As an actor, are you inspired by television/film/radio as much as the written word?
When I’m writing I tend to read only non-fiction. Everything from the Spanish Civil war (Ghosts of Spain), to the plight of the Native American Indians (Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee) or anything by Noam Chomsky (Imperial Ambitions). If I’m at the beach, on a plane or sitting in the garden with my feet up, it’s Elmore Leonard every time.
- What are you reading now and what would you recommend?
I’ve just discovered a writer called John Dufresne (I Don’t Like Where This Is Going). Every sentence is equivalent to eating a Michelin star taster menu where each mouthful gives you a mouthgasm. It’s brilliant.
- What’s next?
I have quite a few ideas chipping away at the inside of my skull: three for Crime novels, two for plays, and one for a children’s book.
- Tell us a secret!
I’ve got a great secret for you, but you must promise not to tell a soul otherwise I could end up in a lot of trouble…(shot rings out followed by silence.)
About J G Sinclair:
John Gordon Sinclair was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He moved to London in the early Eighties and now lives in Surrey with his wife, Shauna, and their two children. John’s first film won him a BAFTA nomination for Best Newcomer to a Leading film Role. His first outing in London’s West End won him an Olivier award for Best Actor. Seventy Times Seven, his first novel, was published in 2012 and was described by Barry Norman as ‘a remarkable first novel’ and as ‘an impressive debut . . . Fast and bloody . . . ‘ by The Times.
You can find him on Twitter at @
Walk in Silence
Faber & Faber
Published: 6 July 2017
Check out the other reviews on the Walk in Silence blog tour: