Tony Park’s The Delta is a sprawling, colourful and strikingly written thriller, with ex-soldier turned mercenary Sonja Kurtz on the run in Africa after taking part in a failed assassination attempt on the life of the president of Zimbabwe. Elsewhere, groups of revolutionaries are plotting to destroy the dam being erected on the Okavango Delta and simultaneously bring about a regime change. American TV heartthrob and wildlife documentary presenter ‘Coyote’ Sam Chapman is desperate to cover this story. When his path crosses with Sonja, an attraction develops between them. But Sonja’s got her mind on other things, blowing up the dam for one… Tony Park spoke to Crime Time about his remarkable novel…

My latest book, The Delta, is set in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, a magnificent wildlife paradise. The premise of the book is based on a real plan to dam the Okavango River. The dam didn’t go ahead in real life, but in the book the dam is built and the delta starts to dry up. A coalition of safari operators, land holders and environmentalists get together and hire a band of mercenaries to blow up the dam. The mercenaries are lead by a woman, former soldier Sonja Kurtz.

My stories are pure fiction, but I do try and present a truthful picture of modern Africa’s landscape (political as well as geographical), and people. I try and capture the beauty of the continent, but at the same time not gloss over its problems. The good and the bad about Africa provide endless storylines and inspiration.

I’ve been inspired by many writers over the years. My mum got me started on Biggles Books when I was a little kid and I never looked back. I’ve always been drawn to action adventure thrillers and crime novels. When I started to get serious about writing my mother-in-law bought me a copy of Stephen King’s brilliant book, ‘On Writing, a memoir of the craft’ which is, in my opinion, the best book ever written about how to write fiction.

I’m inspired to work harder by masters of the thriller genre, and never miss a new release by Nelson DeMille and Gerald Seymour. For historical fiction I love Ken Follett and Bernard Cornwell.

When it comes to writing violence I suppose the text book answer is that it shouldn’t be gratuitous, but shock value can go a long way towards establishing a character and a situation. In The Delta my heroine, Sonja, has to show herself capable of using total force in order to complete her mission and protect those around her. The way she does it was deliberately shocking – cutting one enemy’s throat, shooting another, and then nicking one of the dead men’s fags before torching their bodies and the evidence. The man whose life she’s just saved is physically ill after seeing all this, which gives her a chance to tell him to ‘man-up’. It’s a pivotal part of their relationship and couldn’t have worked without a bit of the old ‘ultra-violence’. But I don’t like reading books with one violent scene after another, as it loses its impact. Less is more.

When it comes to including sex in novels I have learned one thing – it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time. I have readers who say they gloss over the (usually frank) sex scenes in my books and others (usually little old ladies) who say they love them! Look, I like a bit of rumpy pumpy in the books I read, so I include it in the books I write.

I think (or at least I hope) the appeal of my books to readers lies in two key elements – escapism and Africa. I like to escape to Africa to write my books – they’re all written on location – and I like a read that takes me away from it all. I find a lot of my readers are people who are fascinated with the continent of Africa. In some cases their expatriate Africans living abroad, but in others the reader has read everything he or she can get their hands on about Africa, even though they might never have visited.

I write principally for myself when I’m working on a book. I never have a plot – I make the story and the characters up as I go along. I write in the African bush, about the African bush, in order to keep myself interested and entertained. Occasionally I do think of my readers, though. For example, one of the reasons I chose a female lead character in The Delta is because I’ve learned over the years that the majority of my readers are women. One female friend urged me to have a leading lady instead of a leading man this time around, and I enjoyed the process of writing Sonja as my number one character.

My next book, African Dawn, is due for release later this year (2011). It’s a thriller and family saga set in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) from 1959 to the present day. It covers the bloody Rhodesian Bush War, Robert Mugabe’s rise to power, and the disastrous invasions of white-owned farms. There’s a crime/thriller sub plot about rhino poaching and government corruption which is turning out to be closer to truth with every passing day. My new UK publishers, Quercus, will be progressively releasing all of my earlier novels (The Delta is my seventh) over the next couple of years.

The Delta is published by Quercus

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