Interview with David Malcolm
Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.
I was born and grew up in Aberdeen in the north east of Scotland. I went to the same school as Lord Byron did briefly over a hundred years earlier. I went to university in Aberdeen, Zürich, and London. I worked for a while in rural Oxfordshire. Then I went to Japan, Poland, and the USA. I lived in Poland for four years in the mid-1980s, and after six years in the USA I went back there in 1994. I’ve lived in Poland ever since in a little seaside resort called Sopot, near Gdańsk.
Could you tell us a bit about your latest book?
The German Messenger is a spy thriller set mostly in England and Scotland in late 1916 and early 1917. There are sections that go back into the past and to continental Europe. The main character, Harry Draffen, is an agent of the British Empire who is asked to unravel a mysterious plot that the Central Powers seem to be weaving against Britain. He’s a clever but hugely damaged and embittered man, and in his investigations into the German plot he brings death and troubles with him everywhere.
Why did you decide to write in the spy thriller genre?
It’s all about lies, illusion, and betrayal. These seem to me to be what a lot of our lives are wrapped up in and made up of.
What is the hardest part of writing spy thriller fiction?
For me, it’s finding a plot that is complicated and credible enough. That’s because I’m more interested in setting, atmosphere, and character – both in the spy fiction that I write and that I read. But the demands of writing a good solid plot are much more difficult to meet than they were in, say, John Buchan’s day.
You write in several genres. Do you have a favourite? And if so, why?
I’ve been writing recently in lots of different genres and mostly short stories – crime, noir, supernatural, apocalyptic-future, Western, as well as thrillers. My favourite is, I suppose, the one that I’m writing just now. I like the possibilities that different genres lay out for you. You can go to the mean streets of LA one time, and to a post-apocalyptic England the next.
What was your inspiration?
The inspiration for The German Messenger is clearly John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps, the classic thriller from 1915. I thought it would be interesting to rewrite that very good novel, with a very different narrator and some very different twists in the story. I’m also a great admirer of US movies from the 1940s and 1950s. Film noir has its echoes in The German Messenger even though it’s set in an earlier world.
What did you find most challenging about writing your book?
I find the time commitment required for writing a novel daunting. The novel gives you space to do all kinds of things. But it ties up years of your time – especially if you’re not a full-time writer. That’s why I like writing short stories. You finish them faster.
Did anything surprise you about the process of writing your book?
I was very surprised by some of the things that happened in the novel and what the characters did as I was writing it. Obviously that’s nonsense. I was writing it. I had the final word. But then a character would suddenly want to do something, and I would let him or her do it. It was very strange.
What’s your next project?
To finish the prequel to The German Messenger. I have part of it already. But there’s another section to be written, set in London, Paris, Lodz, and Reval (Tallinn) in 1908, involving anarhists, Tsarist agents, the Wilhelmstrasse, and the Bund (the Jewish workers’ organization). Then there’s all the other Draffen novels that are piling up in my mind. The Polish-Bolshevik War. Izmir/Smyrna. And a series of thrillers set in late 1940s and 1950s Europe with a Scottish secret agent digging into all the nastiness left over from the War. All I need is time.
You can find The German Messenger on Amazon
David Malcolm was born in Scotland. He was educated in Aberdeen, Zürich, and London.
For over thirty years he has lived and worked in Japan, the USA, and Poland. He currently resides in Sopot, Poland. His collection of short fiction, Radio Moscow and Other Stories was published by Blackwitch Press in 2015.