The great thing about crime fiction is that it takes you into the nooks and crannies of history, throwing up strange truths about places in the world that you thought you knew all about. Christopher Lowery’s The Angolan Clan is partly set amid the Carnation Revolution, a military coup in Portugal, in 1974. It was an uprising that had serious implications across two continents — and Christopher was right in the middle of it. In his novel, two people must untangle the deadly truth of a series of murders and its connection to a civil war in Africa.
As well as a writer, Christopher is a real estate and telecoms entrepreneur, living between Geneva and Marbella. He also writes patents and children’s books and composes music. Christopher gives us the lowdown on the Carnation Revolution, naughty limericks, and getting out of town real quick…
The Angolan Clan is about the military coup in Portugal in 1974 – and its effects on the colony of Angola. Tell us about what happened…
The Carnation Revolution was a military coup in Lisbon, Portugal, on 25 April 1974 which overthrew the regime of the Estado Novo. The revolution started as a military coup organized by the Movimento das Forças Armadas, composed of military officers who opposed the regime, but the movement was soon coupled with an unanticipated and popular campaign of civil resistance. This movement would lead to the fall of the Estado Novo and the withdrawal of Portugal from its African colonies and East Timor. The name “Carnation Revolution” comes from the fact that almost no shots were fired and when the population took to the streets to celebrate the end of the dictatorship and war in the colonies, carnations were put into the muzzles of rifles and on the uniforms of the army. The Portuguese celebrate the national holiday of Freedom Day on 25 April every year to celebrate the revolution.
After being granted its independence Angola would enter into a decades-long civil war which involved nations like the Soviet Union, Cuba, South Africa and the United States. Millions of Angolans would die in the aftermath of colonialism, due either to the violence of the armed conflict or malnutrition and disease. The book combines strands from the revolution in Portugal and the impact on its Angolan colony.
I can’t imagine many people who holiday in Portugal will remember these events – what’s your own connection to the revolution?
Fortunately my own experience of the revolution was less dramatic than the characters in the book. I was actually on business in Geneva when the chairman of the company I was working for in Portugal called me and said they were putting everyone in jail – and that I was on the ‘hitlist’ to be imprisoned as soon as I returned. My wife and daughter had to flee (with the dog!) as capitalists, particularly foreign entrepreneurs, were very much persona non grata with the newly installed powers.
How difficult is it to entwine factual events with thriller fiction?
Sometimes it feels impossible because you know that someone, somewhere, will always have a unique and accurate take on what actually happened versus what actually happened PLUS the author’s imagination. As a writer there’s a danger you can become so obsessed with the facts you lose the dynamics of the story. One of the biggest challenges of writing a thriller is keeping track of all the various storyline strands. I have to keep reminding myself what time it is in Africa and what time it is in Spain! J
Book two is called The Rwandan Hostage and is set in a difficult and horrific period in Africa’s modern history. The beginning of the story is the death of the president of Rwanda and the subsequent genocide. The first book has a particular ending, which leads to the second book, and several of the characters are the same. I believe readers like the comfort of knowing who the characters are and where they came from.
Take us through a typical writing day for you?
As I get older and the business concerns take more of a back seat it’s less chaotic and snatched and I’m now setting aside ‘writing time’. It’s not disciplined and structured though, it’s very much a mood thing, and I can write very quickly when I’ve got the time and the story is demanding to be told. I started by writing stories for my daughter, and I even write the odd naughty limerick! Writing is a balance to the other aspects of my life.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
That if I wanted to be published I had to write not just for me, but for everyone. It’s hard putting aside that control to develop a story you think can appeal to complete strangers. As an entrepreneur I’m used to driving everything forward, to making it what I want it to be – to be published you have to consider other readers, you have to learn not to write selfishly.
How do you deal with feedback?
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I do like it to be qualified – I think it’s the business leader in me. I want to hear feedback, but it has to be justified, whether positive or negative.
Who are the authors you admire, and why?
Frederick Forsyth is an incredible thriller writer – seamlessly blending action, characterisation, globally expansive plots, and always with such intricacies of plot. I’m also a big fan of John Buchan’s The 39 Steps, as it’s an example of the perfectly plotted thriller and good inspiration when you’re grappling with a complex mystery across three continents!
Give me some advice about writing…
It’s an oft used phrase, but write what you know. You’ll be amazed what comes out!
The Angolan Clan is available from Urbane Publications right here!
Later in the week we join Karen Long’s Blog Tour, for her new thriller The Vault.