The book that made me an author
By Khaled Talib,
author of Smokescreen
All authors will probably agree with me that reading is the best way to get inspiration to write, and to learn about the craft of writing. It encourages us to find and hone a set of skills to write our own novel.
When I first set out to write my espionage thriller, Smokescreen, I wanted to make sure it came with that “extra umph” – the kind of jolting effect you get from a defibrillator. I kept saying to myself that readers should not feel calm when they read this topical story of mine, they should feel electrified.
I have read all kinds of genres (suspense and thrillers being my favourite) but the one novel that gave me an unexpected bolt of inspiration was Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity.
The novel gave me a rush of energy and spurred me to want to write something good. It was suspenseful, intense and far from static. The protagonist Jason Bourne was always on the move, the situation constantly unpredictable. Most of all, I was fascinated by the idea of someone losing his memory, and yet knows how to deploy survival skills. For me, it was a new kind of thrill.
The Bourne Identity was a unique thriller that did away with the clichés. Inspired by this novel, I decided to create my own high-octane thriller by offering a unique plot with unexpected twists.
I wanted the feel of a conspiracy novel that was fast-paced, gripping with thought provoking plots that involved high-level politics, government cover-ups, duplicitous entanglements, and covert missions betwixt scenes of dramatic action.
However, in this story of mine, the protagonist Jet West is unskilled in espionage activity and combat. He does not lose his memory. He is not a trained killer. His situation is different although in some ways he is a “government property.” The only training he possessed is his background in magazine journalism and basic martial arts. Combined that with a little gusto, and we have an action man.
Jet West is not introduced as the most likable guy. He is a self-indulgent womaniser who's due to get his come-uppance. And he does, but in a way that's far more than what he deserves. It’s hard not to sympathise with him as the underdog in a game of lies and spies.
The main character is unable to travel from one country to another. His mobility is restricted to Singapore. Thus I was given the challenge of trying to find a way to ensure that my protagonist remains invisible on the little island. I was successful in my bid but the last thing I wanted was a novel bogged down in one country. I wanted Smokescreen to be an international thriller where the reader is taken to various parts of the world. I succeeded by taking the reader to seven different countries although the main bulk of the story takes place in Singapore.
Smokescreen’s protagonist makes it clear he is not Bourne when he says, “I’m a simple guy working for a glossy. So if you’re looking for the next Jason Bourne, let’s just say I don’t fancy decoder watches and explosive condoms.” He is, however, thrown into a set of complications that quickly spins out of control, and he has to look over his shoulder as he moves through the streets.
During the process, I had to bear in mind one cardinal rule. While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, it’s likely to hit you in the face if you try to emulate another author’s writing style. I had to find my own voice and prose otherwise I’ll never be able to find the passion to complete the manuscript.
You have to be you. I have achieved that… because that is how you discover your own identity.
About Khaled Talib:
Khaled Talib is a former journalist with local and international exposure. He has worked full time for magazines including Singapore Tatler and Egypt Today. His articles have been published and syndicated to newspapers worldwide, and his short stories have appeared in literary journals and magazines.
Talib is also the author of The Little Book of Muses, a collection of personal muses for writers and aspiring authors. He resides in Singapore.