Please welcome K.T. Medina, author of White Crocodile.
What is your idea of a perfect day?
I have always loved to read and write, and much of my childhood was spent immersed in stories, so my perfect day would have to include time spent lost in a great crime novel or thriller. I live in London, but spend as much time as I can in the country or by the sea, so after a morning spent reading, I would probably go for lunch with my husband and three children in one of our quaint English country pubs and then go either dinghy sailing or horse riding in the afternoon. The weather would be sunny and warm – rarely guaranteed in Great Britain!
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I love the colours blue and green because I love being outside surrounded by nature. Unfortunately, Britain is small and the opportunities for real escape from civilisation are limited. A few years ago, before we had children, my husband and I flew to San Francisco, hired a car and drove from there to Key West. It was the trip of my lifetime and the space and incredible, varied landscapes that you have in the USA wowed me.
I am quite superstitious and always wear a ‘horseshoe’ bracelet that one of my friends bought me a few years ago, as I worry that if I take it off I will have bad luck. Unfortunately, I am allergic to metal and it makes my wrist itch horribly, but I still won’t remove it, just in case. Ridiculous, I know!
Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
I was lucky enough to have the Edgar Award winning crime author Mo Hayder as my mentor early in the writing of White Crocodile and she taught me a huge amount about how to craft a great crime novel. Mo would therefore have to be at the top of my list of influencers.
My literary agent, Will Francis, from Janklow and Nesbit, was the first person to read White Crocodile and he encouraged me to make a number of quite significant changes to the novel before he sent it out to publishers. He is hugely experienced and I trust his judgment implicitly. As a writer, and particularly one who is just starting out on the journey, it is very important to have a fantastic agent.
The third person who has inspired me greatly is Paul Jefferson, a professional mine clearer who I met whilst I was responsible for land-based weapons at Jane’s Information Group, the world’s leading publisher of defense intelligence information. Paul was seriously injured in a land mine accident in Iraq, losing a leg and his sight. He was, in large part, the inspiration for the character of ‘Johnny’ in White Crocodile, and he talked me though what it feels like to step on an anti-personnel mine – the immediate shock, pain and psychological devastation – and the physical and psychological battle to recover afterwards. With his help, I was really able to enter the mind of someone who has been grievously injured by a land mine. Paul is now a good friend and one of the most inspirational people I know, and I have dedicated White Crocodile to him.
Do you listen to music when you write?
I am actually quite an introverted person and I love silence, perhaps because I have three young children and when they are in the house there is never any. When I write, I lock myself away in a small room at the top of the house, which is freezing in winter and boiling hot in summer, but the location gives me space to escape and write in peace. I actually only ever listen to music when I’m driving – at full volume and preferably with all the windows open.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
If White Crocodile were chocolate it would have to be fair trade and 100% dark: fair trade, because the novel deals with themes of exploitation and the betrayal of vulnerable people and dark because White Crocodile is a emotionally dark and disturbing thriller.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
White Crocodile is very personal to me as it was a visit to the landmine fields of the beautiful but tragic Southeast Asian country of Cambodia, whilst I was working at Jane’s, that inspired me to write. My visit was intense and emotional: working with mine clearers and meeting Khmers – both adults and children – who had lost limbs to anti-personnel mines, and others who lived with the constant risk that they or a family member could step on a mine. At the time, I didn’t think about anything apart from the human tragedy and the incredible job that clearance charities were doing in reducing the threat. It was only afterwards, back in England, with space to think, that I realized how fantastic a setting the minefields of Cambodia were for a thriller.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
I have a degree in psychology and because of this I am very drawn to people who have a different psychology from my own, whether that is in terms of mass cultural beliefs, such as with the white crocodile in Cambodia, or individuals who, perhaps because of their upbringing or life experiences, display an abnormal psychology. I’m sure that many of my books will feature psychologically damaged characters.
White Crocodile and my second novel, Fire Damage, which is being published in 2016 both explore a number of themes and challenges that many of us in the West deal with at one time or another in our lives, including the themes of fate – whether our destiny is pre-determined – betrayal, physical and mental abuse within families, love and both self-hatred and the hatred of others, and the heroine finding strength after weakness, or at least, after perceiving herself to be weak.
Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
The heroine of White Crocodile is Tess Hardy, a British mine clearer who, against her better judgement, is drawn to Cambodia to find out the truth behind her violent husband, Luke’s, death.
I feel strongly that women are amazing and unfortunately we are often portrayed negatively in both literature and in film. In many crime novels women are purely victims, and men solve the problems and catch the bad guys. I wanted to write a novel that reflected the huge number of strong, funny, clever, independent women that I know – though in common with most people, Tess Hardy is multi-faceted and has her own very personal demons to deal with – which come from both her childhood, which is touched on in the novel, her experience of working in the male dominated military and of living in a violent marriage.
The friends who have read White Crocodile say that they see a lot of me in Tess, and I suppose that, following the old adage of ‘write about what you know’, I would agree. I was definitely inspired by the five years I spent in the British Armed Forces and my time working at Jane’s, and particularly, as I have already mentioned, by my trip to Cambodia and the mine clearers I met there, many of whom influenced both Tess and other characters in White Crocodile.
It made absolute sense for me to write a female protagonist because Tess faces a tough emotional journey in White Crocodile and I felt that, as a woman who has worked in stressful, male dominated environments, I would be able access her feelings and emotions in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to do if my protagonist was male.
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
If White Crocodile were made into a film, I would love Jennifer Lawrence of The Hunger Games fame to play her, as Tess definitely has aspects of Katniss Everdeen in her personality. The land mine problem that features in White Crocodile is a huge global issue that twenty years ago, Diana, Princess of Wales, recognized and campaigned tireless to bring to the collective global consciousness and it is a passion and conviction that Tess shares with Diana. I also see aspects of Lee Child’s hero Jack Reacher, in Tess – his strength of character, his individuality and his strive for justice.
If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series was one of my favourites as a child and in common with many other tomboys, I wanted to be George. I would therefore have to include Enid at my dinner party. Two other books that really captured my imagination as a child, and that I have read a number of times over the years, are Lord of the Flies, by William Golding, and To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, so both these great writers would be at my table. Novels that stay with me long after the last page are those such as Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, that explore real life trauma through the medium of story and unforgettable characters, and that was my aim with White Crocodile. Khaled Hosseini would therefore also be invited. I have always been an avid crime and thriller reader, which is why I chose to write in that genre and I would therefore also invite Lee Child and John Grisham as I think they both write consistently fabulous, page turning crime novels.
What’s next for you?
I have just finished my second thriller, which is entitled Fire Damage. Fire Damage is set in England and features clinical psychologist, Doctor Jessie Flynn who must unlock the terrifying memories buried in the mind of a deeply traumatised four-year-old boy, Sami, whose father, an Army Major, was badly burnt in a petrol bomb attack in Afghanistan. But nothing can prepare Jessie for the truth about what haunts Sami.
K. T. Medina spent five years in the British armed forces, rising to troop commander in the Royal Engineers. She was previously managing editor at Jane’s Information Group, where she was responsible for providing information on small arms, armor, artillery, and land mines to global militaries. She has an MBA from the London School of Economics, where she is a guest lecturer, and an MFA from Bath Spa University. She lives in London with her husband and three children.