Backpacker Jane splits a taxi fare with two mysterious men – enmeshing herself in a deadly intrigue. At the airport, a new friendship kindles her suspicion that dark forces are threatening hundreds of lives. When night falls over the South China Sea, and her airliner’s crew switch off the lights, Jane seeks a confrontation that will spark one of the greatest mysteries of our time.
Short of cash, and afraid of missing her night-flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, globetrotting backpacker Jane splits a taxi fare with two mysterious men – unwittingly enmeshing herself in a deadly international intrigue. At the airport, the lonely young woman forges a bond of friendship that offers her clues into the nature of dark forces threatening hundreds of lives. When night falls over the South China Sea, and her airliner’s cabin-crew switch off the lights, Jane must draw on everything she has learned as she seeks a confrontation that will spark one of the greatest mysteries of modern times.
Scott Maka was born in Palmerston North, New Zealand, in 1969. After finishing school he worked for five years as an orchardist and beekeeper in the Bay of Islands. Boredom prompted him to retrain (via university and journalism school) as a news reporter. He wrote more than 2000 stories for the Waikato Times and New Zealand Herald before being promoted to Chief Reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times. In 2005, he resigned in order to travel with his partner, Jo. As of 2014 they were still travelling – surviving on incomes earned as English language specialists.
Interview with Scott Maka
Tell us about your novella, MH370.
It’s a fictional account of the events leading up to the disappearance of an international jetliner. I’m sure your readers are already familiar with the real-life disappearance. The aircraft vanished on 8 March, 2014, during a flight between Malaysia and Beijing. By sheer coincidence, I happened to be flying out of Malaysia just one week after the Boeing disappeared – on almost exactly the same flight path. I don’t normally get scared in the air, but I found this particular flight to be quite nerve-wracking. All sorts of terrifying thoughts were going through my head. By the time I reached my destination (Hanoi), those thoughts had morphed into the idea for a book.
Aren’t you worried that you’ll be accused of “cashing in” on the disaster?
Frankly I am. A couple of directors have already announced that they will make films about it, and they’ve been copping a fair amount of criticism. I suppose the thinking is that those films – or my novella, for that matter – will upset the relatives of the deceased. I really don’t think that’s going to happen. I can’t imagine that any relatives will go out and buy fictional accounts of the disaster. They probably won’t even be aware of my book unless some journalist rings them up and tells them about it. There are already lots of conspiracy theories being published on the internet. I think that those would be much more upsetting, because some of them offer false hope.
Obviously, you had to write MH370 fairly quickly. What was your writing process?
Usually I would go and sit in front of my computer at the appointed time. Then I would stand up and walk around in little circles. I’d go and make a coffee and stand by the window, looking out at nothing in particular. And then something would happen. It was always the same. A really strong wave of determination would come over me and I’d march over to the computer, sit down and get stuck into some really serious business. When I was finished, two or three hours later, I’d log out of Facebook and start writing.
Actually, to be honest, it was quite a bit harder than that. I work best when I’m aiming for a deadline. In this case, I wanted the novella to be published within three months of the real aircraft’s disappearance. I had to work like a madman to get it written, edited, polished and published in that time. “MH370” has something like 35,000 words, which is quite a bit longer than well-known novellas like Animal Farm and The Old Man and the Sea. I used to be a journalist and copy-editor, so I tend to set very high standards for myself when it comes to little things like spelling, punctuation, clause-placement and so-on. I spent more time polishing the novella than I did writing the first two drafts. Some days I worked 16 hours straight.
What compels you to write?
There is something special about creating a work of art entirely by yourself and entirely out of nothing. I love it when the perfect word or phrase hits the page. Sometimes it just happens, and sometimes it takes a lot of hard work. For my novel “Once Upon a Cursed Shore” [editor’s note: yet to be published] I remember reaching the point where I was really pleased with the whole thing except for the first page. Of course, the first page of a novel is by far the most important one. I rewrote that page dozens and dozens of times. It took me five years to get it right. But when I did, there was a tremendous sense of satisfaction.
When did you first start writing?
I started writing at the age of six. My mother has kept some of my exercise books from when I was just starting school – which was four decades ago now – and some of the stuff I was writing down was pretty fanciful. Between the ages of eight and 12 a friend and I used to write comic strips. These days they would be called “graphic novels”. By the time I started high school I was already writing short stories, mostly just for my own amusement. The only people who read them were teachers and a few close friends. None of those stories have survived, except in my head.
What are you working on next?
I’m pretty keen to get my novel published, but I’m not going to rush into it until I’ve secured an avenue for it to be sold in print form. “Once Upon a Cursed Shore” has already been five years in the making, so a bit more time won’t make much difference. In the meantime, I’m working on another novella called “The Hunter’s Prize”. I actually started writing it before “MH370”, but I really needed to get “MH370” written and published first because the real-life drama was unfolding so quickly.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
If I can avoid it, I don’t get out of bed at all.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
I’ve got quite a few hobbies. Reading is a big one, of course. I don’t think it’s possible to be a good writer without being a good reader first. I love watching classic films. I enjoy chess, both as a player and as a spectator. Recently I’ve been really enjoying photography – and in fact I’ve started earning money from it. Last month [May, 2014] I had photos in the Guardian [UK] and Daily Mail [UK]. One of my biggest pleasures is travel. At last count, I had backpacked through 72 countries on six continents.
Who are your favorite authors?
Hemingway, Kafka, Melville and Marquez are the most important writers for me. I would say that the first three have influenced my scribblings. The forth one hasn’t. Marquez’ genius is hard to emulate. When I write fiction, I’m influenced just as much by film-makers as I am by other writers. I tend to think in terms of scenes, and quite often I frame them using methods I’ve seen in films by directors such as Hitchcock, Coppola, Leone and Tarantino. For a master-class in developing tension, try watching “The Godfather Part II” up until the end of the restaurant shooting scene. Then check the whiteness of your knuckles.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Wow, tough question. I think if I went back now and re-read some of my old favourites I probably wouldn’t like them so much anymore because I’ve changed so much as a reader and as a writer. These are the ones that pop off the top of my head:
1) Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. This novel has everything in it – prose, poetry, drama, multiple perspectives, first-person and third-person narratives. Plus, Melville writes with a tremendously powerful voice. I was drunk on Moby-Dick while writing “Once Upon a Cursed Shore”.
2) One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This was my introduction to the joys of magical realism. Also, it’s got one of the best opening lines of any novel.
3) Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie. I read this a long time ago. Rushdie writes with oodles of energy, and it amazes me that he can sustain it through such a lengthy narrative.
4) The Trial, by Franz Kafka. The man has a unique perspective on the world. Some of his short stories are great too.
5) The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. When he’s at his best, Hemingway will present a character as a blank canvas and let his readers project their own thoughts and feelings onto him (and yes, it usually is a “him”). This novella and “The Sun Also Rises” are his most successful efforts, I think.
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