Interview with thriller author Michelle Peach

Author Michelle Peach joins me today. We’re
chatting about her new political thriller, Gazelle
in the Shadows.
Welcome,
Michelle. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I graduated from Durham University in 1995 with a B.A. in Arabic
with Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. In 1992, I spent my second year of
college studying abroad at the Arabic Teaching Institute for Foreigners in
Damascus, Syria and as a freelance journalist and researcher in Lebanon.
I have worked for many years overseas in
the British Foreign Office and as an executive PA for a Dubai company. I met my
future husband while working in Dubai and soon after moved to America. I’m a
stay-at-home mom, married with three children and love volunteering for school
activities and animal rescue. In between time, I love to write.
Please tell us about your current release.
In the mid 90s, Elizabeth Booth is a young
British college student studying Arabic at Durham University. With some travel
and work already under her belt, she excels at her studies and is sent to
Damascus to immerse herself in the language. Taken aback by the generosity and
kindness of the people there, she easily slips into a life in the ancient city.
She has friends, her studies, and even a handsome boyfriend. But things aren’t
always what they seem. Soon, in a world where mistrust and disloyalty are commonplace,
Elizabeth finds herself navigating a web of lies, betrayals, and even murder
involving MI6, deadly terrorist factions, and the shadowy Syrian secret police. 
What inspired you to write this book?
I had
procrastinated about writing the book for many years but the catalyst came when
my children started to ask me what I had done before marrying their father and
I felt a need to tell my story for them in addition to the urging of many
friends.
Excerpt from Gazelle in the Shadows:
We
pulled up to the police prison. In the car park was a large sign, Al-Sijn Sayyeb. Sayyeb Prison.
Underneath the name, we read the visiting hours:
Saturday 8a.m. to noon for relatives
Monday 8a.m. to noon for official
visitors
Male visitors daily 10a.m. to 1p.m.
Female visitors daily 2p.m.to 4p.m.
“It’s
too late for me to go in,” Hussein said, looking pointedly at me.
“It’s
2 o’clock already,” I said, looking at my watch.
“Yes.
Exactly. I can’t go in. You will need to go in by yourself.”
“I
can’t do that,” I said as I clasped my hands together almost in prayer. “Why
don’t you just come back tomorrow, when men can visit?”
“It’s
safer for you to go in, anyway,” Hussein said, eyeing the prison.
“What
do you mean?”
“If
I went, they may question me and determine that I’m a collaborator with his
crime and detain me, but if you go, you could pose as an aid worker or even a
member of the embassy.”
“I
have no idea how to do that.”
“Trust
me. They won’t question you. Do it for me and for Naguib. You do want to find
him, don’t you?”
“Yes.
Of course, I do.” Something inside me was telling me not to agree to it, but I
wanted to make sure Naguib was safe.
My
brow furrowed. Hussein saw the doubt in me.
“Trust
me. It’ll work. Don’t mention his name, just say you are checking prisons for
your embassy. And take off your scarf so you will be more Western.”
I
took my scarf off. I had become accustomed to it, and it was surprising how
vulnerable I felt, once I took it off. The gravity of the situation unnerved
me.
In
the building, I joined some other women who were waiting for the visit to
begin. They were complaining to the guard that they were late opening the gate.
We were instructed to hand over contraband: food, drink, cigarettes and
cameras. Then we were ushered through a gate past armed guards.
To
my surprise, the guards did not ask any of the women, including myself, who
they were visiting. I had my story ready, that I was an embassy consular
assistant evaluating the prison conditions. I thought at the very least I would
have to sign in or show my passport, but I moved through the security gate
along with the small crowd.
I
could see the prison yard when we stepped outside. We were told to stand in a
designated area, behind a high fence. It looked out across a concrete yard, surrounded
by an additional, high-wire fence probably about 12 feet high and topped with
razor wire. Between the two fences there was a buffer area 6 feet wide for
guards to patrol the circumference of the yard, and on each corner, towers were
manned by more security. I broke out in a sweat.
The
inmates began to emerge from the building into the yard. Within a couple of
minutes, the yard was brimming with men. They wore different-coloured
jumpsuits: purple, blue and red. I wondered what the significance was.
“Why
do all the colours mean?” I asked one of the women in Arabic.
“Blue
is for the convicted,” she said. “Purple is for those not convicted yet.”
“What
about red?” I asked.
“Death
penalty,” she replied.
I
looked around the prisoners, the majority of which were young men, and sadly
saw quite a number in red. Tears pricked my eyes. I felt as if I was staring at
animals in a zoo. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Some were barefoot—their
feet black with dirt, while others had plastic shoes or sandals. Their uniforms
were ill-fitting and dishevelled. The hardest thing to acclimatise to was their
shaven heads.
Some
prisoners gathered close to their fence and wrapped their fingers around the
wire. Others were aimlessly sauntering around the periphery of the yard, alone
or in groups. All the conversations between the women and the inmates were
shouted across the patrol path. The men were shouting, non-stop, jeering and
begging for contraband.
“Give
us cigarettes,” they shouted.
“Money,”
shouted others.
I
scanned the faces of the hundred or so men.
“Who
are you looking for?” asked a toothless woman in a black abaya.
“Naguib.”
I only knew his first name.
“Any
of you donkeys know Naguib?” the woman yelled.
There
was a chorus of voices as the question rippled through the men, but no one
recognised his name.
“Do
you have money?”
“No.”
I
wasn’t about to give her anything as I was afraid of being caught.
After
twenty minutes, the guards came and opened the exit gate for us to leave. I
walked out to meet Hussein by the car.
What exciting story are you working on
next?
I will be
starting my sequel to Gazelle in the
Shadows
soon. The story will be set in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Briefly, Elizabeth, a newly recruited MI6 agent,
will be working as an executive PA for a British CEO of a Dubai shipping
company which MI6 are tracking because of its dealings with Iran. Familiar
adversaries from “Gazelle in the Shadows” stand in her way to finding the
truth, threatening her life and the lives of many others.
When did you first consider yourself a
writer?
I never
thought about it when I was young although I enjoyed writing short stories and
kept a diary for many years. My mother was the first to recognize that I was a
good writer even before I believed it myself. She still cherishes the long
letters I wrote during my many trips overseas. Gazelle in the Shadows is my
first novel and one of my biggest challenges. It’s not easy to become a writer
but probably now that I have written it, I feel comfortable calling myself one.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
I don’t write
full time as I am a stay-at-home mom with three children, one on the Autistic
Spectrum. They keep me busy. I am an animal lover and as such I enjoy
volunteering for animal rescue and worked until recently as a dog walker and
pet sitter.
I like to
write mostly in the evening and even into the night as I have always been a
night owl and enjoy the stillness of the house.
What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?
I think it’s
quirky and perhaps old fashioned but I preferred to edit my manuscript in
pencil. I found it hard to edit on the computer even though I wrote it on the
keyboard.
As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
That’s
simple. I wanted to be a vet because I have loved animals from my earliest
memories. Failing that, I wanted to work for a large charitable organization
like Oxfam or CAFOD preferably stationed abroad in a third world country.
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?
I hope the
reader will enjoy learning about some of the culture, history and beauty of
Syria in my story which, in many ways, has irrevocably changed due to the
ongoing war. I find myself often thinking about the places I visited, saddened
by the fact that much has been destroyed and about the kind people I met and
whether they and their families are still alive. My deepest wish is that
somehow Syria will one day miraculously return to be a country travelers can
visit and be enthralled by the centuries of history and ancient cultures within
its boundaries.
Links:
Thanks for joining me today!

One thought on “Interview with thriller author Michelle Peach

  1. Yvonne@fiction-books says:

    Hi Lisa and Michelle,

    Lisa, some great interview questions, which have answers that don't overlap too much with the great Guest Post Michelle has written for Fiction Books and which I shall be sharing next week.

    Michelle, such an interesting an insightful interview, especially the last paragraph.

    If it is okay with you both, I would like to add a link to this page when I put my own post together, as the two articles really compliment each other 🙂

    Yvonne
    xx

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