Friday, 29 April 2016

Guest Blog Post: Little Sister by Giles O'Bryen (Thriller)

March 2016, Thomas and Mercer, 486 pages, Paperback 

Summary from Amazon (not an affiliate link)
James Palatine, a trained killer with a surplus of conscience, is also the inventor of the device known as Little Sister. A unique prototype, it has powers of surveillance that governments and terrorist organisations would kill for. The problem is, it's gone missing.

James is determined to retrieve it, and so is Natalya Kocharian—the arms dealer who ‘inadvertently’ sold it to a rogue dealer. But the current owner, holed up in the scorching void of the Western Sahara, won’t give in without a fight. Meanwhile MI6 will do anything to beat Palatine to the prize.

As the hunt for Little Sister goes from administrative errand to international arms race, global security hangs in the balance. Knowledge is power, after all—and no secret is safe from Little Sister. With only Natalya on his side, can Palatine take on his enemies, his demons and the dangerous power of his own invention?

Nayu's thoughts 
This isn't a full review because I haven't read the book, although it sounds really good which is why I'm highlighting it. Giles has kindly written a piece to go along with this synopsis, so I'll pass you over! 

Thoughts from Giles O'Bryen about Little Sister
 As an editor working at Michael Joseph in the 1980s I used to copyedit the novels of Dick Francis, author of a hugely successful series of thrillers set in the world of horseracing. They are fine books, well written and exciting, but they have one glaring weakness: the female characters are almost invariably demure creatures with an array of angelic tendencies, whose defining role is to pine for the missing (usually kidnapped) hero and be on-hand to prepare a high-quality omelette when he returns.
I was puzzled by these characters. My own family is full of clever, independent and forceful women, and the stereotype of the meekly devoted female was unfamiliar to me. When I was planning my book Little Sister, I knew that I wanted a female lead of a different order: intelligent, feisty, resourceful – and just as likely to save as be saved.

This character became the Ukrainian émigré arms dealer Natalya Kocharian. Nat’s involvement in the story is entirely of her own making, and her motives are not especially honourable. What’s more, she is quite promiscuous (though selectively so) and exploits her sexuality to get ahead in her career – feeling perfectly entitled to use any means available to even up the odds in the clubbish, male-dominated world of the international arms trade.

Writing about Nat Kocharian, I found myself veering towards another stereotype. Women who are attractive, and know it, and use it… They are bimbos, right? I toyed with the idea of making her unattractive in order to sidestep this trap, but wouldn’t that be just another way of re-inforcing the stereotype? Why shouldn’t Nat be clever, strong, funny and beautiful? After all, the hero, James Palatine, is all of these things and no one complains. Why shouldn’t the same apply to a female character? She is, after all, a bit wicked, too.

I have to plead guilty to a third tendency, though. Dick Francis wrote about the kind of women who appealed to him, and I have done, too. I like Nat Kocharian very much. I think she is a great person – fundamentally good hearted, full of warmth, vigour and optimism. And perhaps it is important that she isn’t perfect, because people who are (or seem to be) beyond reproach can seem cold in real life, and not very credible in fiction. Fallibility is a definitive human trait, and anyone who is quietly honest about their failings is the more lovable for being so. Nat goes through some chastening experiences – not because she is a woman, but because she is too good a person to perform the morally wayward role she has mapped out for herself. She knows herself better at the end of the book than she did at the start – though it would be giving too much of the story away to explain how that new self-awareness comes about.

A first-time male writer creating a female character? What presumption! How can a man possibly know how a woman thinks and feels? My answer comes in two parts.

First, how can anyone possibly know how anyone else thinks and feels? You only ever hear one internal voice, and it’s your own – that strange, jumbled world of fantasies and consolations, of yearnings and disappointmens, of happy musings and grievous miseries. Even if you think deeply about it, it’s hard to map out the interplay between your internal voice and the way you speak to family, friends, colleagues. Writers have to try, though, because seeing the world through another’s eyes is one of the great pleasures of fiction.

Secondly, I believe that we are inclined to exaggerate the differences between men and women. Points of difference are much more interesting than points of similarity – and that is partly because there are fewer of them. But think for a moment about all the human characteristics we share. We know that gender-specificity sits on a continuum, with ‘feminine’ men and ‘masculine’ women meeting in the middle, or even crossing over and heading off in the opposite. A 100 per cent feminine woman might indeed by a mystery to a 100% masculine man – but Nat is not that woman and I am not that man. 

Assuming you don’t live in total isolation from the opposite sex, I don’t think it is absurd to suggest that a man can think his way into the head of a woman, or vice-versa. Which is not to say that I succeeded in the case of Nat Kocharian in Little Sister. That’s for you to judge.

More information about Giles can be found on his Amazon author page.

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