Described as a “Geopolitical Thriller”, author Martin Venning’s debut book “The Primary Objective” certainly ticked all my boxes when it comes to a good read – a thriller, based in a far flung place, strong believable characters, adventure and a touch of escapism. The thriller is based largely in the borderlands of Azerbaijan and Iran, an area not usually covered in adventure books and features quite a few feisty strong female characters too. The blurb says the book is a story about fate and how a disparate group of characters interact, often unwittingly, to make the best of the situation they find themselves in. I don’t know about fate, perhaps that does play a part, but reading the book I enjoyed the interactions between the characters and how their personal lives entwined with the task they were set and a few unexpected twists along the way. It was certainly a page turner!
Peace International is a New York based global reconciliation and mediation charity that seeks to prevent wars, regional disputes and rebuild civil societies. When a tip comes in that Iran is building a chemical and biological weapons research and production centre, it soon becomes clear that where they’re considering building – close to the border with Azerbaijan – could destabilise the Gulf region and beyond.
Selecting a small team of volunteers, they form a task force to collect evidence, entering through a dangerous semi-lawless area in southern Azerbaijan. What they discover is a far more complicated web of challenges than a weapons facility. For PI Operations Director, Edwin Wilson, the mission is his most perilous yet, threatening the lives of his team and the international reputation of his organisation. But for two Iranian men, Fawaz and Jamshid, the stakes are even higher.
Driven by contrasting personal circumstances and life chances, they face difficult choices as they seek different paths to prosperity in a controlling, repressive society that takes no prisoners…alive.
I was lucky enough to get a chance to chat to Martin about his excellent debut…. Hi Martin!
Hi I’m Martin. Keen hiker in the Pennines. And Creative Writer.
“The Primary Objective” is your debut novel – and what a fantastic debut! Who or what inspired you to put pen to paper?
It’s weird I have always known I would end up as a writer. My business experience taught me to write phorensically – with clarity and conciseness. The discipline to develop an extended piece of work, I thought may be beyond me. For years I toyed with but ultimately ducked the challenge. It took an unscheduled extended period in hospital following an accident to help me on my way.
I know I have been fortunate and owe a debt of gratitude to so many NHS workers in Leeds & Huddersfield. For a period I was bedridden and ended up spending time with people with no prospect of recovery, some who were getting used their new prospects as amputees. Somehow they had come to terms with making the best of their situation. Nurtured by the attentive care of strangers, many seemed naturally to find chinks of light in their personal darkness. They were a great inspiration. It made me start to imagine what it must be like to become institutionalised- to live your life within the boundaries set arbitrarily by some anonymous organisation which seemed to dictate every aspect of daily life and behaviour. Dangerous too – as though your mind has gone on to automatic pilot. When to eat, what to eat when to rest and when to take medication. Planning a trip to the loo took some forethought almost like a military operation.
It was amazing how this regime challenged the ability to think rationally and independently. Whether you`re in hospital, prison or working in a corporate environment the pressure to conform is universal.
I had trained as a journalist, so always thought I could write a book if I had to. If you are a journalist summing up a story in a few paragraphs is straightforward. Writing a sustained narrative is hard. When I focused on writing I was as involved as the reader. I had no idea how the story would work out; but it happened as a result of a period with no distractions!
I enjoyed reading the book from start to finish. It was a great adventure story that kept me riveted. All the characters were very believable, but I really loved the strong female characters of Mahta and Amy Fong. So, which character did you enjoy writing about the most? Which character was the hardest?
Glad you picked up the emphasis on female characters. The book features five women, different ages, each in different pressurised situations taking responsibility for shaping their futures in a male dominated society which doesn`t easily recognise women’s rights. Two stand out for me. One is Anya, a former Azeri soldier with a score to settle, making a life as a tourist guide having suffered the rigours of combat. I like her because of her detachment and mental discipline. She finds a way of containing and resolving her negative experiences, so she can move on to live a more positive life. The other is Shimina, a young girl in the provinces, who wants to break free from the social norms of her community to have a social life, an education and marry a man of her choosing. A normal aspiration in the West, but not so in that part of the world! Mahta is someone who has used her intellect to escape the pressures of day-to-day life but realises she has paid a heavy price for the privilege which cost her marriage and personal privacy. Amy Fong is an innocent, someone obliged to do her national service, but comes to realise how dangerous it can be. Another, Hanah is born into privilege and so has no need to conform to societal norms. The hardest character to write about was Hafiz al Fouadi. He was not a criminal but was corrupted by a society he was part of. He went through hard times and had to be entrepreneurial to get by and build his wealth, whilst trying to avoid the obvious trappings of success, that would raise suspicion. His approach to being an entrepreneur was amoral on occasions ie. if he could make money, he`d do it. His inability to differentiate between right and wrong ultimately costs him his life.The reason why Al-Fouadi was the hardest to write about was the fact was he was an ‘accidental’ bad guy. Because he had some good qualities it was difficult to find the balance in the description of his character…
Were there any aspects of writing the thriller that surprised you, pleasantly or otherwise?
Yes, most characters caught up in thrillers are not exceptional people, just ordinary folk having to contend with extraordinary circumstances. Who’s to say any of us aren’t caught up in a real-life thriller at some stage of a story’s development? That’s why I love them. Good thrillers normally tell stories of how people react when they are put under some sort of pressure. Their reactions often define their characters and plots.
Growing up have you always wanted to be a writer or did your career plans lie elsewhere?
I have always enjoyed writing, and have come to appreciate its value to me, acting as a distraction from the day-to-day humdrum of earning a living! Not sure yet whether I am good enough to earn a crust, but may revise this answer when my second book is published later this year.
‘The Primary Objective’ is based in Iran/Azerbaijan – what is it about Iran that attracts you and why did you decide to base your novel in that area?
Firstly, it’s a corner of the world not many people know about or have visited so the reader gets a chance to go exploring with me! Given its remoteness it is also a place where tribal bonds are stronger than national boundaries and laws. Secondly, “The Primary Objective”demonstrates how laws are interpreted to suit local conditions and the interests of the ruling, usually corrupt minority. What is really engaging about Iran from a writer’s perspective is that it is a society that obliges people to live clandestine lives. For example, men who drink alcohol in secret. Women who dress in colourful clothing and wear make-up to stay in. Government agents checking up on people suspected of having illicit sex, people who earn money desperate to give it to charity to avoid being pilloried as “an exploiter of the oppressed”. The country also has a fascinating and rich history which is not widely known in the west and all of this makes a topical backdrop for a novel.
Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?
I’m old school. I like a physical book you can get hold of, mark the pages or worse. For me a book is like a room you need to make it yours and live in it. I’m thinking about making The Primary Objective an audio book if there is the demand for it. I go through mad periods of voracious reading especially if I get into something which holds my attention. Writing is such a competitive business. There are so many excellent writers out there. My favourites are Gerald Seymour, Charles Cumming and Bernard Cornwell. Love their styles and the construction of their plots.
Is “The Primary Objective” available to purchase worldwide?
Yes, if all else fails Amazon will get it to you wherever you are or want a quick read via Apple Books…
If you could visit any place in the world to give you inspiration for your next book, where would you go and why?
I have produced manuscripts for two other books so far, so I won’t comment on their settings. I tend to write about places I have travelled to at some time in the past, so the next one might be set a little closer to home!
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
Like to be smart but low-key; jacket and polo neck maybe dark chinos.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?
Nervous about buying clothes online but quite like NewChic
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
Probably a new leather tan jacket if I sell a few books.
Boots or Shoes?
Shoes definitely. Love good quality brown brogues. Since my accident boots aren’t comfy on my ankles these days.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/Facebook etc
Thank you Martin for chatting to me about your book “The Primary Objective” and for the copy of your book too.
All photographs have been published with kind permission of Martin Venning.