By Alexander James
Azam Gill is a writer and a warrior. And his thrillers are based on first-hand experience of front line fighting, covert commando operations, under-cover intelligence work … and on a seemingly incongruous lifetime’s love-story with literature, study and teaching.
Now a French citizen, Gill was born in Pakistan, the son of a renowned jurist father and a talented playwright mother. He is fluent in several languages, but it is in English that he writes his novels. He was educated in English schools and colleges run by British and Americans and he gained his BA from Forman Christian College of the Punjab University in English literature and Political Science.
Accepted as a ‘gentleman cadet’ at the Pakistan Military Academy, he passed out among the top 10% of his graduation year and was commissioned to a light infantry battalion of the Punjab Regiment in Kashmir. He also won his paratrooper’s wings.
In Kashmir, one of the world’s flash-points, Gill and his troops lived in underground earthen bunkers, crossing snake- and rain-filled crawl trenches and minefields as part of daily routine. The Kashmir border is known for a war of attrition involving intensive patrolling, fire fights, artillery duels ... and a chilling casualty rate.
He served as Intelligence Officer, Company Commander and Regimental Adjutant and was also in charge of the crossing of spies through his sector.
It was all vital experience for the kind of novels I wanted to produce. I earned the right to become a thriller writer the hard way … I suppose you could say I wouldn’t ask my lead character do anything I couldn’t do myself.Gill received a Master’s in English Language and Literature from the Punjab University and published a pamphlet, Jail Reforms, and a book, Army Reforms. Although Jail Reforms was on the syllabus of the Prisons Training Academy, both books were seized and burnt by the authorities.
I was angered by what I saw around me and the best weapon available to me was the pen. The trouble was, the enemy was more heavily armed.One of his former instructors was the late President Zia ul Haq’s private secretary. He called Gill to Islamabad and warned him that he should immediately leave the country before his imminent arrest for angering the authorities by his writing.
Harassed, seeking protection and a new life, Gill decided to take the advice – he followed in the footsteps of beggars and princes who have served in the ranks of the tough French Foreign Légion.
After basic training, he was posted to the 1er Régiment Etranger de Cavalérie and became the first Légionnaire to gain a PhD, which he received from Grenoble University.
At the end of his Légion contract, which added a wealth of experience to his writer’s arsenal, Gill worked as a language teacher and became a lecturer at Grenoble University’s Polytechnic. He was then seconded to the French Navy, where he taught English.
He never laid down the pen during this busy period and wrote a monthly column on Geopolitics for The National Educator, a Californian monthly paper. His political articles were published in non-fiction book form under the title Winds of Change: Geopolitics and the World Order (IUniverse, 2001).
I needed to express myself to a wider readership than I could reach with my more academic work, so I turned my hand to fiction … and it worked!His first novel, Blood Money, was published by UK-based BeWrite Books and was closely followed by Flight to Pakistan, also by BeWrite Books.
Rather than stating hard facts and opinions, I learned to make them apply to characters that came to life on the page.
Readers could relate to the people I created and hear what I had to say by following them through gripping stories of love and hate and triumph and disaster.
Fiction is a wonderful medium.
I was motivated by the horror of Islamic terrorism and its covert funding in the west. All I needed was a hero and a gripping plot, so I created a character who was a battle-hardened Foreign Legionnaire and drew on a lifetime of experience to bring the scenes to life.Gill now has two other novels in the pipeline and has no plans to ever stop writing in spite of a heavy day job schedule and hobbies that include cooking, swimming and French Savate Boxing.
Some of the seemingly wildest people, places and situations in my books are 100 percent real. I’ve met them, I’ve been there and I’ve done it!
I wanted the book to be absolutely realistic, so I also put in a lot of extra research – and it turned up other facts much stranger than fiction.
I was working full time when I wrote the novels, but I set myself word-targets to meet and the pages seemed to fill themselves.
BeWrite Books saw potential in the first manuscript, Blood Money, and I worked closely with one of their editors, Neil Marr, for three or four months, pruning, rewriting and even adding passages until the book was ready to go.
My second BeWrite Books novel, Flight to Pakistan, came more easily because I’d by then had a grounding in fiction. Again, though, there was the guidance of another seasoned BB editor, Hugh McCracken, to see the work through to publication.
Much of the editing process involves curbing my enthusiasm for providing lavish detail. It’s the teacher in me.
The editing process itself is an experience no writer should miss. The BeWrite Books team is pretty spread out with its professional editors and admin and technical staff in France, Germany, Canada and the US, so everything was handled by email and telephone. It’s a tremendously streamlined and efficient way to work.
When I took my family to meet some of them at a get-together in the French Alps – it was between the two books – I found that they were just as passionate about my work as I am myself. Neil Marr was there, Cait Myers, the publisher, and Neil’s son, Alex, who handles the technical side of things. We talked books, politics, religion, French cheeses and what have you until the sun came up again.
In his 40s, he lives in France with his wife and three young children.
We have a lively family life, but the children are wonderful – they know when I’m at work writing and leave me in peace.Gill – informally, he prefers his French-sounding surname to his first name, Azam – is one of several new names in fiction to find the answer to the closed-door policy of major publishing houses in a handful of editorially driven independent small publishing houses whose main sales outlet is the Internet.
Even the small presses are swamped with submissions. But at least they’re open to as proposal from an author who isn’t exactly a household name. And the entire process is thoroughly professional.This interview first appeared in Twisted Tongue Magazine
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