08 May 2015

Guest Post: Rob Sinclair

We’ve got another Guest Post for you… and it’s a corker!

Rise Of The EnemyRob Sinclair is the author of breakneck thriller Rise Of The Enemy, which is out now, published by Clink Street. It’s the story of Agent Carl Logan, who has devoted his life to the Joint Intelligence Agency, which is controlled jointly by the USA and the UK. When the JIA sends Logan on a routine mission to Russia, his cover is blown and he has to fight for his life.

But as well as being a writer, author Rob has an equally-fascinating day job… he’s an accountant!

But not just any old accountant, Rob is a forensic accountant, investigating fraud and corruption. His work dovetails nicely with his career as a novelist, taking him close to the kind of criminal world he writes about.

In this generous and fascinating post, Rob talks about forensic accounting and how it has influenced his novels and his writing journey. Get a load of this…

The question I get asked most often is how I came to be a writer. When I tell people the unusual answer - that I started writing as a result of a challenge that I made with my wife, insisting to her seemingly from nowhere that I could pen a ‘can’t put down’ thriller - I get met with a mixture of blank stares and raised eyebrows. Taking up writing through what started out as little more than a bet is certainly an unusual course it would seem, and yet that was exactly where I can trace my writing career back to.

But everyone has to start somewhere, right? For me it was like a switch had been flipped. Where before I was content with my life as it was, pursuing my career as a forensic accountant, all of a sudden I was consumed by a desire to write a book and see myself as a successful writer. I’d never written fiction before that point, had never contemplated it, hadn’t attended courses or classes or anything like that, yet all of a sudden it was my unwavering focus. The second most common question I get asked, and nearly always after that first one, is whether and how my career as a forensic accountant, investigating fraud and corruption, has influenced my writing and my plots. Surely such an exciting job like that must be the inspiration for my novels? The answer I used to give was that, quite simply, my accountancy career hasn’t influenced me at all.

For me, writing has always been about more than work. Writing was and still is something that I’m passionate about, something that I take great joy from (even if the process does infuriate me at times when I’m stuck on plot elements). Put simply, writing in itself has never felt like real work to me. It’s a hobby that I just happen to get paid for (albeit through a lot of hard work in publishing and promoting my work). Writing is a release from the real world. So on the face of it, when people asked me how my career as a fraud investigator influenced my writing, it was very easy to give that stock dismissal.

As “sexy” as forensic accountancy might appear in the world of numbers, spreadsheets and corporate accounts, it’s just not something I’ve ever thought about basing my stories around. The more times the question was asked, though, the more I really thought about it. The saying goes that you write what you know. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Your writing voice is always going to sound more natural and knowledgeable when you write about events and experiences that are close to you.

Rob SinclairClearly, I’m not actually a black ops intelligence agent, like Carl Logan, my main protagonist. I’ve never yet had to kill anyone as part of my job no matter how much I may have been tempted. Logan is a figment of my imagination, crafted by my over-active mind and influenced from every book I’ve read, every movie and TV series I’ve watched. And yet certain traits of him have almost certainly come from me or the things I’ve seen. So just how has my life and my corporate career influenced my writing then?

The first crucial element is the writing process itself. Writing a novel is a very personal experience and I’m sure every person who achieves the feat does so in a different manner for a different purpose. For me I think of it as a project and I tackle it as such - much like I tackle writing a 200-page investigation report, where I have to piece together all of the procedures we’ve undertaken and the evidence we’ve uncovered into a narrative; a story. In many ways the creation of those reports isn’t at all too far removed from writing a novel save for the fact that one is lodged very firmly in fact while the other is merely influenced by it (as I’ll come onto very shortly!). But don’t forget the spreadsheet. Don’t ever forget the spreadsheet!

I love writing, I’ve loved it from the minute I started doing it but I’m also a born accountant. I’m in my comfort zone with numbers and spreadsheets. I know that’s just not as exciting as telling people I’m a thriller writer but it’s the simple truth. I’ve worked with spreadsheets nearly every day of my adult life and feel there’s very little in life that can’t be explained or enhanced by their usage whether it be mapping out an extravagant holiday or organising your wedding or writing a novel.

I have spreadsheets that explain much of my life and I also have one for each of my novels, breaking them down chapter by chapter. I’ve found it an infinitely useful process, particularly during the editing stages, allowing me to properly analyse chapter length, points of view, timelines, locations and make sure everything fits together and has a consistent flow throughout. But my life has influenced my writing far beyond the mere use of spreadsheets. As you can possibly imagine, when you’re investigating large-scale corporate fraud and corruption, you’re only ever one step away from the criminal world.

On the fraud side I’ve investigated cases of various shapes and sizes, from a director embezzling millions of pounds of company money to fuel a gambling habit, to a high-powered American family bleeding their publicly-listed company of hundreds of millions of dollars. Corruption cases often take on an extra degree of murkiness whether it be allegations in the middle east involving senior officials in the UN, or in Kazakhstan with rumours of armed stand-offs between business rivals and the involvement of corrupt officers from the national intelligence service.

These cases are high profile and can be thrilling to be involved in. It doesn’t take a big leap, particularly for someone like myself who’s a natural day dreamer with the attention span of a newt, to imagine some of these alleged crimes linking into a seedy criminal underworld. Take the director addicted to gambling for example. Okay, so in that case we could trace the vast majority of the money he’d stolen to having been used and lost via an online gambling account. It’s not too hard though to re-imagine his plight into a thriller plot. Perhaps he’d actually become indebted to a vicious loan shark, a ruthless mobster who was bleeding him dry and threatening him and his family with violence, and his life was spiralling further and further out of control as he plunged into criminality.

Now there’s something you could write into and work with for a thriller novel, right?! The more I think about the details of my experiences, the more I come to realise just how and where I’ve been influenced. And it’s not just the tales of indiscretion that have either deliberately or subliminally found their way into my writing; it’s the softer experiences too. The places I’ve visited, perhaps on holiday, or on a long-ago school trip, or on one of my many investigations which have seen me either travel to or work with teams on six continents. It’s always infinitely more easy to write about a setting when you’ve been there before, when you’ve lived and breathed the culture if only for a few days.

Also certain people I’ve met, or in the least their most dominant and recognisable characteristics - perhaps someone I’ve loved or admired or even despised - have made it into my stories in one form or another. I can always sense the nerves and suspicion in my wife when she reads of a character’s love interest in my work, with her mind immediately racing as she tries to identify how much truth there is in the encounter. It’s not as simple as that though. Despite the influences, the vast majority of what I write about comes to me only as my fingers are typing. I think that’s the same for a lot of writers. There’s only so much pre-planning you can do.

A lot of the big plot ideas are certainly formed in my head when I’m not in writing mode and can take a lot of working through, but nearly all of the intricacies come only when I’m in full flow, typing away at speed with the real world completely shut-off from me. Often it’s only afterwards when I sit back and look at the work and put the pieces back together that I start to see where the idea came from, or identify the experience that led to that character being formed in the way they were. It’s an unusual process to put yourself through, analysing your own work, your own brain in that way.

Perhaps it’s my natural inquisitiveness, the investigator in me always searching for answers that’s led me to think about and analyse my work like this to try to identify where my inspiration comes from, and the more I think about it the more I see how my life and my experiences have shaped my stories. One very simple thing I’ve learnt from my soul-searching is this: My rampant brain has held these ideas and fantasies and leaps from reality since the day I was born. They’ve always been there. It’s just the way I’m wired. For most of my life those ideas were wasted but the fact is I’ve always been a writer - I just didn’t always know it.