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What-if scenarios, the SSA, relationships, dagga & more – Mike Nicol on the ideas that sparked Sleeper

Published in the Sunday Times

Sleeper is crime writer par excellence Mike Nicol’s latest novel. Author pic: supplied.

Mike Nicol, Umuzi, R250

There were a number of ideas that sparked Sleeper.

The major one was the importance of whistle-blowers and how badly they fare when they expose corruption.

The second was a what-if scenario: what if Iran was surreptitiously looking to buy weapons-grade uranium on the international market?

And then another what if: what if we hadn’t destroyed all our weapons-grade nuclear stocks and some corrupt officials were open to selling the stuff?

There were other ideas, too, such as the ongoing relationship between the two main characters in the series, private investigator Fish Pescado and spy Vicki Kahn, and whether Vicki was still employed by the State Security Agency.

Could she, morally, have put aside her integrity to continue being employed by the state?

All this seemed to me to offer possibilities for a thriller.

Next came the constant question: how much to research? Well, I don’t like doing too much of that, especially as the daily news provides more than enough information.

When I’m writing a novel it’s about fiction, not reality, although I do have a lot of fun researching accessories, especially guns.

Which was when I came across a surprising video clip on YouTube, complete with a very cool soundtrack, put out by the Israeli Weapons Industry for their handgun, the Jericho. It’s worth a look.

However, the big surprise came somewhat into the plot when a character, of whom I was particularly fond and who has been in and out of a number of my crime novels, suddenly…

No, fear not, I’m not going to issue a spoiler alert, because I’m not going into specifics you’ll just have to find out for yourself what happened by reading the book.

Anyhow, this opened another opportunity to have another old hand return. “Nuff sed” for the moment. It’s actually one of the things about writing these sort of plot-driven novels which I really like – the unexpected walk-ons. You can never plan for them.

As for difficulties? There are always difficulties.

Just putting one word after another is difficult. And then there are instances – like did I really want to visit the Swartputs nuclear waste dump – where reality might have destroyed my story? No, I didn’t. I couldn’t afford to have the real world intrude on the story. Not completely at any rate.

So I’ll leave that for another day, and turn to a new plot development.

My main character, Fish Pescado, sells dagga to those who don’t want to buy their dope on the streets. In other words to people like oncologists, surgeons, lawyers, academics, advertising executives.

Since Sleeper was published a few weeks back, the world has changed a bit because of the recent Constitutional Court ruling on the private use of dagga.

After that was announced, I got a note from the publisher at Umuzi asking if this now meant that Fish would no longer be called a drug dealer but a florist.

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