Friday, 10 January 2020

Friday Fiction Feature: Anna Legat

Sandman, inside a terrorist’s head by Anna Legat.

Sandman is the latest installment in my DI Marsh crime series. The title character is an Afghani veteran of two wars: the war against the Soviets in the eighties and then the War on Terror. He is bitter, feeling betrayed, dehumanised and robbed of his honour, his country and his family. He blames the West for his plight and embarks on a mission of revenge. DI Gillian Marsh is pitted against him and his collaborators in a deadly game of cat and mouse on the periphery of Salisbury Plain.

Terrorism has become a hallmark of our times. When devising a theme for each of my DI Marsh installments, I think of such hallmarks, be it homelessness, road rage, the loneliness of old age or the rise of far-right extremism. I want my books to reflect the times we live in. Some of these themes I understand better than others. Some of them I experienced myself, others I witnessed. But getting inside the head of a hardened terrorist and understanding his motives so that I could write about him with authority was a tall order. I didn’t want to botch it.

I have always admired my idol, crime-writer Ruth Rendell for her uncanny ability to read the most deprived and damaged minds. She was so good at it that you felt wary of her – you almost – irrationally - suspected that her own mind wasn’t that far removed from that of a psychopath, or a serial killer or a cynical murderer. She was as good at getting inside the mind of a victim. I want my characters to be equally authentic and equally believable. Sandman was my biggest challenge yet.

As much as I had some background knowledge of some of my characters, such as the Zimbabwean farmer or the Polish train driver, I had to research others in order to do them justice. I watched documentaries about the Falklands War so that Oscar’s nightmares could touch a nerve – and that happen when a retired Army officer validated my descriptions as accurate and praised their authenticity. 

In order to reliably convey Sandman, I delved into the history of Afghanistan. I didn’t struggle with understanding the mentality of a nation subjugated by the Soviets – that was easy, I know of it first-hand. Sandman’s personal journey through two wars was harder. I am eternally grateful to Rodric Braithwaite for writing Afghantsy, The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89. I read that book from cover to cover, took notes, re-read passages, and I gained a glimpse of what may be crossing the mind of an Afghan who had lost everything apart from his expertise in killing. I hope Sandman captured the essence of the mind of a terrorist.

Links to my books:

Bio: A globe-trotter and Jack-of-all-trades, Anna Legat has been an attorney, legal adviser, a silver-service waitress, a school teacher and a librarian. She read law at the University of South Africa and Warsaw University, then gained teaching qualifications from Wellington College of Education (Victoria University, New Zealand). She inhabited far-flung places where she delighted in people-watching and collecting precious life experiences for her stories. She writes, reads, lives and breathes books and can no longer tell the difference between fact and fiction.

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