Interview with S.R. Wilsher, author of The Collection of Heng Souk

Publication Date: May 1, 2013

Book Links:  Amazon

Synopsis: When her father dies, Sun Tieng visits his estranged brother, Heng Souk. Yet her frail, elderly uncle, a Vietnamese War hero, is very different from her tough and testing father. When she discovers in his house a notebook written by American POW, Ephraim Luther, detailing his torture by the prison commandant she is startled by what she learns.

Meanwhile, Thomas Allen, still reeling from the death of his daughter and the breakup of his marriage, is told that the man he always called Dad was not his father. His mother gives him a batch of letters she still has from the ‘real’ father, Jefferson Carlisle. Their tragic love story prompts Thomas to find out why his mother’s ‘greatest love’ never returned to her after the Vietnam War.

His search leads him to the notorious prison ‘the Citadel’, and to Sun and her uncle. Despite the hostility of her brutal husband and mother, Sun is drawn to Thomas. Aware that the fate of Thomas’ father is revealed in Ephraim’s notebook, she is torn between helping Thomas in his search and the damaging effect revealing what is in the notebook will mean for them.

Interview: Q1: Please tell us about the inspiration for your current release.

I don’t remember my father well, as he died when I was young and was away at sea for long periods with the Navy. But my mother told me that he was once shot at taking a gunboat upriver during the Korean War. She didn’t know much more, but the story grew out of that.

Q2: How did writing this book affect you?

My father is represented in both the main character of Ephraim Luther, and that of the missing Sonny.  Ephraim, with his nobility, became an idealized imagining of how I would have liked him to be, and Sonny the relationship I have with the missing man. I don’t have any issues about his death, but it did make me think a great deal about his absence, and of the bond I have with my own son.

Q3: Is there anything you haven’t written about that you would like to in the future?  

Quite a few things. In trying to find a style over the years, I’ve tried several and discovered I like the idea of switching genres. I’m not keen on reading or writing a series, because I like the end to be just that. My first four are all different and at the moment I’m mapping out a thriller, a love story and a children’s story.

Q4: Which of your characters would you want to be and why? 

I love Ephraim Luther as a man. But the character I would like to be is Rico, the narrator from my first book, Madness of the Turtle. Apart from it being nice to be 17 again, I like the way he eventually rebels against what he once believed fundamental. I like that clear-sighted willingness to learn and the desire to act no matter the consequences.

Q5: Do you plan any subsequent books?

Actually yes. Book 3, The Seventeen Commandments of Jimmy September, is completed and scheduled for release in December, and Book 4 - was played by Walter Johns - will be out next year. I like to work on more than one at a time with different tones so that they stay fresh for me.

Q6: What are you currently reading? 

I’ve just finished Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan – but didn’t enjoy it (see answer to question 9 – way too visible). I’ve started Snow White Must Die by Nene Neuhaus, but it hasn’t grabbed me yet. I’m looking forward to Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klausmann, and I’m saving ‘may we be forgiven’ by AM Homes. ‘this book will save your life’ is one of my favourites, so I’m looking forward to it.

Q7: All the books you’ve read, which has impacted you the most?

There are two that spring to mind instantly, and which I can’t pick between. I read Of Mice and Men when I was very young and it impacted on me philosophically, with the idea that death might be the better option for someone. It affected me profoundly and it prompted within Heng Souk in TCoHS, his ambivalence towards death. And literarily it taught me that the ending is more important than the beginning, as that’s where the emotional memory is created. Otherwise, without a great ending, it’s gone, forgotten and might as well not have been bothered with. I realise I’ve just set myself up for a fall.

The other is The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Grim and empty of hope as it is, I find the writing beautiful and it contains my favourite line; ‘If he is not the word of God God never spoke’. I’m not faintly religious- it’s a theme in my stories because I’m interested in it as a motivation - but the line has a significant place in the story with multiple meanings.

Q8: Please tell us your latest news (book related or not!). 

Apart from all the writing, I’m building a bookcase – I seem to like solitary pursuits.

Q9: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Only that I hope you enjoy what I have to offer. I want to be entertained, not educated when I read fiction. It shouldn’t be an effort to read, and I hate it when a writer imposes, using ‘look at me’ words when plainer ones would be more suitable. And I dislike cardboard characters. So, I hope that I’m invisible in the story, that it does entertain at some level, and that you like the characters – even the monstrous ones.

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