“I was 18 years old, I’d just left school and got a job in London, working in an insurance company. I was working inside – in an office! My mother thought that was like being CEO of Shell Oil.
“I was late one morning, I took a short cut through the church yard to the station to catch my train. I’d just finished reading The Sun Also Rises the night before; and here I was looking at all these gravestones, I remember thinking: Gee, we’re not here very long. Better make it count.
“So I went home, told my mother I was quitting my job and going to Morocco. She damned near fainted.”
After traveling through Spain and Africa, Colin hitch-hiked across Europe to Sweden to visit a girlfriend he’d met the year before on a football tour. When he finally got back home, he was still restless. After failing to make the grade as a professional football player, he traveled around Asia; his experiences in Bangkok and India later inspired his thriller Venom, and his adventures in the jungles of the Golden Triangle of Burma and Laos were also filed away for later, the basis of his OPIUM series about the underworld drug trade.
He emigrated to Australia where he helped a mate establish a new advertising agency. “We could only afford this derelict building for an office. Once we were pitching to a client during a thunderstorm and the roof flooded. A piece of the ceiling fell down and just missed his head. Fortunately he had a sense of humour. We got the account!
“After a couple of years we were doing much better. We could even afford to pay ourselves a wage! But I really wanted to be a writer, not a copywriter. When I told my mate I was leaving to try my luck in the Big Smoke, he offered me 40% of the business. It was 40% of nothing at the time. I saw him a couple of years ago, and he’d just sold the agency for twenty million dollars. I worked out what 40% of that was on a pocket calculator. It’s quite a lot of money, apparently.
Colin went to Sydney and worked in TV and radio and freelanced for many of Australia’s leading newspapers and magazines. But he got his dream, publishing over a dozen novels in the UK and US and having his work sold into translation in Brazil, Belgium, the Czech republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Korea, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey.
He lived for many years in the beautiful Margaret River region in WA, and helped raise two daughters with his late wife, Helen. While writing, he also worked in the volunteer ambulance service. “I’d be at my desk typing, then thirty minutes later I might be crawling into an overturned car or running along a beach with the oxygen for a near drowning. It was an interesting time.”
He travels regularly to research his novels and his quest for authenticity has led him to run with the bulls in Pamplona, pursue tornadoes across Oklahoma and black witches across Mexico, go cage shark diving in South Africa and get tear gassed in a riot in La Paz. (He was actually trying to cycle down the Death Road. In the end he had to abandon the attempt and take the bus down.) He also completed a nine hundred kilometer walk of the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
A few years ago he stopped writing. ‘I suddenly found I couldn’t do it anymore. It was after ‘The Year We Seized the Day.’ I was ridden with guilt and I remember standing on a beach in Thailand late one night, and I said to God: ‘Okay I’ve had enough now.’
A week later I was in a Thai hospital, only time in my whole life I’ve ever been sick, I’d got some sort of tropical infection and I was close to multiple organ failure. I remember praying again (that’s twice in one year!): “Hey I didn’t know you were listening, Big Guy! I didn’t mean it! I have two girls to look out for!”
“I survived but when I got home I started drinking too much and I couldn’t find my writing mojo. It got ugly there for a while. Thought I’d never write again.”
Then he published Silk Road, and got a three book contract in London, and his love affair for life and for writing returned. “For me, the two things are inseparable. My passion for one infects the other.”
His fiction comes from dedicated research and what he calls a quest for Hemingway’s ghost; characters with a passion for life, for love and the courage to face down their demons.
‘When I was walking through that graveyard I made two promises to my gawky 18 year old self; one – that I would not die feeling that I had not lived, and two – that I would follow my siren call to write, no matter where it lead. I feel like so far I have kept that promise and I intend to see it all the way through.’