One of the great pleasures as an editor is to be one of the first readers of great books. That pleasure is even greater when you receive a manuscript about a character you’ve come to know well, by an author whose writing you trust and admire.
My name is West Camel, and I’ve been working as an editor for Karen Sullivan since the early days of her independent publishing company, Orenda Books. The first Orenda book I worked on with Karen was Paul E. Hardisty’s The Abrupt Physics of Dying, in which Paul introduced to the world his hard-bitten, resourceful and psychologically complex hero, Claymore Straker. From my first reading of this book, three things were clear:
Orenda was a different kind of publisher – taking on and getting 100% behind a book that is both a fast-paced, adventure-filled thriller, and a literary and philosophical novel that could hold its own on the pages of the Literary Review (which it did in spades).
Paul E. Hardisty was a very special writer – someone who could craft a perfectly paced action scene on one page; paint a scene of breathless beauty on the next; and follow that with deep insight into the mind of his characters.
In Claymore Straker, the world had a new action hero, whose type it hadn’t met before.
Abrupt Physics sees Claymore Straker in Yemen, working for corrupt oil companies and witnessing the poisoning of the country’s limited water resources. As we quickly came to expect from this man of the moment, Clay isn’t one to sit back and allow exploitation to reign unchallenged. But his efforts thrust him up against powers far more complex than he expects. He is left him with physical damage that is matched only by the psychological harm that haunts his every moment.
The events in the Yemen mean that the next book in the series, The Evolution of Fear, sees an embattled Clay fleeing not just shady global criminals, but his personal demons, which seem to have grown inside him. As an editor, it felt very much like Paul E. Hardisty had himself grown between the two books – building up his literary muscle and feeling more confident about his unique style, in which out-and-out, all-guns-blazing action sits in an unexpectedly natural way beside intelligent character studies and cerebral musings. Part One of Evolution features a scene that perfectly demonstrates this startling combination. Escaping his Cornish hideout on a small yacht, Clay finds himself struck both by an Atlantic storm and by an internal psychological maelstrom. This for me is one of the most impressive action set-pieces I’ve ever experienced as a reader – or worked on as an editor. It was incredibly rewarding to help Paul hone it into its final form.
As I’ve already mentioned, throughout Paul’s first two novels, there is a growing sense that Claymore Straker is mentally damaged in some way. As an editor reading the various version of the manuscripts as they approached publication, I could see Paul trusting himself to develop this part of Clay’s character, ensuring that it wasn’t simply some shading, scratched on to give the impression of three dimensions, but rather an integral part of Clay’s personality, driving him to behave and think in the way he does. So when I first received an early draft of Reconciliation for the Dead, the third and most recent book in the Claymore Straker series, it was with huge interest and pleasure that I discovered we would be furnished with the full story behind this fascinating man’s unique and damaged character.
For Reconciliation is less a prequel and more an origins story. In it we witness a young Claymore Straker serving in the South African Army in the early 1980s, fighting in Angola and witnessing some of the most horrific incidents of the apartheid era. Even though I knew by the time I read this book that the backstory Paul would produce for Clay would be sophisticated, nuanced and moving, I was not prepared for the genius on display – even in the first draft. Told in a series of flashbacks, Clay, physically drained and psychologically bruised by events of the first two books, appears before Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and confesses to his part in some of South Africa’s darkest acts. Here Paul uses one man facing the horrors of his past to explore the self-examination a whole country had to undergo to remake itself in a better way.
But Claymore Straker books are certainly not only about an interior, mental journey; they’re also about how it feels to be out in the world – in extreme situations, in big landscapes, looking death and life in the face. So expect from Reconciliation all the jaw-dropping action sequences, heart-quickening chases and breath-taking shocks and twists you’d read in the very best thrillers. But expect them to have important and insightful meaning too. Because that’s the writer Paul E. Hardisty is. And that’s the reason we at Orenda Books publish him.
You can follow him on Twitter @Hardisty_Paul