An Abu Dhabi-based Scottish expat has become a best-selling thriller writer, but believes his literary success is hardly an accident, writes Nick March.
Glaswegian in Abu Dhabi enjoys second career as bestselling author
Seumas Gallacher, long-term expat, self-published author and rising social media star, pauses for a moment over his fish supper and a question I've posed to him about why he thinks his books and his blog are faring so well. "I'm told my name lends itself to authorship because it's a little different," he answers.
Gallacher, 65, a Scotsman who has lived in Abu Dhabi since 2004, is enjoying a pretty decent start to the new year. He's been voted "Blogger of the Year" by Skelat, a curious and maverick online outpost, while downloads of his two novels have recently surged past the 50,000 mark. Yes, that's 50,000 virtual copies ("best-selling stuff", says the author, proudly) and none too shabby for an unknown writer.
He's also recently sewn up distribution deals to sell his Jack Calder novels - the first entitled The Violin Man's Legacy, the second emblazoned with the words Vengeance Wears Black on its cover - in branches of Borders, Jashanmal and Magrudy's bookstores across the UAE. He has at least three more novels in the series in the works.
Self-publishing, once the laughing stock of the literary world, is enjoying something of a prolonged moment in the sun too.
Spurred on by the explosion in e-publishing and a slew of high-profile successes by Amanda Hocking, the inspirational poster girl of DIY publishing, the vanity press now exudes a strong whiff of sanity. The note of caution in all this though, is that for every Hocking - who went on, in the manner of a poacher turned gamekeeper, to sign a well-publicised US$2 million (Dh7.3m) publishing deal with St Martin's Press - there are thousands of other self-published authors who bump along without ever selling more than a handful of copies or breaking even, let alone making any money from their writing. Gallacher, however, is moving along nicely in the hinterland between those two extremes.
The author describes his particular brand of fiction as "good guys smack the bad guys" and "a couple of steps up from chewing gum for the mind", exhibiting a flash of his self-deprecating sense of humour that shines through persistently during our chat over dinner at one of the capital midtown eateries. A more elegant description of his fiction might be "airport thriller", an obvious point of reference would be Lee Child and his best-selling Jack Reacher novels.
Gallacher's Jack Calder books are action-packed affairs that rattle along at a decent pace. The author's writing style is to make something happen on every page - he favours "bang" over "whimper", he likes a boiling pot of a plot - and his novels unravel the story of the author's main man, an ex-SAS serviceman who's stumbled into gainful employment in the occasionally shady world of private security ("the career of a journeyman mercenary isn't plotted," writes the author in The Violin Man's Legacy).
Calder is, in the author's telling, "a product of the Glasgow slums", and is as tough as the streets from which he was hewn. "Govan," writes Gallacher early in the first book, "was a rough-and-ready dockside neighbourhood, forged in the shadows of the heavy industries associated with the shipyards. Life was uncompromising. A mix of Scots lowlanders and Irish immigrants bred a harsh reality. A man worked or his family went without food. Any quality of life was a direct result of holding down a regular job."
Gallacher, a product of that same Govan area from which both the great and long-serving football manager Sir Alex Ferguson and Booker Prize-winning author James Kelman also sprang, is as no-nonsense as his fictional protagonist.
The author calls himself an "impact guy" and says that he gets things "executed" at work.
He was tempted to these shores in 2004 by a short-term contract as a "corporate turnaround" expert. He planned to step back into retirement when his month-long mission expired. Upon arrival, he swiftly closed, in his words, a series of "big ticket" deals. On such moments lives change course.
The best laid plans were set aside and Gallacher decided to "hang around" after deciding, not unreasonably, that he "likes the place". Later in our fish supper he will amplify this statement from "like" to "love".
Staying on, he began to provide management advice "intermediating" between banks and clients.
"I think I am fairly straightforward with people, I am very honest. I call myself an adviser rather than a consultant. I make hard and fast recommendations. No pussyfooting," he says.
Gallacher is most assuredly not a pussyfooter, but the story of how he walked into writing for both pleasure and profit begins (not surprisingly, given the photograph that accompanies this piece) on the Corniche and with a spot of hotfooting it along the capital's favourite waterside walkway.
"I spent ten nights walking the length of the Corniche and back every night. I spent my time thinking about what should go in a book like this, from a standing start, nothing at all in my head. I wanted an ending in my head before I started," he says, before negating the need for a spoiler alert by adding that "by the time I wrote it, it went off in different directions".
His first book took him three months to complete. "You have to be careful with this stuff," he says, talking about the writing process, "it is never as good as you think it is. It is your baby. You fall in love with it."
He attributes his relative writing success to discipline and his businessman-like devotion to process. Inspired by Rachel Abbott, whose self-published debut novel Only the Innocent racked up big sales last year after the author launched an aggressive online marketing campaign, Gallacher drew up a business plan.
"Rachel Abbott's idea is to make it your business to get out there. That is separate from the business of actually writing. The writing is [another] part of the business. The business is getting your name in front of people so they know where to get the book, how to get it and how to get it cheaply."
Gallacher turned to LinkedIn for his own online campaign.
"I put on my LinkedIn and told my connections it was my 'punch at the moon'. I thought nothing much was going to happen. Within a month I'd sold 80 copies. I thought 'fantastic'. Within three months it was at 7,000 and within six months we were at 16,000 and now we have 50,000."
He also tweets and blogs to drum up support for Jack Calder and the rest of the gang who populate his books.
None of this has happened by accident, he says.
"There is a business and campaign behind it. I allocate specific times in the day to do writing, editing and social networking. You have to be very disciplined with it."
In saying this, Gallacher demonstrates a firm grasp of the fine balance a self-published author must strike between the art of a book itself and the science that helps lift it out of obscurity.
He also offers this advice for any other authors who are about to reveal their work to the world.
"Price it right, don't gouge people, because if it is good enough they will come back and buy more anyway. Whatever else is happening, keep on writing."
Nick March is editor of The Review.