L A Nolan is a Canadian born Brit with an insatiable lust for travel and storytelling. He immigrated to India in 2013 after removing his corporate tie and leaving Canada behind. Once in India, he joined a motorcycle club and crisscrossed the Indian sub-continent countless times. During one of these rides, he broke several bones on a desolate mountainside in the Himalayas and rode the 1300 kilometre journey back to New Delhi, unattended and suffering. Nolan has dabbled in several other pursuits, being the frontman of a rock & roll band, and tried his hand at acting in Bollywood, after which he began writing full time. Nolan still rides alongside his club brothers and has now settled in Bombay with his wife and two very naughty motorcycles, Wilhelmina and Elvira. This is his second book.
TBE: Could you please tell us about your most recent book, Blood & Brown Sugar, its overall plot, and the main characters in it?
L A Nolan: At the outset, the plot of Blood & Brown Sugar feels fairly familiar. A young man is unwittingly forced into a world of crime and murder and struggles to free himself from the circumstances so he can return to a normal life. This, in the beginning, appears to be his only motivation. But as the situation around the main character, Alex Crossman, degrades, we begin to see there is much more at stake. Alex is in fact a man that harbors a host of inner demons and now has to face them one by one. He starts to question his perceptions of right and wrong, and to understand the faint longing and feelings of displacement that have plagued him since childhood. As we watch, Alex goes through a metamorphosis, a deconstruction of sorts, and in the end, he is left to choose what kind of man he wants to be.
This forced self-realization is a common thread that links most of the characters and instigates the sub-plots. While we see Alex running towards his past, embracing it, we see Ipsita Chaudhry, his newly found love interest, running away from hers. While agonizing over her life choices, Ipsita examines what her true motivations for her incessant need for success and inherent mistrust of men really mean. Ramdev, the motorcycle club president in New Delhi, Avinash Kumar, the senior NCB agent, are all on roads of self-discovery that finally intersect and collide at the end of the book.
That was the truth I really wanted to expose. That most of us are living life on the surface and that few people take an honest inventory of themselves until they are forced to by extreme circumstances.
TBE: What was the inspiration behind this story? Real life events you experienced? Where did you get your ideas for the plot?
L A Nolan: Absolutely. Real life events were the primary contributing factor for the plot construction. A culmination of some darker situations in my life, and the choices I made based on them sowed the initial seeds of the story.
TBE: Part of what makes your storytelling of Alex’s journey so powerful is the exquisite attention to detail. To write with such a command of the language, geography and authentic nuances of the characters makes me imagine that your research must have been exhaustive. What exactly did that research entail?
L A Nolan: I drew on my experiences quite extensively. Exhaustive you say? I could never fully explain. After I relocated to India in 2012, I truly was a stranger in a strange land. It was like moving to a different planet! Those first months of discovery and adventure after arriving here play heavily into Alex’s perceptions of the country.
Then I joined a motorcycle club, and spent the best part of three years on the road. Riding through 24 of the 28 states provided me with all of the cultural and geographical background information I needed. I’m not talking about highway riding here. I mean completely exploring each state. Every nook and cranny. I crisscrossed India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and soaked in every drop of life’s blood this country has to offer.
The club itself exposed me to a level of brotherhood and respect I had never experienced, and that also contributed massively to the tone and feel of the book.
Over and above that, I did typical “pour me another cup of coffee” read and research. That phase was grueling in its own right. As it turns out, India isn’t very forthcoming with what I like to call “ugly truths.” It’s difficult to get accurate statistics on things like road fatalities per year, drug overdoses, and things of that nature.
TBE: Blood & Brown Sugar illustrates your deep understanding drug cartel. You must have done a lot of research on Drug cartels and their workings and learned a great deal about them. Did you learn anything that surprised you?
L A Nolan: Yes! The fact that drug use is so prevalent in India and how extensively the cartels are ingrained and working within the country. I don’t mean drinking some bhang lassi during Holi or smoking a little hash at a party. I mean hard drugs. Particularly heroin. The abuse of heroin is reaching epidemic proportions in some states. It’s massive, yet the general public hears so little about it. I was raised in Canada, so the “war on drugs” in the US as well as Canada’s policies regarding narcotics were very much in my face while growing up. They continue to be spotlighted in the public’s eye by the media. Yet here, it seems no one is talking about it. It’s a huge problem.
TBE: The characters, especially Alex, in Blood & Brown Sugar go through some pretty horrific, brutal experiences. Was there ever a moment where you felt, “I can’t face doing this to a character I’ve created”?
L A Nolan: Naw, he’s a tough cookie. I never let my personal attachment to a character get in the way of a good plot twist or development. Although, now that I think about it, I may not be telling the whole truth here. There is one character in particular who should have met a gruesome demise, and I couldn’t do it. In fact, I had to re-write a few scenes to accommodate his flat-out refusal to die. Maybe I do have a deeper emotional connection to my characters than I care to admit. I’ll have to keep an eye on that.
TBE: Why do you think crime novels are so popular and resonate with the public? I mean, I would never like to witness a crime, and obviously I wouldn’t want to take part in one or fall victim, and yet when I see an interesting crime novel, I’m drawn to it.
L A Nolan: It’s similar to having a tooth pulled, I think. The dentist will tell you, “Keep your tongue out of the hole.” But you can’t, you just have to dig in there to see what’s up. It’s our darker nature.
That’s the pure joy and beauty of reading, isn’t it? That’s why we do it. A well written novel can transport you to the deck of a pirate ship, fly you across the stars to an alien planet or land you smack dab in the middle of a hideous murder. As curious humans, we all crave experiences that live outside our normal realm of being. We all want to walk a tight rope without a safety net. Books, stories, provide that. I think the crime and thriller genres bring those experiences to us with a little more impact. Each genre has something unique to offer, no doubt, but crime stories tend to strike you more where you live. Like a solid gut punch.
TBE: Can you tell us about your writing process? Do you outline the plot first or you have an idea and see where the story will take you?
L A Nolan: Ah yes, the age-old debate. Is it better to be a plotter or a pantster? I’m a bit of a hybrid I think, a “plotster”. For me, character development is crucial in a well written story and believing such, I do create extensive character outlines before I begin writing. However, I’ve learned from experience that a well-developed character doesn’t always do the things you want them to do. In fact, sometimes they run amok. See John Reeves in Blood and Brown Sugar. So, trying to hammer them into a structured plot is useless, it’s just too frustrating. So, I tend to let them run free within a loose plot outline. I know where they’re starting, and I’m fairly certain where they will all end up, but how they get there is largely up to the characters. They are quite clever you know. If you give them space, they won’t let you down.
TBE: How was your publishing experience with Leadstart?
L A Nolan: Overall, it’s been very positive. My project manager in particular, Ananya, has been fantastic. I don’t think it’s true, but I have heard that writers can be a little difficult to work with. Being overly artistic and all that. But if that is the case, she has been brilliant. She’s been there at every turn to answer any query or sooth my ragged nerves. An absolute gem. My dealings further up the hierarchy and in other departments have also been good with Malini, Bhavika, Trupti and Pooja. I feel part of the family there, that they truly have my best interests at heart.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
L A Nolan: Oh, I hope so! I have a few irons in the fire at the moment.
My collection of short stories, A Crate Of Rags & Bones, is currently undergoing its final round of edits. It’s a delightful tomb filled with murders, monsters and things that go bump in the night.
Blood & Bombay Black, the sequel to Blood & Brown Sugar, is in that ever so crucial beta read and first round of edits stage. It explores the characters that made it out of the first book alive in even more depth and throws a whole new herd of obstacles at them. I hope to have that wrapped up and ready for submission this year.
I also have completed the first draft of a historical dark drama called A Mad Dog & His Englishman. A story revolving around two soldiers of the British Raj, an Englishman and an Indian, who escape from Fort William in Calcutta where they were imprisoned for various indiscretions. It is set in 1917, as WWl is coming to a close. It’s a bit of a departure from what I normally write, but still maintains my basic flair for the macabre, I hope. That’s the thing about being a writer I suppose, whatever it is you’re writing, no matter how you may try to hide it, a little bit of your true nature always bleeds through.