David Burt divides his time between running his electrical contracting businesses employing one-hundred and thirty employees throughout New Zealand, and his great passion, writing. David graduated with an MBA from Massey University in 2000. David is actively involved in improving mental health outcomes for those within the construction sector, presenting on the subject throughout the county, following the release of his book Lengthening the Shadow. An at times light-hearted but deeply personal account of living with depression. He is the proud recipient of the first SiteSafe Award for the Mental Health and Well-Being Category. David talks to NZ Booklovers about his debut novel.
Tell us a little bit about Embedded.
Embedded centres around a young Afghani boy in the 1980’s who loses his family in a botched attempt by the CIA to kill a warlord. It follows his lifelong quest for vengeance. A chance meeting with Raihana, a young Afghani girl, complicates his life. From Afghanistan to America – with the unwitting assistance of a Pakistani drug cartel, the New York Casario crime family and the CIA – Ali puts in place a plan so destructive it would alter the course of history. The culmination is three explosive days in New York where Ali is the most hunted man in America.
It’s a story of loss, revenge, love and challenges the concept of terrorism and how terrorists might be made.
What inspired you to write this book?
I can’t paint, sing or play a musical instrument with any level of competency, so that doesn’t leave many artistic avenues for me. Seriously though, I dislike books or movies with weak plots. I guess like most of us, I thought I had a good story in me so I thought I’d give it a go. There is something about the power of creating a world that can come to life and have the ability to enthral readers. I really wanted to achieve that.
What research was involved?
Hundreds and hundreds of hours of research. The book is set to historical periods and events such as the Russian invasion into Afghanistan. To make it authentic, I had to research all about the region; what they wear, eat and the language. I knew nothing of the CIA, how and where it operated. Nor did I know much about the Mafia crime families and organised crime; or for that matter about heroin and the process from the poppy fields to the white powder that is sold on the streets. In short, I know all about it now. I even know how to make heroin, although not the least inclined to do so.
When it came to New York where most of the novel is set, I realised I couldn’t get what I needed from the internet. I felt it was important to see the places for myself so I could create authentic scenarios and images. So we travelled there and went to the locations where much of the book is set.
Without giving too much away, there was a freak incident that occurred which could so easily have taken my wife’s life. Not wanting to waste an experience, that incident forms quite a violent part of the plot.
What was your routine or process when writing this novel?
I found writing after a busy day impossible. There was simply too much stuff in my head. If I had what I needed, I could write flat-out for eight or more hours at a time if not interrupted. My routine would be research, character development and plot lines during the week until I had enough to write a bunch of chapters; then I would lock myself away, or book a bach for several days at a time. I was very fortunate to have written many pages while sitting around the pool at the Sofitel in Fiji. My happy place! I sure many would have looked at me tapping away on my laptop thinking, ‘what’s this idiot doing working ten hours a day on holiday.’ My wife Jo, spent many hours reading, editing and giving advice. I have a wonderful photo of her sitting in the water at the pool bar in Fiji, making notes on the near final manuscript.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Desperado by the Eagles. It says so much about the main character - complicated victim. It’s like the Eagles wrote this for the soundtrack. I can almost see the scene on the big screen where it might be played.
New York by Alicia Keys – again I can see the prefect scene for this. If I told you which one then I’d ruin an important part of the plot for you. If you read the book it will become clear.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
Answering this question has been fun. I’m not going to lie, I wrote the book with one eye fully on how it might look on the big screen. I dislike movies with weak characters and plots where you come away disappointed.
My main cast would be:
Main character - Ali Tahar Rahim
Love interest - Raihana Emeraude Tobia
Afghani drug lord - Musa Khan Ali Suliman
Mafia boss - Tony Casario Milo Ventimiglia
CIA Home Land Security - John Connor Alexander Skarsgard
Ali’s friend and business partner - Mata Rewi Richard Te Are (This is 100% how I pictured Mata).
I’d have to check first to see if they are all available.
What did you enjoy the most about writing Embedded?
I think it was creating characters and wrapping a strong exciting plot around them. To me, they are real people, and in my mind I can see them clearly and know everything about them. I’d like to think my readers can as well. I believe the power of a great book is one which can distract you from your own world and whatever is in your head - taking you new world where words on a page will bring to life the characters and images in the readers mind. Being able to make a reader want to turn the next page is a very satisfying experience. I’d like to think Embedded does that.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
It’s a strange feeling completing this as it took me ten years to write it. (I’m hoping to complete the next two books by the end of the year.) We are having a launch party for around 200 people in Auckland on the 12th May. It happens to coincide with turning 60 so I’m looking forward to celebrating the launch of Embedded with a fine group of people. Having them all together in one place will be pretty special, especially considering Covid has prevented so much of that.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I must admit, I rarely afford myself time to read for pleasure. Everything I seem to read is related to research these days; which I thoroughly enjoy so it’s no challenge.
First they Killed my Father by Loung Ung. It’s the harrowing story of a five year old girl living a life of privilege in Phnom Penh ahead of the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the appalling genocide that followed. To say it’s my favourite book this year is tough considering the subject matter. However, the way it’s written and the power of human endurance through the most unbelievable adversity is beyond inspiring.
I have been to Cambodia and seen many of the places in the book, so it held a very special significance for me. The subject is a key plot in my next book.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
Currently I have two books in the process of being written. It may seem weird, but I’m doing them both at the same time while still completing my day job running a business with 140 people and all that comes that.
Alex Johnsons naked and tortured body is discovered shackled to a wire bed frame in rural Pennsylvania in 2001 – the only clue, a rusted steel ball which had been forced into the mouth of the retired CEO of a mutations firm. When other munitions executives start suffering a similar fate, FBI agent Todd Millan must unravel the motive to trace the silent assassins before they can strike their next target.
This page turner follows the history of CIA involvement in America’s clandestine war in Cambodia. A war that resulted in the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the genocide of millions. Sometimes, forgiveness is not enough, sometimes the only way to silence the terrors of the past is retribution.
From the shadowy underworld of organised terror – Six-foot Sudanese MI5 agent Miriam is embedded as ‘Samir’ into a terrorist organisation so clandestine and structured - no secret service organisation in the world can trace who they are, or what and where their next move will be.
Leaving no electronic foot print, Miriam is their only hope as they wreck terror upon the cities of the West, threatening to change the balance of world order. Her only link is a contact known to her as the facilitator. Miriam must unravel the web before their masterful plan can come to its ultimate conclusion and alter the course of history.