Saturday 30 July 2016
The PINK SOFA meets writer Elizabeth Ducie
The PINK SOFA had barely cleared the gin stains and cake crumbs from its previous guest, when Elizabeth Ducie knocked at the Attic Room door bearing chocolate and flowers. Ever susceptible to blandishments of any sort, and a great fan of her multi-coloured hairstyle, the SOFA is delighted to host her, and share with you, beloved fans of its rather louche lifestyle, the exciting news of her newly published thriller Counterfeit!
''I wrote my first pieces for public consumption when I was a teenager and the Catholic newspaper, The Universe was running a four-part competition. There was a crossword and other puzzles to complete, plus a short story and a poem to write. My toe-curlingly saccharine, not to say illogical, short story was about someone returning to religion after the death of her husband; and my poem was about the order of nuns who ran the school I was at. Rather to my surprise, I was one of the four prize-winners who won a fifteen day tour of France, Spain and Portugal, with an emphasis on religious sites. It was my first overseas trip and hated every minute of it!
Over the next forty years, I wrote millions of words, but all of them were non-fiction, scientific and highly technical. Along the way, I got over my aversion to foreign travel and eventually worked in more than fifty countries helping emerging pharmaceutical industries make drugs safely. I also gathered lots of experiences and anecdotes about the people I met and the places I visited. My husband often said I should write about my travels and I would answer ‘yes, one of these days.’
Then in 2005, I had a bit of a health scare and realised that today was ‘one of these days’. I started learning about life writing and travel writing, but was surprised to find I was better at incorporating my stories into fictional settings; which is why so much of my writing is set in Russia and Africa.
I self-published my first collection of short stories in 2011, but thought it a prelude to finding an agent and getting my novels traditionally published. However, my views gradually changed and now I am very happy as an independent. My debut novel, Gorgito’s Ice Rink, was runner-up in the 2015 Self-Published Book of the Year Awards, and that felt even more special than my teenage success.
In 2012, I decided I’d devoted enough time to pharmaceuticals and science and gave up the day job to write full-time. Well, I say full-time, but by the time I’ve factored in the production and promotion aspects of being self-published (which I love) plus all the activities associated with life in a small town in Devon, it’s rather a part-time occupation. But I’m having the time of my life. Today is still ‘one of those days’.
Counterfeit! is a thriller, set in Southern Africa. It introduces readers to Suzanne Jones, a regulator in the pharmaceutical industry, who is heading up a campaign to cut down the supply of fake medicines into Africa. The campaign becomes personal when a friend buys a bottle of counterfeit cough syrup with tragic consequences and Suzanne finds herself, her family and friends in increasing danger. While the story is fictional (and I am definitely NOT Suzanne Jones) there are real incidents in the book and conversations I had with government and industry people when I worked in Africa a decade ago.
I am a great fan of James Patterson’s books, especially his Women’s Murder Club series and wanted to develop a similar group of strong female characters. Counterfeit! is the first in a series of at least three novels involving Suzanne Jones and her team. It will be followed by Deception! and Corruption!, both of which I hope to bring out during 2017.''
This is the opening scene from the book, at a conference in Swaziland in 2004:
‘In conclusion, lack of controls on imports makes it inevitable that many of the medicines available in Africa today are counterfeit.’ Suzanne Jones looked up from her notes. The light was dim. Moth-eaten gold velvet curtains had been closed to block out the midday sun, but she knew the hall contained representatives of every branch of healthcare in the region. There were regulators, mainly black Africans, from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, hoping to learn from their South African colleagues, known to be even stricter than the American Food and Drug Administration. There were the Asian owners of local pharmaceutical factories, desperate for hints on how they could win vital government tenders. The very few white faces in the room belonged to the Afrikaans distributors or ex-pat managers of the handful of multinational companies still trying to maintain a presence in Southern Africa.
Suzanne took a deep breath and spoke directly to the hundred-plus delegates. ‘The Intergovernmental Health Forum knows the problem is particularly bad here in Africa. We’re doing everything we can to disrupt the supply chains at the factories. However, Africa must play its part by tightening controls.’ She paused, smiling to take the sting out of her words. ‘Thank you for your attention. Are there any questions?’
‘I’m sorry, but I don’t have the luxury of worrying about quality. My responsibility is to provide enough drugs for all the people. If a few bad ones get through, it’s the price we have to pay.’ The Honourable Walter Mukooyo, Kenyan Minister of Health, leaned back in his chair. He mopped his forehead with a large spotted handkerchief, and glared over his half-moon glasses at the crowded hall, as though challenging anyone in the audience to disagree with him.
The minor civil servants who made up the Minister’s entourage were sitting in the front row, nodding vigorously. Suzanne bit back angry words. She tucked damp strands of long, straw-coloured hair behind her ears and tried to ignore the sweat trickling between her shoulder blades, down her back and soaking into the elastic of her knickers. She really didn’t want to lose her temper in front of this group. ‘That’s an interesting viewpoint, Minister,’ she said.
The Amazon global link: http://geni.us/ROFm