The astonishing tale of 'The Genesis Secret' has made British novelist Sean Thomas comfortably wealthy. He wrote it in Bangkok
Nanmee Books had British writer Sean Thomas in Bangkok recently to promote its Thai translation of his novel "The Genesis Secret", described as a "literary thriller" that blends "The Da Vinci Code" with "Raiders of the Lost Ark".
Except that Sean Thomas didn't write it - his pseudonym did: Tom Knox.
Born in Devon in 1963, Thomas is a journalist and occasional TV presenter as well as a novelist - "Absent Fathers" came out in 1996, "Kissing England" in 2000 and "The Cheek Perforation Dance" in 2002.
In 2006 there was his autobiography, "Millions of Women are Waiting to Meet You". It reached No 6 at Amazon UK and has been optioned for American television and found publishers across Europe, into Russia and on to South Korea and the US.
But last year's "The Genesis Secret", which marked his debut as Tom Knox, is garnering Thomas a far wider audience, stretching to Australia, Southeast Asia and Brazil - though not Kurdistan, where the recent discovery of an ancient temple provides the novel's basis.
Possibly dating to 10,000 BC, Gobekli Tepe is the world's oldest temple, predating the Great Pyramids.
War correspondent Rob Luttrell pays a visit just in time to see the temple sabotaged and a murder committed. Meanwhile back in Britain, Detective Forrester is faced with a series of gruesome "mystical" murders that seem connected with ancient Middle Eastern religions.
The Nation got to tug at the plot threads in an interview with Thomas at the Bangkok International Book Fair.
You've visited Thailand a lot.
I've been here many times. I spent my time in Bangkok finishing this novel last time. And I'm here now to finish the next one.
Thailand is a very good base to write. I live in a hotel off Sukhumvit Road. It's tranquil and sunny. I like the food.
Did you get the idea for "The Genesis Secret" here?
I was in my flat and saw a short television report describing this amazing temple being excavated in a very remote part of eastern Turkey. It's 12,000 years old - incredibly old.
I had a decision as a freelance journalist. I flew to Istanbul and travelled to that remote and dangerous Kurdistan area, where a sort of civil war was going on back in 2003.
I arrived in this hot dusty Kurdistani city and suddenly there it was, quite big. About 5 per cent of the complex had been uncovered. Most of it was underground. There were beautiful stone carvings of lions, snakes and birds.
The reason these carvings are still so beautiful is because the whole complex was deliberately buried in 8000 BC, by those who we used to believe were cavemen. Actually, who built this place remains a mystery. The chief German archaeologist at the site told me we were the first people to see it since the Ice Age - a good line for a journalist!
My impression was there would be a big story. I was amazed, and the temple was much more impressive than what had been reported on TV. It's more important than the discovery of Tutankhamun. It changes all of human history. The temple predates agriculture and writing.
The facts are amazing - why turn to fiction?
I was really poor: Life as a freelance journalist sees income ups and down. So my literary agent said, "Why don't you write a thriller about that temple you told me about?"
I'm very passionate about history and archaeology and my novels tend to combine my passions.
How is "The Genesis Secret" selling?
It's been sold in 23 countries, translated into 21 languages, including Thai. More than 300,000 copies have been sold. I'm very pleased to say it's been a commercial success. I used to be poor. Now I'm quite rich, not very rich, which is nice. I can choose what I want to do. I still do journalism. But I do stories I like to do. That's a great thing.
What's the new book about?
It's set in Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. It's a mix of history, murder and violence. Part of the story is about the Khmer Rouge. It's more a historical book, a contemporary adventure mystery.
I'm trying to explain what happened to the Cambodians. I think it's to do with the rejection with religion. Pol Pot wanted to kill God, not just stop people believing. I think if you do that in society, then an evil arises.
You were in Cambodia recently.
I went to Pol Pot's grave. There's a spirit house there and people come to pray. There was this Thai man who prayed to Pol Pot's ghost for lottery numbers. He believed Pol Pot would give him the winning numbers.
Is Cambodia the focus of your reading at the moment?
I'm reading Cambodian history. I particularly enjoyed a good biography of Pol Pot by Philip Short, and another book called "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel, which won the Booker Prize.
What's your main objective when writing a thriller?
I want to make it entertaining, with a good story and interesting details that you enjoy.
One reviewer put you in the same league as Dan Brown.
Dan Brown is not a very good writer of English, in terms of style - he's not Shakespeare - but he's very good with the plot. Writing a plot is like putting together a machine, like building a clock. He does that superbly well.
The reason "The Da Vinci Code" sold so many copies is because it's a fantastic story in terms of construction. I took it apart piece by piece to see how he did it.
Can writers learn something from "The Genesis Secret"?
Why do human beings have this propensity for violence? Why do we have human sacrifice? Why do so many religions have a dark side to them?
In Christianity there's the death of Christ. In Judaism there's circumcision and animal sacrifice. Always religions have this violence. This book tells you why.
All of the great religions were born in Kurdistan about 8000 BC. This book tells you why they're the way they are.