There are two principal reasons why I felt compelled to write this story. One is to do with the scale or extent of unaccountable political surveillance and covert action, and the second a more prosaic literary concern. I deal below with these in turn.
The “Muffin Man” is a tale set in the 1970s that, through the personal lives of its key founding staff, charts the rise of a secret organization that carries out assassinations away from Congressional or other Governmental supervision.
The tale was born from personal knowledge (since the Wiki leaks affair a far more common perception than hitherto) that the US government in particular has been monitoring communications of all kind for many years and has initiated far more covert operations than have become public knowledge. Although some reduction in the scale and scope of these operations occurred during the self-righteous Carter and Clinton eras, it is highly likely that even during those times the covert activities continued much as before but were hidden away from Congressional and other governmental oversight.
These convictions led to my belief that at least some of the American secret services will have known in advance of the 9/11 attacks. As a result I wanted to present a scenario that made such knowledge likely, hence my creation of a secretive organization set up many years previously and kept away from direct Government accountability. To be credible I concerned myself (and hence the story concerned itself) with how such an organization would or could have been formed, what type of people would populate such an organization, and their manner of working. In particular I wanted to emphasize how relatively ordinary they would have been, and that their personal circumstances would have determined their involvement, whether by being blackmailed or volunteering to join.
With regard to the second, literary concern, I wanted to write a story that focused on the characters and their lives and concerns, rather than to produce a catalog of escalating events in the traditional manner of political thrillers. While this may be exciting, I have many times been left wholly unconcerned during the reading of such novels because there was such little depth to the characters. I therefore felt compelled to write a tale that provided more ‘feel’ to the characters, even at the expense of the expected pace of the story.
I felt and continue to feel that I could always write a sequel that conformed to the normal approach, but that would be after the first tale had established the character of the key participants.Time will tell how successful that approach has been from a marketing perspective. I certainly feel I achieved both my objectives, creating a credible background for the formation of such an organization as well as believable and to varying degrees sympathetic characters.
Cultural differences between the US and Europe required more thought. Most Americans now know Iran as a hostile country run by intolerant clerics and know or care little of its Persian history. Most Britons would know more of its location and cultural heritage but only history students or those readers over fifty years of age would likely know much of the Shah and his downfall. From a writer’s perspective, this led to considerable difficulties in selecting the location and in choosing how much of that background to include within the text. I left the reader to deduce from the setting of the explosion and its aftermath the brutal nature of that regime and the amateurism of its opponents, at least before the Shah’s abdication.
Our perceptions of the extent of government surveillance have also modified. Indeed following the Wiki leaks and other exposés these are likely to have changed radically since the book was written. Hence the assumptions I made concerning readers’ likely non-acceptance of such surveillance having been routine even in the 1970s – which lie behind much of the story – would now be far less shocking.
Finally, within the novel there are many nuances of behavior: the manners and similar language used by the main characters in England make it clear that they are all from middle class backgrounds. This selection was very deliberate, probably betraying my own prejudices as to who really runs our democracies. Equally, Ed’s family life is taken straight from a ‘rural-idyll’ view American life – a ranch in rural Atlanta, a home-making wife and a husband in the military. The intent was to make it clear that such an organization would have stemmed from absolutely ordinary people with, of course, the ultimate goal of the author being to change at least some aspect of his readers’ views of the world.
Stephan Collina grew up in the 1970s: a troubled time of recession, poverty, industrial disruption, political tension and terrorism. But for younger people, it was also a post-1960s wide-flared, drug-enhanced and extravagant-haired innocence.
Stephan later became a prominent businessman, acquainted with a number of high-ranking politicians. Stephen ran international technology businesses, spending a great deal of time in the USA and various European and African countries.
The Muffin Man grew from a combination of these unique experiences: his early knowledge of the sometime innocent business of drug dealing (although he never inhaled), and of the much dirtier businesses of covert political and military action, and of international business practices.
Stephan’s first novel explored the nefarious and complicated emotional and sexual relationships of a remote village in Wales, where he had spent his early years.
Stephan holds a degree in Philosophy. He is also a qualified commercial ship’s captain. He now lives quietly by the sea, and concentrates on his writing and related film making activities.
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