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  • Writer's pictureJames McGee

'I just don’t have a feel for the characters or the setting or the politics.'

RSF Militia - Khartoum April 2023

The above quote came from my agent when I e-mailed him a synopsis and the manuscript of my latest novel The Salma Option back in March 2022. Oh, and he also confessed, after some time had passed, that he 'didn't know the market' for the type of story it was, or rather is.

Which goes some way to explain why I had to resort to getting the thing published through Amazon's Create Space/Kindle programme rather than my up-until-then regular publisher, HarperCollins (or any other mainstream publisher, come to that...).

If we knew then what we know now. Never has a phrase seemed more apt, given the headlines of the past couple of months.

The reason being that the plot centres around the international hunt for a genuine animal-trafficking network known as Hydra and a band of poachers, who also happen to be members of Sudan's Rapid Support Forces, one of the two military organizations currently at war with each other as they battle to gain control of the country. The conflict has been brutal and bloody, resulting in the death of many Sudanese civilians, while members of the international community were forced to flee in fear of their lives.

The first third of the novel takes place in Chad and Darfur, Western Sudan and features many of the well-documented criminal activities of the RSF, from murder, torture and money-laundering to smuggling and the aforementioned ivory poaching. In many instances I've used the real names of the individuals involved.

In any other universe, all this would probably have been considered a supreme slice of good fortune, which might have resulted in some serious book sales. Sod's Law, however, based on my agent's and publisher's reaction to the story, decreed otherwise.

To say I was gutted at the reasons given (not to mention, I'll admit, borderline hacked off) is something of an understatement.

Timing, as they say, really does appear to be everything...or maybe not...

Because I did drop my agent a short note when the latest Sudan conflict kicked off, hinting that there might be a way to re-market the manuscript after all, in light of the continuing news coverage, even, I suggested jokingly, as non-fiction.

It's been two months; I have yet to receive a reply.....of any kind.

In the meantime, out of pure cussedness, I thought it would be interesting (and possibly amusing, though on second thoughts, maybe not..) to list a selection of articles and news reports that have just happened to catch my eye since I first submitted the manuscript, and which have had a direct relevance to the 'characters, settings and politics' that appear in the novel. They range from the world of drug and animal trafficking, African game reserves, Sudan and the activities of the RSF, a certain royal memoir and the Thai cave rescue, all the way to China's role in the illegal wildlife trade, as well as President Xi's ambition to spread Beijing's influence throughout Africa, South East Asia and other corners of the globe.

Independent - Wildlife Trafficking – April 2022

Independent - Ivory Traffic – Jun 2022

BBC - Animal trafficking - Tigers 07/07/22 (Repeat)

Independent - China a threat to West - 08/07/22

BORGEN Series 4 - Title Sequence - July 2022

China is a sleeping giant, let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

Guardian UK - July 2022

Reuters - Animal parts being trafficked - 18/07/22

African Parks on Zakouma National Park, Chad

BBC News - Executions in Myanmar - 25/07/22

Thai Cave Rescue Films

The Rescue (Documentary - 2021)

Thirteen Lives (Feature Film Jul 2022)

Guardian UK – 25/07/22

Beijing urges British politicians not to 'hype the China threat'

Independent - 27/07/22

Top US general warns of China's military advancements.

Spare - Memoir published Jan 2023

World News - 15/4/23

Conflict breaks out in Sudan between the military and RSF forces.

The Rest is Politics podcast - 12/5/23

Rory Stewart & Alistair Campbell discuss SEZs (Special Economic Zones).

Independent - 17/5/23

Decision to close Confucius Institutes in the UK discussed in Parliament.

BBC News - 20/06/23

Global network of sadistic monkey torture exposed by BBC

The Rest Is Politics podcast - Interview with John Major 20/06/23

The threat posed by China and why Britain is not treating it as seriously as it should.

BBC Panorama - 26/06/23

'Is China Watching You' - China's surveillance tactics on the West.

India Today & Various global publications - 26/06/23

Sri Lanka scraps plans to export 100,000 endangered toque macaque monkeys to China.

Amazon Prime - Jack Ryan Season 4: Air date: 29/06/23

Opening first episode features the drug trade in the Shan States, Myanmar (Burma).

Watch this space....

Independent - Inside Thailand's Rampant Tiger Cruelty - 2/07/23

Undercover investigation of Thailand's zoos shows abuse of tigers for tourists selfies...

Amazon Prime - Jack Ryan Season 4

Specific mention of the manufacture and distribution of the drug yaba in Myanmar.

SKY News 17/07/23 - Inside Myanmar: The Hidden War

Major report on civil war in Myanmar.

BBC The Media Show - 19/07/23 - Going Undercover in Myanmar

Interview with SKY News reporter Stuart Ramsey about his SKY News report - The Hidden War - 30/07/23

'Joining China's Belt and Road was an atrocious decision,' Italy Defence Minister says.

'Critics see it as a tool for China to spread its geopolitical and economic influence'.

The Rest is Politics podcast - 02/08/23

Discussion between Rory Stewart and Alistair Campbell in the aftermath of the military coup in Niger. Among the points covered was the political situation in the Sahel region, notably in Mali, Chad and Sudan, involving the change of leadership in Chad following President Idriss Déby's death and the ongoing rivalry between the head of the Sudanese army and the leader of the RSF, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

Guardian - 04/08/23 - Human Rights groups call on Laos to release Chinese lawyer detained by Laotian police after fleeing China.

'Laos, like many south-east Asian countries, has a history of cooperating with China to detain people wanted by the authorities.'

OK, I'll stop now, but you get the picture.....

Except for:

The Telegraph 17/09/2023

'The Home Office is exploring stopping a special visa scheme that allows foreigners to come and teach Mandarin for the Confucius Institutes amid criticism of the body’s ties to Beijing....'


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