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Tony Cleaver ~ El Mono

Tony Cleaver

Tony Cleaver

El Mono is the novel that I was inspired to write on coming to live and work in Colombia in 2011. I guess there had been the urge to write a novel buried deep inside me for years, if not decades, but I didn’t actually sit down and begin in earnest until a number of factors conspired to make me decide that, yes, this was the time and place to start.

There were both negative and positive impulses involved. Firstly my job: strange though it may seem, the many years of lecturing in Economics (what?) and explaining complex academic theories in a step-by-step manner gave me the experience of how to unravel a story and carry students along with me and keep them up with the plot. Meanwhile, the demand of maintaining academic objectivity left me always frustrated that I could not fully express my own discontent with the injustices, conflicts and painful choices that many people, particularly those in the developing world, are faced with.

Similar influences came from a number of books and articles I had read. On the one side, there was this review I had found stating that the world-wide English language market was now eagerly devouring novels based in foreign locations and written originally in other languages. On the other hand, I had picked up and thrown down certain other ‘best sellers’ where the plots were unreal, the characters paper thin and, particularly, the settings they were placed in were totally unbelievable -surely even I could do better than these?

Coming to Colombia gave me the place and the people I wanted to write about. The international image of this country was so distorted and unfair to this beautiful place that I finally got the courage to put a number of ideas into a plot and characters I could create.

One final underlying idea behind this, my first novel , came out of a theoretical notion that I’ve thought about for years:  that in a world of global capitalism, conflicts in the future will take place not between countries, but between multinational corporations. What if competition between big businesses actually gets fought out in proxy wars between sponsored groups of paramilitaries?

Tony Cleaver - PopayanSo, I started my novel with that idea, but what I found in writing this book was that when you create characters – hopefully believable characters – to move the plot along, then they develop a dynamic of their own. They actually take over. If you create believable characters struggling with real issues, then they have a way of deciding outcomes that surprise you.

The relationships that developed between the personalities I had drawn moved in ways that surprised me.  I set out to write a thriller about two competing multinational corporations fighting it out (literally) for control of the region’s mining resources. I got drawn in more and more to the emotional development of my characters: a love triangle; torn loyalties; the difficulties of parenting; and outrage at what thoughtless people are doing to the environment. Things began to happen between my protagonists that I did not originally plan. In fact, two chapters I wrote in my first design of the plot had to be discarded because they ceased to fit where these people wanted to go.

Writing El Mono drew all sorts of things out of me that I had not originally wanted to include. It was an amazing and cathartic experience. Events and emotions locked away and, I thought, forgotten about could now be drawn upon to enrich the plot. They say you should write about what you know. It is surprising when you use your own life experiences to draw upon to realize actually what you do know! Creative writing as personal therapy!

Finally, there is a conflict that runs all the way through this book that is an expression of a deeply held concern of mine. I have portrayed a culture clash between modern, urban, materialistic , lifestyles against traditional, indigenous, rural and more spiritual ways of life that are born of the natural environment in which they are placed. All countries, and especially those in the developing world, have to plot their own futures in our globalized world – pursuing increasing incomes, and yet finding enough space for the expression and promotion of their own distinctive cultures.

Individuals, communities and countries must decide somehow what to knock down, use up and what to construct in their place… and, in so doing, what to protect, preserve and what part of natural and social heritage to encourage in offsetting the relentless pursuit of material gain. My main man – El Mono – is an introspective, sensitive Colombian who, in life-style and language, cries out for all that we stand to lose if we are too short-sighted in our pursuit of consumerism.

Tony Cleaver
http://tonycleaveruk.wordpress.com/
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Tony Cleaver - Colombia