What’s the finance director of an engineering company doing writing a romantic thriller? Why does it make him paranoid? And what’s his take on that old chestnut: what are we doing here? Capetonian IAN SUTHERLAND told SUSAN BENTLEY about his début novel, Featherstream
Ian and family at Cape Agulhas, Africa’s wild and rocky southern tip, which inspired his début novel, Featherstream.
SO IAN, why should people read your book? Because it’s a page-turner and transports the reader.
Wasn’t being an engineer/banker enough of a challenge in life? Engineering has opened up my world and financed my lifestyle, and I’m very grateful for that, But in fact my biggest regret is having taken the engineering path because I was good at maths and science. Now I know it would have been helpful to look at all the other options.
What sparked your plot? I met a young woman who invited me to her family farm near Agulhas. The local people were exceptional storytellers who told me of shipwrecks, intrigue and unsolved mysteries during World War II. I turned their tales into a short story that has now grown into Featherstream, just as my relationship with that young woman has grown into a marriage of 25 years – ha!
Ian, a South African, started his career as an engineer, later gaining an MBA from Columbia University in the USA and working in finance and consulting in New York and Sydney. He then settled with his entrepreneur wife Melissa back in Cape Town, where they brought up their two children who are now young adults. Ian gained an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town in 2016, has been shortlisted for the 2018 Short Sharp Stories Award and has two romantic thrillers in advanced stages of production
Agonies and ecstasies of writing? Ecstasy: being transported into other intensely real worlds, dramatic landscapes where I have strong and profound experiences. Agony: my basic paranoia about failure, of not providing for my family, of spending too much time exploring my own passions.
Biggest creative challenge? Sitting down and doing it. Even doing my taxes appeals when I need to sit down and write. Writing is hard work and takes real willpower to focus. Another challenge is writing so that the inner and outer worlds of my characters are both clear.
One thing not a lot of people know about Ian Sutherland? I’m studying Russian to prepare for my next book which is set behind the Iron Curtain.
What’s important to you? My lived experience has taught me to focus on two things. First, on finding the meaning of life, which is elusive, requires continual exploration and I guess is partly why I write. Second, to find meaning in life. For me, this is experiencing beauty in nature and art, and to know personally the loving God I believe is behind it all. I’ve realised over the years that God’s love for me has nothing to do with my own efforts, and this breathes purpose into all aspects of my life, from the mundane to the challenging.
Most irritating habit? Snoring.
Top comfort food? If I was on death row, I’d request roast leg of lamb with mint jelly and roast potatoes.