On the imprint page of Mike Scott’s new self-published novel Bait is a standard disclaimer.
“Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.”
Yeah, right Mike Scott.
In an exclusive interview with the author at a café inside a stonewall remarkably like one in the novel, I learned he wrote the book during lockdown after reading a series of Jack Reacher thrillers.
“Off the record” he tells me he found his main character Archilles Smith at a house at Ōkupu where a man in Crocks and no protective gear with a giant concrete saw was cutting a several tonne rock in half.
“I just looked at this incredible specimen and thought this is what a New Zealand Jack Reacher would look like.”
I have withheld the person’s name to respect Mike’s wishes.
The novel features a local carrier and pig hunter Tommy Blackwood (from one of four original settler families), an archaeologist ‘Ron’ (who walks bare foot with a black dog), and an Irish publican named Moera, though Mike says when it is reprinted, he will change this to a name beginning with O.
At the launch of the book at the Currach recently, publican Orla read a section where the armed offenders squad storm an Irish pub and Archilles is forced to straddle a woman in a toilet cubicle to avoid being detected.
Her knickers on the floor, the women “drops a broccoli fart” and yells “pervert” at the balaclava wearing officer as he looks under the door. Archilles disappears out the window into the night.
Mike tells me he was relieved to have run in to police officers Roger and Kylie earlier in the morning and to confess that he had killed “the Kylie character” off.
Mike wrote the novel listening to Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin, which enabled him to get into the flow. “I’m not a country and western guy but Ghostriders in the Sky by Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson really got me going. If I played it the next morning, I’d be able to pick up where I left off.”
The ex-policeman, farmer and paper mill worker, did the gas run and mail run while living on the island for three years before moving to Tanners Point near Katikati last year.
As a teen he was dropped off at Bowling Alley Bay with a friend with a bag of flour and rice, handlines and a speargun, swam out to passing boats to trade crayfish for supplies, and tried to stowaway on the boat Baroona back to Auckland by hiding under Port Fitzroy wharf, was discovered and held for ransom until his father turned up with the fare.
“The book is ten percent love letter to the island.”
While writing it he always assumed that Archilles would die at the end.
“I read Hemmingway’s Farewell to Arms and always remember the closing scene where the hero’s pregnant wife haemorrhages and dies while rowing across a lake from Italy to escape the war.”
But when Mike’s wife Margo read the book, she felt that was too gimmicky, helping Bait to become the first in a series of “Barefoot Fisherman Thrillers.” He has started on a second.
Mike says he knew it was going to work when he developed the villain character and their plot to destroy the world. He is particularly tight lipped about his inspiration for this one, despite my best attempts at probing questions.
“I’ve got a plane to catch on Wednesday and I need to get off the island before people work it out.”
Copies of Bait are available at the Community Art Gallery in Claris and The Outpost in Tryphena.
Story by Tim Higham