Ceylon Storyteller – Interview with Roger Koch (5 January 2012)

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Roger KochIntroduction

A few years ago, Roger told me about a manuscript he was working on and asked if I’d look at it. I was so impressed with the story that I insisted he not give up on the project. Since then, I’ve observed how hard he has worked on the book and how willing he was to accept constructive criticism. He has now published his book and I am immensely proud of his effort. As such, without further delay, let me introduce you to Roger Koch …


Aneeta: Welcome, Roger. Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Roger: Thanks Aneeta for the opportunity to expose my views on your very informative and helpful site – I hope your reader will find mine a great story!

Aneeta: Let’s start with something about you. Where were you born, where did you grow up, what do you do for a living and where do you live now?

Roger: I was born in what was then Ceylon and now Sri Lanka, into a Dutch Burgher family – remnants of the old Dutch East India Company from the 18th century. But after Sri Lanka’s independence, my family migrated to Sydney, Australia when I was about nine and I was thus educated and grew up there, going to UNSW.

I had no real desire to travel or any specific background in hospitality (my degree was in Business/Commerce). But I did the proverbial year-long backpacking trip through Asia, Middle East (I was in Afghanistan just weeks before the Russians invaded) and Europe. Soon after I was given an opportunity of a mid management role in a resort in The New Hebrides (Now Vanuatu) and from there I worked my way through the hotel ranks in various locations from remote Palau and Pattaya to San Francisco, Singapore and Bangkok – now having lived in 14 cities around the world. After consolidating and opening the Sutera Harbour Resort in Kota Kinabalu, where I was also the Special Advisor to the Minister of Tourism/Chief Minister of Sabah, I moved to Kuala Lumpur where I now live.

In addition to writing I engage myself in various roles mainly related to the hospitality and tourist business and recently am engaged in helping set up a new hotel management company.

Aneeta: I know that you’ve been in the hotel industry for a long time and I’m sure you’ve got loads of stories to tell. What are your three most memorable stories from being in this industry?

Roger: I guess rather than focus on the numerous events, I should talk about the interesting people.

The first icon I really ever met was James Michener who came as the official U.S. representative to witness the handover of the New Hebrides ‘condominium’ – jointly owned and run by the British and French – of the new Republic of Vanuatu in 1981. It was quite bizarre how the two European nations, at loggerheads until then, ran the little island group with two entirely separate languages, governments, education systems, hospitals, police forces and entire public service sectors. For example, if I was attacked beside say, a French policeman, he would be unable to assist me as I, an Australian, fell under the British jurisdiction. In fact, the decision as to which side of the road to drive on was argued for hours by the two opposing governors at the central Hotel Rossi in Port Vila. They finally agreed that the nationality of the person passing by in a vehicle would determine the outcome. It turned out to be a Frenchman on a bicycle!

I was intrigued by Michener’s charm and humility – he was a rather smallish man and it was clear his wife ran his affairs. It may have planted the seed for my much later writing aspirations. Anyway, due to the Cold War I had to isolate him in the hotel well away from the Russian Ambassador who could only address questions and receive responses through his assistant. The P.A’s simultaneous translation ability was fascinating and I figured it was the only reason this non- literate (in English) ambassador could perform his diplomatic functions. However, after a thorough grilling of all the affairs of Vanuatu along the way to his villa in the sprawling resort, the Ambassador finally shook my hand and said: “Thank you for a most enlightening and delightful stroll through your marvellous property.” In a perfect Oxford accent!

Doris Duke, the extremely reclusive Rothmans heiress and at the time, the richest woman in the world (She was subsequently the subject of two movies – including “The Loneliest Woman in the World” with Farrah Fawcett) was enigmatic and very Joan Crawford like in her bearing and manner. Having flown her private jet to the resort I managed in Palau, she had invited me to join her for dinner in the company of her butler (Played by Richard Chamberlain in both movies) – apparently her subsequent murderer, along with Hugh Hefner’s daughter and a then well known actor, Jim Nabors. I wasn’t quite sure who she was at the time but I guess the private jet and the company she kept as well as their stay in the Presidential Suites should have alerted me.

Rather disappointed by the facilities on the island, she asked me if I could recommend another restaurant beyond the fine one in our hotel. I was happy to suggest a seafood restaurant popular with the locals, but I perhaps should have stopped to think before adding: “But it’s rather expensive, you know”. The gaping expression of disgust on each of their faces remains indelibly planted in my memory.

The next character I also met at the Palau Pacific Resort where I was General Manager. I had been notified to be on the lookout to assist a well-known photographer who was to be staying with us. Upon returning from an outing on my day off, I was concerned to be notified that she had checked in and had demanded that I contact her. Upon calling her room, I realised from her voice that I had just woken her from her 36-hour journey from L.A. But she brushed aside my apology and offer to call back, insisting to see me immediately. She was thankful for my offer to visit her in her room.

My first impression of Leni Rifenstahl was with the vivacity of this very elderly woman, who led me in and proceeded to introduce her amazing credentials. I sat wonderstruck by her photos and evidence of her very close relationship with Adolf Hitler and the senior staff of the Third Reich, although she was Jewish. I learned that she was the producer and director filming 1936 Olympics wherein she invented the ‘moving track camera’ process to film the great Jesse Owens, and the subsequent adulation from the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen, who bowed to her invention and talent.

I was fascinate to learn that, thrown out of Germany after the war, she took refuge in the Sudan where she took most of the pictures I fully recognised from my childhood of the stark and spectacular images of Africa in Life, National Geographic, and Time magazines. She then went on to tell me how she lied about her age to her diving instructors, who would have prohibited her at that age of 73 (8 years earlier), from gaining her PADI certification to pursue her latest career in underwater photography, for which she had by now built a considerable reputation.

Dumbstruck and heady from the hours of learning of her incredible achievements I nevertheless gathered my wits to ask her why she wished to see me so urgently. I was brought back to earth by her reply: “Your room rates are too high. Can I get a discount?”

Aneeta: Let’s now talk about your book, ‘The Underlying Hand’. Although I know all about it, for the benefit of my readers, please give us a description of your novel.

Roger: The seed came from a story called “The Epic of Gilgamesh” The oldest piece of writing known to man – even older than Moses’ ‘Genesis’. Yet the Gilgamesh story tells almost the same story about the The Great Flood of Noah. So, I got to thinking about how the Bible and mythology worldwide all tend to agree – but only with different interpretations.

The Underlying Hand thus takes a “What If” perspective. It’s a story first of all, full of characters and events, but underlying it all is a plausible interpretation of such things as how and why mankind came to be – indeed how and why do we believe what we do. What happened in Eden? What is this Tree of Knowledge? Who were/are the gods of mythology? Who were the ‘sons of god’ and ‘the sons of man’? What caused the Great Flood? Where are those ‘immortal’ gods now? Who is really the Underlying Hand?

Book One explains who, how and why, but the following books in the trilogy will go into what happened from there and how human history evolved from there. Essentially it is a very human drama, but naturally includes superhuman involvement. Modern advances in medicine and science helps to explain a lot. Moreover, it has put us on the theoretical threshold of immortality and the story explores some of the dilemmas that can cause.

The story is essentially told from the perspective of Nin – the daughter of the king of the Marduks. The king’s multiple marriages causes a rift amongst her step siblings that have profound effects on their race, which actually lead to the development of mankind. The siblings’ disagreements ultimately lead to taking advantage of a cataclysm caused by the Marduks themselves that results in the decision to annihilate mankind, except for some last minute intervention. To catch the whole story will require reading the book and many are looking forward to the natural continuation, which will appear in Book Two – The Gilgamesh Chronicles.

Aneeta: You chose to self-publish. Why? Has it been a good experience?

Roger: Initially I was reluctant and skeptical but overall it’s a much speedier process. Moreover, the author has much better control of the outcome. However, that requires also staying on top of the process and maintaining quality control, as independent publishers tend to follow a formulaic approach, so you really need to know what you want. Even the editing process needs to be monitored by the author and I’m glad I therefore had your help in that aspect.

If the author is clear on what should be the final outcome, then they can be guided accordingly and you will get a good product. After that, although publishers have good networks, you still have to do your own marketing in addition. Overall, and particularly with e-books and print-on-demand approaches by many publishers nowadays, it’s a good methodology – better if the author has already developed a following.

Aneeta: Obviously, there are elements of storytelling in your work. Which element have you used most and why?

Roger: Actually, following your suggestion, I read and I tried to adopt the James Scott-Bell  simple set of principles  – the ‘LOCK’ system. (LOCK stands for Lead, Objective, Confrontation and Knockout Ending). Those are primary necessities. But internally also, each scene must end with a ‘grip’ to entice the reader to read onto the next one. I tried to employ that process as much as possible, often breaking scenes to achieve the objective.

Aneeta: As you know, this website is for storytellers. What advice would you give to those who would like to tell their stories?

Roger: Well, you can’t beat the old cliché: “Just write!…and write…and write… The fact is that what starts as an interesting story, turns out invariably to be a vague outline and upon re-reading you will find so many errors and anomalies. But that’s how it should be. Because the reality is there is no escaping the rewrites. Just correcting those errors and anomalies leads you onto new paths and often the final story will likely only have the bare skeleton of your original idea – with a completely different flesh covering, skin tone and a whole new set of clothes! But also, as one reaches a certain point when the right structure is created, the story tends to wrap itself around it as if it’s the only one that belongs. I guess that’s when you can say you have a great story.

Aneeta: Roger, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Roger: Only that I’m looking forward to continuing the story and am anticipating the third book in the intended trilogy – The Divine Chronicles, which will lead to the present and future.

Aneeta: Roger, thank you.

Roger: Thanks for the opportunity. Just the interview has been a learning and useful experience.


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

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