Today I am very pleased to welcome Oggy Boytchev to Liz Loves Books in my Getting to Know you feature as part of the blog tour for The Unbeliever. Details on the book follow. Thanks so much to Oggy for taking the time!
Tell us a little about your current novel, what readers can expect from it.
A: The Unbeliever is a novel about a Cold War spy. It’s a panorama of Cold War paranoia and intrigue spanning four decades, told through the life of one extraordinary – and real – spy. A story of love, loyalty, ambition and betrayal at a time when nuclear war seemed imminent. A low-profile diplomat from a communist country is selling secrets to the CIA. But he gets mixed up in a power play beyond his control with devastating consequences. The only person who he can trust is his long-suffering wife who knows that he is unfaithful to her.
Where did you grow up and what was family life like?
A: I grew up behind the Iron Curtain in communist Bulgaria. My father was interned for anti-communist activities and spent eighteen years breaking stones in a god-forsaken provincial town, which our family was not allowed to leave. We were a very close-knit family. From an early age my brother and I were taught not to repeat to anyone what my father said around the dinner table. From an early age I led a double life – at school I had to repeat the communist propaganda but at home we secretly listened to the BBC World Service, an act punishable by prison.
Academic or creative at school?
A: Definitely academic. Creativity was not encouraged in communist Bulgaria.
First job you *really* wanted to do?
A: After I defected to the UK in 1986, I landed a job at the BBC World Service, reading the news in Bulgarian. That was the job I always wanted to do since I was a child when we secretly listened to the BBC. I couldn’t believe my luck.
Do you remember the moment you first wanted to write?
A: Yes, I was seven. We were asked to write an essay about “freedom”. I wrote one essay for the school, and another one – about what freedom really meant to me – for myself. My father burned the second one. I promised myself that one day I’d be able to write a book without fear.
Who are your real-life heroes?
A: Nelson Mandela. I have always been fascinated by the ‘anatomy of revolutions’. Revolutions are normally violent and are never won by the people who start them. Mandela showed the world that a peaceful revolution is possible.
Funniest or most embarrassing situation you’ve found yourself in?
A: I was working in Afghanistan as a journalist. We were travelling in a mini-bus outside Kabul when we were stopped at a check-point. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion. One of our vehicle’s side window was shattered to pieces. I jumped forward and assumed the brace position as per the security instructions, anticipating an attack. A few seconds later, I got up and looked around. My Afghan friends were smiling at me. A lorry tire had burst next to our van. That was all.
DIY expert or phone a friend?
A: Definitely DIY. My motto is “Often wrong but never in doubt”. I have ruined lots of things in my DIY efforts but could never bring myself to ask a friend.
Sun worshipper or night owl?
A: Sun worshipper. Although I enjoy a balmy evening in the African bush with a G&T in hand.
A book that had you in tears.
A: “Count Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas. It’s a riveting tale of injustice and revenge. I shed a tear or two in the revenge bit.
A book that made you laugh out loud.
A: “Earthly Powers” by Anthony Burgess. The opening sentence is one of the funniest from all the books that I have read. It is rude, barbed and politically charged at the same time, exposing hypocrisy.
One piece of life advice you give everyone
A: Follow your heart, do what you enjoy!
Thank you so much!
About the Book:
December, 1963. It’s a decade since the death of Stalin and the world is on the brink of a nuclear war. In Sofia’s Great Ceremonial Hall of the People an unassuming Communist and UN diplomat turned Cold War spy stands on trial for treason and espionage. He is accused of betraying the Bulgarian people by selling secrets to the CIA. With his fate in the balance, facing death by firing squad, he has been offered a way out: make a full confession and his life will be spared. But has he been tricked? And how strong is the case against him? The Unbeliever is a panorama of Cold War paranoia and intrigue spanning four decades, told through the life of one extraordinary – and real – spy. A story of love, loyalty, ambition and betrayal, it is a gripping and highly original debut novel by a journalist who was born behind the Iron Curtain.