Bob, thank you for the pleasure of an interview. I would like to begin by asking you about your reading interests. What is your favorite literary genre?
There are several fiction genres that I enjoy reading including historical fiction, mysteries, and thrillers; however, if I had to choose only one it would be the latter, especially political thrillers. In non-fiction, I like military history with a focus on the U.S. Civil War and World War II, as well as books about wildlife, notably those that deal with the plight of whales and dolphins.
A few of your literary favorites are among mine as well. What are you currently reading?
I usually read several books at one time across a wide range of genres. Currently, I am reading the following books; The Winter Chaser by Christopher Holt, The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat, and Mapping Human History by Steve Olson.
What do you plan on reading next?
The next books to be added to my reading list are Outlaw Platoon by Sean Parnell and John Bruning, and When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy.
Of the books you have written, which is your favorite?
That is a difficult question to answer because whenever I finish a book I am so deeply involved with the story and characters that it is my favorite; at least until I start the next one. Having said that, although it is not my most recent work, I would have to say that The Covenant Within is my favorite because of my strong personal ties to Orkney and my Viking ancestry. At the risk of sounding maudlin, as I sat before my computer keyboard, I felt as if someone else’s hands were guiding mine.
I was delighted to read and review your book “The Covenant Within”. Could you please tell your audience a little bit about your story.
This is the perfect story for anyone who has ever had a riveting but disturbing dream that haunted them for days afterwards; or who have experienced a déjà vu incident that was so vivid, so powerful that it sent chills down their spine; or perhaps even more extraordinary, who are convinced that they have had past lives. Indeed, any of these may be signals that the person who experienced them is one of those special few who are capable of reliving the lives of their ancestors. Controversial? Yes. Improbable? Perhaps. Impossible? No. Not at all.
The reason can be found in epigenetics, which is the study of heritable changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype caused by changes in the underlying DNA sequence. Since the 1960s, scientists have known that it only takes a tiny percentage of our DNA to build the human body with all its precision and complexity. But now there is growing evidence that the genetic code contains a vast memory bank of our ancestral past that can affect more than simply our physical being. This may play a critical role in our disposition to certain diseases such as cancer; or affect our behavior, our attitudes, and the way we live our lives. But there is another controversial aspect of this ‘genetic memory’ that is more intriguing than its physiological or behavioral counterparts; and this forms the basis of my story.
Specifically, some researchers believe that there is an inherent genetic recollection of the memories and experiences of our ancestors buried deep within our DNA. The Swiss psychiatrist, Dr. Carl Jung, proposed these were memories common to everyone, which he called the collective unconscious. However, my story suggests that the significant life events of our ancestors are stored in our DNA and some people can, and do, relive snippets of the past lives of their distant relatives via these unique genetic memories. In effect, they experience time travel!
There are very few books that grab me from the very beginning but your story did. How did you come up for the idea of “The Covenant Within”?
Several years ago, my wife and I visited my ancestral home in the Orkney Islands, a remote archipelago off the northern coast of Scotland. I had never been there before but as I walked the narrow streets of Kirkwall, Orkney’s capital, or stood in awe inside the nine hundred year old St. Magnus Cathedral, or touched the weathered tombstones of my ancestors in a tiny cemetery in Orphir overlooking the wind-swept waters of Scapa Flow, I was overcome with a feeling that I had been there before: that I had lived and loved, laughed and cried, and fought and died there in a that wild and lonely land of my Viking fore bearers.
It was a profoundly moving experience. The feeling was compounded several days later, when my wife and I traveled to Edinburgh and I happened to read an article in the newspaper about the work being done in the field of epigenetics at the University of Edinburgh. It didn’t take long for my imagination to be unleashed, and as soon as we returned to the United States The Covenant Within began to take shape.
Were there any scenes in the book you found more challenging to write than others?
There were several: first, were the scenes that embody the negative effect upon my protagonist’s mental well-being as he relives events from his ancestors’ lives. The force of evil, which pursues him throughout the story, manifests itself in the beast of his onrushing insanity, and I found writing these scenes both challenging and unnerving.
And second was the final scene of the book, which as you know, presents a surprise ending that I believe will stun the readers and give them something to think about long after the story ends.
I loved the Historical aspects of your story. Please tell us about the research you did for that.
As you might suspect from my earlier comments about my trip to Orkney, I drew heavily upon the history of my ancestors, blending fact with fiction, to create the genetic memory incidents, or GMIs as I call them in my story. To do this, I was assisted by a comprehensive history and genealogy of the Clouston family that was prepared by a distant relative of mine. Through it, I was able to trace our family’s history in a virtually unbroken line all the way back to the first recorded Earl of Orkney, Rognvald the Powerful, a Norseman who lived in the 9th Century A.D.
Another source that helped me create the GMIs is a book titled The Orkneying Saga: The History of the Earls of Orkney, written around 1200 A.D. by an unknown Icelandic author, and translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. The book represents the only medieval chronicle written about Orkney and it is replete with the history of events where my ancestors actually were present or might have been.
And finally, as with other authors of historical fiction, I immersed myself in the history of the time and place of my story, which in my case were the actual events in Viking and Scottish history that that appear in my GMIs. In every case I tried to be as historically accurate as my sources, both print and digital, would permit.
Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. Simply this: there is more to who we are and where we come from than science can explain, and the human mind represents a vast, uncharted territory where heroes live and monsters dwell.
What is your greatest strength as a writer?
My imagination. It is my greatest strength and perhaps my greatest weakness because it knows no bounds.
What is your next book project?
Building upon my answer to the previous question, my imagination has taken me on a journey across a sprawling landscape of genres and storylines. The five books I have self-published―the fourth of which is The Covenant Within―cover such highly-charged topics as gun control (the Where Freedom Reigns series), ocean conservation (The Tempest’s Roar), and rancorous, partisan politics that jeopardizes the security of our nation (No Greater Evil).
A common theme throughout all my work is the eternal struggle between good and evil. How and where this will lead me in my next book is not yet clear.
What books have most influenced your life?
I don’t know that I can point out any books that have most influenced my life, beyond the Bible, a copy of which my grandmother gave me on my seventh birthday and which I still have today.
However, I can tell you that there have been several books that have most influenced my writing: they are Islands in the Stream by Ernest Hemingway; The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk; The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien; the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald; and last but certainly not least, On Writing by Stephen King.
What do you think contributes to making a writer successful in self-publishing?
Although there are exceptions, as evidenced by several top-selling books currently listed in the New York Times Book Review, I believe that to be successful an author must be a good writer. And to be a good writer you must do three things; 1) read, 2) read, and 3) read. It is only by reading the work of others that you can learn how to write well.
If you do not do this, you are doomed to be a bad writer. One only has to look at the vast majority of poorly-written self-published books available today to see that most indie authors take the easy way out.
Finally, to be a truly great writer, like the authors I mentioned above, is a God-given gift that few of us possess or can ever hope to achieve.
What do you think of this immediate age of self-publishing?
I think it is a great time to be a writer―arguably the best of times―because we are finally, and forever, freed from the narrow-minded, mercenary, and self-serving arrogance of traditional publishers.
What is your favorite quote?
I have so many that I am hesitant to pick just one. However, the quote that applies best to being a self-published author in a world where everyone is a critic is from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Act II, scene ii, line 1)
“He jests at scars that never felt a wound.”
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
R.A.R. Clouston is a retired corporate executive whose career as a business professional has included roles as the president and CEO of several international consumer products companies. He has also been a guest lecturer at a number of graduate business schools in the US and Canada; however, his passion has always been writing. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from McGill University, and an MBA from the University of Western Ontario. He is a member of the Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance and also holds a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do.
His website can be found at www.rarclouston.com
R.A.R. Clouston is offering his novel, “The Covenant Within”, forFREE on Amazon for five days! Make sure you get your copy!
Review: The Covenant Within
An inheritance is passed down through DNA and comes in dreams-deja vu-of the past. The protagonist, Jack, is tormented by this family inheritance and begins to think he is going insane. At the same time his estranged brother has committed suicide. So Jack travels to Scotland to attend his brother’s funeral and discovers troubling circumstances surrounding his brother’s death. He feels compelled to find out the truth and as he does his life and the people helping him, becomes in danger. He discovers a secret about his family that goes all the way back to Christ’s Crucifixion.
Jack is a complex character and at one moment I felt drawn to him and the next I was infuriated and irritated with him and the decisions he was making. He could be so caring and sympathetic, then the next, he was uncaring and withdrawn. When his life or the people’s life that he cares about are in danger, he would become strong and courageous.
There are some developments in the story that I did not see coming and that is what makes for a good thriller novel. Not knowing what is going to happen next. I felt Clouston did an excellent job tying the events of the past and present together and Jacks, “dreams” of the past is a believable and solid foundation for the plot. I’m really impressed with the concept of this story and as a avid reader of historical fiction, I enjoyed the historical aspects of it.
An enjoyable and intriguing read that I recommend to anyone!