Interview with Ken Hyder

Your first two novels are based on fact and your experience. Is that important to you?
Absolutely. An early hero of mine was Ernest Hemingway. He was a reporter and he wrote about how to observe. And the importance of knowing exactly how things work, or happen.

So as a reporter who spent a lot of time with real shamans in Siberia, I gained insights I would not have got from my own imagination. It's the same thing with my second novel. Hanging out with detectives and cyber-security experts is always going to give you the inside story.

That authenticity comes across simply because it IS authentic.
How did you end up in Siberia?
It's a long story. It's full of co-incidences. Many things came together over time. Back home in Scotland I became a reporter, and soon I was working for national newspapers. At the same time, I was a musician, and I wanted to do both things.

I wanted to find out things and tell people about them through my journalism, and I wanted to find new ways of making music, often with musicians from other cultures. I started by fusing Scottish music with contemporary jazz.

I began making albums in the 1970s and soon I was playing all over the place. Then in 1990 Tim Hodgkinson and I were invited to do a huge tour of Russia all the way from Leningrad to Vladivostok. Then one thing led to another.
Is that where you first met the shamans? How did that happen?
We soon started playing with Russians, but particularly Siberian musicians, and we were asked to play in Tuva, a small country on the Mongolian border. There we met a Buddhist lama who talked about shamans, but said he wasn't one.

But a year later, when the Soviet Union began to open up, he admitted to having been a shaman in secret for 30 years. Then as we kept going back to Siberia, more shamans came out into the open, and we met them.

There is a video of us rehearsing with a couple of Tuvan shamans here -
Being a reporter, didn't you feel like writing a factual book about shamans?
Well, I read a lot of factual books, academic books on shamanism. And while there was a lot of information I picked up which wasn't in many of those books, I felt that initially, I'd like to introduce people to the subject via the novel.

Most of the incidents in the novel are based on real stories I got from real shamans. And there is a lot of information about the place, too. Siberia is a magical place. And even now, not so many westerners have been there. Lake Baikal holds one fifth of the world's fresh water, yet it is so very remote. But the main thing about these remote places in Siberia is that there is a spiritual feeling hanging like a cloud over the steppes and mountains.

In some places that's concentrated, because the people have grown up in a shamanistic society.
What are these shamans like?
The answer is in the book...but to start with, they are often like ordinary people on the surface, though they have something about them, an energy and a liveliness.

The other thing is that so many of them have a great sense of humour, and that's something I noticed about Tibetan monks too when I toured with them. Always fooling around, making jokes.

Then when the time comes to do the ritual - they change completely and quickly into a fully focussed and serious state.
Why did you decide to have a Westerner as the main character?
Black Sky, White Sky is essentially a book for Westerners. I wanted to show readers in the west how shamanism operates in the place where it started. So when US graphic designer Ray Farmer stumbles into Siberian shamanism and readers have the opportunity to understand what shamanism is - through his eyes and his experience.

The other thing is that readers identify with Ray and care what happens to him as things get tough and dangerous when he encounters deadly rivalry.
Tell us about Hack Attack? With all these leaks about US hacking there must be a lot of interest in the other hacking you describe in the book.
Yes. As a reporter I started writing stories about hacking way back before it really took off as a major issue. I was looking at both criminal hacking and cyber-security to stop terrorists getting into government networks.

In the course of doing these stories, I made many contacts in both police and security networks. Some of them were specialist computer experts brought into advise government agencies.

So the ideas for the plot started to come in conversations with them.
You mean the things in the book could really happen?
Absolutely. Once I had written the book I asked several of my contacts to read it for accuracy. I knew it would pass their tests - because they had already told me what could be done. And what couldn't be done.

The interesting thing is that for a long time, many kinds of hacking did not come to light. It's not just the government hacking which was happening in secret. The criminal hacking was also in secret.

Many banks would just pay up, usually demanding details of how the cyber crooks broke into their systems in the first place. They would then close the vulnerable entry points - and say nothing.

After all, they don't want their customers to know how easy it was for them to be attacked. Successfully.
Published 2013-10-30.
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Books by This Author

How to Know - Spirit Music - Crazy Wisdom, Shamanism And Trips to The Black Sky
Price: $7.99 USD. Words: 19,590. Language: English. Published: November 17, 2013. Categories: Nonfiction » Biography » Personal memoir, Nonfiction » Music » Alternative
This is a memoir of a musician from Dundee, Scotland who began exploring spiritual energy before his teens when he embarked on a lifetime journey of connecting spirit through music. Ken Hyder’s musical explorations took him through over 30 albums of jazz and various ethnic musics. The spiritual path included encounters with Japanese and Tibetan Buddhist monks and finally, in Siberia with shamans.
Hack Attack
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 46,750. Language: English. Published: October 30, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Spies & espionage
The Snowden leaks showed how far state-hacking can reach. Hack Attack shows what can happen when determined cybercrooks get to work...attacking the state.
Black Sky, White Sky
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 55,760. Language: English. Published: October 11, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Travel, Fiction » Themes & motifs » Spiritual & metaphysical
Just after the collapse of the Soviet Union in Tuva, Siberia, the outlawed shamans start working in public again. At the same time in the USA, an artist is looking for something different in his life. An internet friendship takes him to Lake Baikal, then to the Tuva, on the Mongolian border where he accidentally becomes a shaman - making a deadly enemy in the process.