Robert Neil Fraser is a first time novelist, working on a thriller called ‘Bamako’, set in the West African country of Mali. The book tells the story of the plotting and execution of a bank heist by a group of disaffected white adventurers, whose legitimate attempts to find fortune have failed.
The story and characters are drawn from Fraser’s experiences visiting Mali as a documentary filmmaker, between 2011 and 2014. During this time Mali was torn apart by two military coups d’état, an Islamic insurgency, a Touareg separatist rebellion, and finally an international military intervention led by the French.
‘Mali is a beautiful country’, says Fraser. ‘But during my time there it was almost destroyed by geopolitical fallout from Libya, and Islamic extremism. In the north, music was banned, ancient Sufi shrines were destroyed, adulterers were stoned. It was a foreshadowing of ISIS. Yet all through the war, the same struggle for economic survival went on. The incessant hunt for gold and diamonds, the white adventurers with get-rich-quick schemes, the desperate impoverishment of the population, the shocking, endemic corruption of the government. All haunted by the spectre of Islamism.
‘It was like the Wild West of Africa. Chaotic. Poor security. A distracted, weak government. A country using easily fence-able currency, shared with eight neighbouring countries with porous borders and weak regimes. And so I wondered, how come no-one is robbing banks? In my story, they do.’
Robert is the recipient of Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award 2016, which is intended to support a talented yet unpublished writer over the age of 40 for whom finding time and space to write has proved especially challenging.