Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Embracing the suck in 2022

Tony Park for Michael

Welcome Tony Park as today's guest blogger on Murder Is Everywhere! 

Although an Australian, Tony is the author of twenty bestselling thrillers set in Africa. A “once-in-a-lifetime” safari holiday to southern Africa in 1995 turned out to be anything but for Tony who found in Africa the inspiration he needed to follow his dream – quitting his job in public relations and becoming a full-time writer. He divides his time between Sydney, the African bush, and now a beach place in South Africa also.

His books often look at the bloody fight to save endangered wildlife, and also draw on Tony’s more than thirty years of experience in the Australian Army Reserve, including a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald calls him one of that country’s “best and most consistent thriller writers” and The Times has described him as "Wilbur Smith’s spiritual heir".

Today he has a positive message on the negative things that build thrillers and mysteries...and life.

Tony with friends

There's a term in military special forces lingo for making the best of a bad situation – "embracing the suck".

It means that when things suck – and I mean really suck – instead of complaining, accept that there are some things that are out of your control, and then do your best to deal with them, learn from them and get on with life.

I write thrillers set in southern Africa (20 so far), so to some extent I go looking for the "suck" – crime, corruption, natural disasters, war etc. – for inspiration for my books, and sometimes I get caught up in it. Actually, this time 20 years ago I was on my way home from a war, in Afghanistan, as an Australian Army reservist – but that's another story.

Tony dealing with the "suck" in Afghanistan

Although we're Australians, my wife and I spend much of our time in South Africa and we bought a house on the beach in KwaZulu Natal back in April, just as the worst floods to ever hit the province struck, leaving hundreds of people dead and infrastructure destroyed.

We were cut off in our new house for a few weeks with no water or electricity. To make matters worse, we lost a significant amount of money in an elaborate fraud while buying the house, in which criminals masqueraded as the attorney handling the sale.

While our house, at least, stayed high and dry, my mother and stepfather recently lost everything they owned when a one-in-5,000-year flood hit the little town where they live, in rural Australia.

Added to that there's war in Ukraine, political instability here in South Africa, rising fuel costs globally, inflation, unemployment and… I could go on.

I was shaken by the above, quite badly, but I was also in the midst of writing another novel. I decided that to help myself carry on, and get over what I couldn't control, I would embrace it. My 21st novel, Vendetta, will carry a reference to real-estate fraud, and its South African characters have to deal with power cuts and the stench of political corruption.

My latest novel, The Pride, like several of the earlier books, deals with the ever-present issue of poaching, and the illegal trade in wildlife.  The Pride is about abalone poaching; far from just being a case of people exceeding fishing limits, the trade in this highly-prized shellfish is a multi-national, multi-million-dollar business which also fuels gang violence and the drug trade here in South Africa. (Chinese triads pay South African gangs for abalone destined for markets in Asia by supplying the raw materials to make methamphetamine).

I also wrote a non-fiction book this year, Rhino War, with retired South African general Johan Jooste, who headed up the hard-fought, bloody struggle to protect endangered rhinos in the Kruger National Park. 

As a white 60-year-old former army officer, his appointment in 2012 was controversial. He took over a corps of 400 demoralized, under-trained and under-equipped park rangers and over the course of three years turned them into the finest anti-poaching unit on the African continent. In the process, he helped turn the "runaway train"' of rhino poaching around.

My favorite scene in Rhino War is where General Jooste is told by the Kruger Park's resident psychologist that two female rangers should be withdrawn from duty. After having been in running gunfights in which poachers were killed, and being confronted with the daily horror of slaughtered rhinos, General Jooste told the two women they had done "their bit" and it was time for them to take a break.

"No," these two women said in unison. They refused to be withdrawn from the fight. They continued to serve on the front line. 

White rhino Kruger National Park

As with the war on rhino poaching, the abalone trade is not only high stakes – it's high risk. There are shootouts between fisheries officers and poachers and the fishermen themselves are at risk of shark attack, drowning, and the bends, as they dive deeper to find disappearing stocks of abalone.

During the course of my research I heard the story of a brave fisheries inspector who was shot by gang members and left paralyzed while trying to stop some poachers.

That sucks. There's been a post-covid spike in rhino poaching as well and that also sucks.

However, if there is one thing that has struck me in the 27 years I've been travelling and living in Africa that is greater than the scale of the problems that people face on a day to day basis it is the indomitable human spirit.

Every day in Africa I see ordinary people coming together to address the "suck" – to help each other out after disasters, to feed those who are hungry, to fight crime at the grassroots level, to work together to protect the environment. The sad fact is that those who should be doing all these things, their elected representatives, are sometimes part of the problem. 

Ranger with tracker dog

This Christmas and New Year's Eve, like every other day of the year, good, ordinary, men and women will put on a uniform and go into the bush, dressed in camouflage and carrying a rifle and literally put their lives on the line to protect rhinos and other big game. Other officers will patrol the beaches, knowing they could be shot in the line of duty while protecting shellfish.

We need inspiration as writers. Inspiration on one level is "stuff", fodder for new books or plot twists, but it also means to be inspired. I am a sucker for happy endings in fiction, as in life. 

Black rhino, Etosha National Park

This festive season I will be thinking of those who are out there, on the front-line of whatever cause they are fighting for, embracing the suck. And I will be inspired.

Tony Park


  1. Great read Tony, Back in my commando days the expression was ‘thumb up bum and mind in neutral’ which I think was the forebearer of ‘embrace the suck’ 😄👍🏼

  2. Thanks, Tony, for telling it like it is! Happy Holidays.

  3. Looking forward to the next book