Adam Bromley is an author and comedy writer, who has won two radio Sony awards for his work — which includes Think the Unthinkable, The Party Line, Hut 33, The Problem with Adam Bloom and The Now Show. He also created CBBC hit sketch show called Stupid!
Adam’s new novel Unknown Unknowns, published by Piqwiq, is a comedy thriller featuring a host of larger-than-life characters. It’s about Kat Foster of the Foreign Office. Given one last chance to save her career, Kat is tasked with travelling to Ozerkistan to debrief a prisoner know as The Chemist.
He has contacted a US embassy claiming to have valuable information about a former Russian weapons programme, codenamed Pandora , which he will trade in return for his freedom. The only snag is that Kat’s destination, Ozerk City, does not appear on any printed maps and Ozerkistan does not appear to exist…
Adam tells us about Unknown Unknowns, dreaming up an entire country – and how getting to the end of your first draft is only the beginning…
Tell us about Unknown Unknowns…
The novel is a comic thriller about WMDs, sociopathic spies and a diplomat who punches a sex pest into a pile of pastries. In a sense it’s a slapstick version of The Fourth Protocol, or The Bourne Identity with jokes.
Why is the Intelligence game such a fertile subject for comedy?
It’s a world of false identities, deception and misinformation – which is the same as farce, though of course the stakes are much higher. In a farce, a character might find a mislaid pair of briefs and storm into a bedroom causing social embarrassment. In the intelligence world, a president may receive a misleading briefing and invade another country, destabilising the entire region.
You get to create your own country in the novel, Ozerkistan – how much fun is that?
I thoroughly enjoyed inventing Ozerkistan and am a little disappointed that I can’t visit my own creation in the real world. Although speaking as a foodie, the one thing Ozerkistan definitely lacks, aside from proper sanitation and a police force, is decent restaurants, so perhaps it’s for the best.
How different are the challenges in writing a novel compared to a script?
Writing a script is a more technical exercise as there are constraints on time, cast size, location and action. It can be frustrating for the writer to be told by the producer that the grand party scene is now cut to an dinner for one at home, but sometimes the limits help by giving you firm boundaries. With a novel, there are no such barriers apart from the grunt work of typing lots of words, and your sanity when you lose track of that crucial plot point in chapter 3 which means you will have to re-write the entire ending.
The main difficulty for me was to stay focused on the core story, without going off on too many tangents whilst keeping the reader engaged on the journey. I was always asking myself, is this chapter gripping, will it keep the reader hooked?
As I have a full time job running a production company, it’s rare that I would have a whole day to write. Usually my writing time is at the expense of a weekday evening or sometimes a whole weekend – when I tell my wife this, it can jeopardise my Husband of the Year ranking! For each session I set myself a task: complete a chapter, rewrite a section or fix a problem.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
No matter how painful and tiring it was to write the first draft of the book, that is only the start of the process to get to the final draft. The adage goes: writing is rewriting. It’s true and the really hard part is when you work out just how many hours that’s going to take. At that point, I recommend having a drink or several.
How do you deal with feedback?
I love praise; criticism makes me curl into a foetal ball and cry. In all honesty, I appreciate feedback. The only way you can improve as a writer is to know where your weaknesses lie and address them in your next work. Praise is food for the soul to help with the grind of getting words on the page; criticism, if phrased constructively, can move your craft to the next level.
Who are the authors you admire, and why?
Right now, I am re-reading the South American trilogy by Louis de Berniéres, which is a pure delight. He combines comedy, tragedy, satire and romance in this fabulous, OTT world which still feels original twenty-five years since it was first published.
In the spy genre, John Le Carré is the master. No debate allowed.
For gritty crime, a good Rebus novel by Ian Rankin is hard to beat. Knowing Edinburgh well, I relish the sense of place and the way Rankin blends the real city with his fictional locales.
And if you haven’t read PJ O’Rourke’s books, then you have missed out on one of the funniest non-fiction writers of the last fifty years. I’d recommend Eat the Rich or Holidays in Hell, books that I have read and re-read yet they still entertain.
Give me some advice about writing…
Start typing. Seriously, if you want to write, start typing, writing long hand or carving your work into the bare rock. A computer is probably the easiest of those three options, in which case you have to fill that white space on the screen with words. Don’t go all Shining and start typing ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’, because that’s cheating as well as being certifiable. But if you want to write, write. Singers sing, painters paint, writers must write, ideally every day. It may seem obvious but you’d be surprise how many people talk about writing rather that doing it. Get it down, get past the first draft, then go back and make it better. Then go back and rewrite it again. And again etc.
What’s next for you?
I’m playing around with an idea for a new novel with the same lead character, Kat Foster, which I will start work on later this year. Meanwhile, I’d like to write a crime novel with a comic angle, where the Westway motorway is a key location. For reasons I don’t fully understand, I am a little obsessed with the Westway – maybe in a former life I laid the tarmac or was struck by a car on the day of its grand opening. In any event, writing about it should be cathartic.