Category Archives: Blog Tours

The Intel: John Sweeney


John SweeneySo you know John Sweeney. He’s the award-winning investigative reporter guy on the telly. He’s seen a lot of stuff, been to a lot of dangerous places. John’s work has taken him around the globe covering conflict – from Russia, to the Ukraine, to undercover investigations in North Korea and Chechnya.

And – guess what – he’s a hell of a writer, too. His first Joe Tiplady thriller Cold is published today by Thomas And Mercer, and it’s a corker.

Tiplady is a man with a dark past. A sardonic Irishman with a love of his dog and his whiskey, Joe has a burning desire for truth and unwavering compassion for those in need — and he’ll play by his own rules to see justice served.

In Cold, a chain of events is in motion that will make him a priceless target. A retired Soviet general hunts for his missing daughter after a series of brutal murders. A ruthless assassin loses something so precious he will do anything to get it back. And in the shadow of them all lies Zoba, strongman ruler of Russia and puppet-master of the world’s darkest operatives.

Sweeney is an engaging fellow and in this fantastic intel interview he gives us the lowdown on his mysterious protag, his romantic first novel and the Cold Road To Hell.

Tell us about Joe Tiplady…

Joe Tiplady was an IRA bomb-maker sent to a terrorist camp in North Korea to learn how to better kill the British. Once there, he realised the ordinary people were brainwashed and, in turn, he came to realise that he, too, had been brainwashed by the IRA. Joe’s based on an actual IRA man I met in Belfast, whose trip to North Korea was the start of his divorce from violent Irish republican nationalism. The name, by the way, comes from a great friend of my son’s who died at the age of 25 by a heart attack. His family said: ‘let our hero be your hero.’

 In Cold, Joe becomes the target for a dangerous assassin – what kind of murky goings-on does he get himself involved in?

That’s a tricky question without giving too much of the plot away. Suffice to say his dog Reilly vanishes, then he accidentally sees it again and it hurries back to him. But the consequences are that suddenly all hell breaks loose. Why? Well, read the book. It’s not a whodunit but a whydunnit.

Your first novel Elephant Moon was a romantic fiction – why the change of pace?

True, Elephant Moon did hit number one on’s historical romance section, hugely to my shame. I never saw myself as king of the bodice-rippers. Moon is set in Burma in 1942. There are many bleak, historically accurate scenes in it and although it has a central love story, I don’t think of Moon as romance. But I did want to write a classic spy thriller and that’s Cold. To be honest, I love telling stories. I don’t really care about the genre: the story is the pan-galactic ruler.

COLD Cover ImageA few years ago, in the post-Soviet world, critics were proclaiming that the thriller was dead, but the world seems a more dangerous place than ever – is it difficult to keep up with the ever-changing political climate?

Difficult? You’re telling me. In my head I have a Joe Tiplady trilogy, Cold Road to Hell. I’m writing the second, Road, now and it’s inspired by the war in Syria and ISIS. It’s soooooooooooo hard to keep up with the inhumanity spewing out of Raqqa. At the same time, as a journalist I can’t go to ISIS-stan because they might kidnap me and weaponise me against my own society. As a thriller writer I can go there inside my head and take the reader with me and that’s incredibly exciting.

As a BBC journalist you’ve reported on a number of tyrannies – where are some of the most-dangerous places you’d like to take Joe?

In Cold, Joe crosses the Atlantic – but not by flying, less the people after him find him. In Road, Joe goes to Syria. In Hell, to North Korea.

How did you start writing?

At school. I’ve never stopped.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Having faith in yourself. I’ve written seven non-fiction books but novels are harder. It took me more than a decade to write Elephant Moon. It started selling very slowly, through word of mouth, and now it’s sold more than 150,000. Writing a story, a book is like planting a tree or having a child: you plant something living in the world and that is smashing.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Raymond Chandler – crisp writing on a corrupt LA; Seamus Heaney – magical lyricism about Irish soil and humanity; and L Ron Hubbard for his pan-galactic insights. One of these replies is a joke.

Give me some advice about writing…

Try and write one thousand words a day. When a new character turns up, describe him. If you’re writing a thriller, end every chapter on a cliff edge.

What’s next for you and Joe?

Road, then Hell, and then I will have trilogy, Cold Road to Hell.


Cold by John Sweeney is out today, 1st July, published by Thomas and Mercer at £8.99.


Guest Post: J.S. Law

Tenacity PB jacket.jpgSo J.S. Law’s heart-pounding submariner thriller Tenacity has been, heh, making all sorts of waves, picking up acclaim from reviewers and some of the biggest names in the crime fiction business.

Tenacity is the first in an exciting new series featuring Royal Naval Investigator Danielle Lewis. Dan finds herself in the claustrophobic confines of the HMS Tenacity investigating the supposed suicide of a sailor. Dan must interrogate the tight-knit, male crew and determine if there’s a link.

But it’s a sweaty, deadly environment in a tin can several fathoms below the ocean. Standing alone in the face of extreme hostility and with a possible killer on board, Dan soon realises that she may have to choose between the truth and her own survival.

The pressure is rising and Dan’s time is running out…

Crime Thriller Fella is delighted to be taking part in the Law’s Naval Toasts Blog Tour to celebrate the Headline paperback publication of Tenacity this Thursday, April 21st. The man knows his stuff, big time. He joined the Royal Navy in 1993 as an apprentice and went on to serve for twenty years, the majority of that time spent in the Submarine Service.

In this fascinating Guest Post – entitled Our Ships At Sea – he discusses just what means to spend months below the surface for months at a time – and the effects of the body of serving on a nuclear submarine. Look away now, those of a nervous disposition…

JS Law Author Photo C Simon John.jpgIf you’ve followed my blog tour at all, you’ll know that at mess dinners in the Royal Navy, immediately after the Loyal Toast of ‘The Queen’, the youngest officer present will normally offer the traditional drinking toast of that day.

The toast for Monday is “Our Ships at Sea” where we toast those operational vessels that are deployed away from home. I’m often asked what it’s like being at sea on a submarine, and I’ve blogged several times on the topic, but one things that is often misunderstood, is how bad submariners smell when we come back. You see, the atmosphere on subs gets quite stale and, with all the equipment and machinery, it has oil and diesel and other particulate in the air. The result is, that after many months away the smell is in your skin, like embedded there, and it takes effort to get it off.

I remember once when we arrived into Rio. All of us who weren’t duty (nuclear submarines are manned 24/7) piled onto the buses and headed for our hotels. The wardroom (officers mess) on that submarine was ‘dry’ which meant we hadn’t had a beer for many months and so when we got to the hotel we went straight to the bar, dropped our bags and grabbed a few rounds. It was only a few minutes later that we realised we’d cleared the entire ground floor of other guests, and the hotel staff were doing their very best to be polite, but we were smelly. That much was obvious.

When I came home I used to have to strip butt naked at the back door and walk straight up to the bath. We’d put these fizzy things in the water to make it smell nice and I’d have to soak for a good while to get the worst of it off. My clothes would remain in the back garden until they were brought directly in to the washing machine and after this, I was allowed hugs and free movement around the house.

It’s not just the atmosphere either, as Dan finds out on board Tenacity, a submariner’s shower is one minute of water! You turn on the shower – 15-20secs to get wet – turn it off – soap and wash – then 40-45secs to rinse and out you get. You get this once a day (once per watch if you’re a machinery space watch keeper or a chef) so it’s no wonder that Dan believes something doesn’t smell quite right on board Tenacity…


The Intel: Isabelle Grey

Isabelle GreyHere’s an Easter treat… we’re great fans of  Isabelle Grey here at Crime Thriller Fella, so we’re delighted to be taking part in the Blog Tour for her hard-hitting new novel Shot Through The Heart.

We loved Grey’s first Grace Fisher novel Good Girls Don’t Die, and now Grace, and the wonderfully disreputable journalist Ivo Sweatman, return in a story which follows the shocking consequences of a multiple shooting in Essex at Christmas – when five people five people are gunned down before the lone shooter turns his weapon on himself.

Grace, now a Detective Inspector, is tasked with making some sense of this atrocity – all the more sensitive because the first of the victims was one of their own: a police officer. The case throws her back together with crime reporter Sweatman, but as she investigates it becomes clear that the police connection goes much deeper than she thought.

As the evidence of corruption grows and she is obstructed at every turn, Grace knows she is walking further into danger. Then, her young key witness disappears . . .

Isabelle is a lifelong writer. She’s been a television scriptwriter – writing episodes of Accused and Midsomer Murders, among others – a journalist and an author of non-fiction. In this fascinating interview she talks about Grace, gun crime, how her own experiences as a journalist inspired the roguish Sweatman, and how words on a page are never wasted…

Tell us about DI Grace Fisher…

DI Grace Fisher is a young woman who isn’t afraid to make mistakes, or to live with the consequences of her actions. A life spent writing fiction can sometimes feel trivial and irresponsible, so Grace was inspired by close women friends who do demanding jobs in the real world – head teacher, GP. Their daily decisions have lasting consequences, and I wanted Grace to feel that her work carries weight in the same way.

How has the character developed since her debut in Good Girls Don’t Die?

In Shot Through The Heart Grace feels a little older and wiser, grateful for friends she can trust, but not yet ready to go looking for anything more intimate. Her passion is directed instead towards rooting out bullying and corruption in the police, even if she has to bend her own rules to do so.

Shot Through The Heart follows Grace’s investigation into a multiple shooting on Christmas Day – when researching the novel what did you learn about gun crime in the UK?

The idea for the book began with a newspaper article about the conviction of a criminal armourer. I became intrigued by how such a pivotal underworld figure could manage to remain so shadowy and hidden while illicit weapons were so readily available on the street. I then found Home Office reports that supplied exhaustive detail on guns and gun crime in the UK. Around that time, as a volunteer with the prison charity The New Bridge, I was making visits to the high security prison, Whitemoor, near Ely. Driving through the flat and lonely fenland landscape, I passed a sign for a gunsmith on an otherwise empty road; on each of the long journeys home, I began to spin a story about the gunsmith’s daughter.

Shot Through The Heart

Why are we as readers so intrigued by shocking violent events such as random shootings, do you think?

I think it’s because they are so often random. Like the invented commencement speech, Wear Sunscreen, they’re the kind of troubles that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday. They appear to come out of nowhere, the victims may have no connection whatever with the shooter and have done absolutely nothing to deserve such a fate, yet these tragedies are not senseless. Something drives each shooter to enact such atrocities.

Cynical crime reporter Ivo Sweatman makes his second appearance in the series – was Ivo shaped by your own experiences in journalism?

Ivo is certainly shaped by the romantic idealism I felt for journalism when I began writing for The Times in the late 1970s. I was a feature writer – I never managed to become a reporter – but I’d been at school as Watergate unfolded and had followed every detail. Even though Ivo works for a fairly sleazy tabloid, he would love this year’s Oscar-winner, Spotlight, about the investigative team on the Boston Globe who broke the story about the protection given to paedophile priests by the Catholic Church. It’s a film that proves how incredibly important – and exciting – good journalism can be.

As a television screenwriter, how did you come to write novels?

There were stories I wanted to tell that, for various reasons, I was unlikely to get commissioned for television. I’m lucky to have a wonderful editor at Quercus, Jane Wood, who allows me the freedom to find my story in the writing – a luxury that the structure of the film and television industry is seldom able to offer. Of course it would be lovely if a production company wanted to pick up Grace Fisher for a TV series!

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

Apart from the fact that rejection hurts?! It’s that, if something’s getting in the way of my story, I have to dump it, even if it’s most of what I’ve written or a character I love. It’s vital to be clear about what my story really is. If the abandoned material deserves a place elsewhere, it’ll worm its way back in some other form. Nothing is ever wasted.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

TV crime dramas are now ‘authored’ in a way they seldom used to be, and I really admire writers like Sally Wainwright for Happy Valley, Jed Mercurio for Line of Duty or Baltasar Kormákur who created the recent Icelandic drama Trapped.

Give me some advice about writing…

Keep going. Finish it. Then re-write. More than once. Do everything you can to help the reader get the most out of the experience of reading your work.

What’s next for you and Grace? 

I’m over halfway through the first draft of the next book, in which Grace investigates a ‘non-recent’ allegation of child sex abuse, with all the political intrigue, denial and double-dealing that goes along with that. It brings her up against Scotland Yard, who aren’t going to be very happy with her!


Shot Through The Heart is out right now in hardback and ebook, published by Quercus. Happy reading this Easter!


The Intel: Kate Medina


Kate Medina - credit Philippa GedgeKate Medina received widespread acclaim for her debut thriller, White Crocodile – written as KT Medina – set in the minefields of Cambodia. Now, with Fire Damage, Kate’s started an explosive new series featuring army psychologist Dr Jessie Flynn.

When asked to treat a severely traumatised four year old boy, Jessie has no idea that she will soon becoming embroiled in something much bigger – involving family secrets, army cover-ups and a killer on the loose.

They say write what you know, and Kate has combined her experiences in the Territorial Army as a Troop Commander in the Royal Engineers with the knowledge she gained studying for a degree in psychology to write the novel.

A generous and fascinating interviewee, Kate tells us about the genesis of her new portage Jessie, why she made the painful decision not to continue with the heroine of her first novel – and how a writing course may be just the ticket to help unlock the talent in all of us.

Plus, I love the way she name-checks a writer who I don’t think has been mentioned in The Intel before, but who has surely sowed the seed of inspiration at an early age in many a crime writer down the decades… Enid Blyton.

Can you tell us about Dr Jessie Flynn … ?

Dr Jessie Flynn is a twenty-nine year old clinical psychologist with the Defence Psychology Service.  Her need to understand the ‘whys’ of human behaviour drove her to become a clinical psychologist, and yet there are huge swathes of her own personality that she struggles to understand, let alone to control.

Women are often portrayed as victims in crime literature.  I wanted to create a character who reflects the huge number of strong, funny, clever, independent women that I know.  Jessie is complex and conflicted, and my new series will be written from her intense, brilliant, flawed, but moral perspective.  I hope that people remember Jessie and the issues raised through her long after they have finished reading.

Fire Damage, the first novel to feature Jessie, is set in both England and Afghanistan – tell us about it.

In Fire Damage, Dr Jessie Flynn is counselling Sami Scott, a deeply traumatised four year-old-boy, whose father, a Major in the Intelligence Corp, was badly burnt in a petrol bomb attack whilst serving in Afghanistan.  Sami is terrified of someone or something called ‘The Shadowman’ and tells Jessie Flynn that ‘the girl knows’.  However, there are no girls in Sami’s life.  Sami also carries a huge black metal Maglite torch with him wherever he goes, clutching onto it like a loved teddy bear.  Sami’s parent insist that his trauma stems from seeing his father in hospital burnt beyond recognition, and that Major Scott is ‘The Shadowman’, but Jessie feels that that something far darker explains Sami’s trauma.

Fire Damage is first and foremost a story about families: love and hate, kindness and cruelty and the destructive nature of some relationships.  The fear and helplessness experienced by a child trapped in a dysfunctional family was, for me, a very powerful emotion to explore, as was its flip side – intense love and an overwhelming desire to protect.

You did a psychology degree and served in the Territorial Army, but what other research did you have to do for the novel?

My degree in Psychology sets me in very good stead to write about a character who is herself a psychologist, so for Jessie’s professional life I needed to do very little research beyond the knowledge and experience that I already have.

Likewise, my experience as a Troop Commander in the Territorial Army and as head of land-based weapons at global defence intelligence publisher Jane’s Information Group set me up well to write about people who serve in the Army and also about the political situation in the middle-east.

The ‘star’ of Fire Damage is Sami Scott, the deeply traumatised four year-old-boy.  I have three children, the youngest of whom is a four-year-old boy and so I suppose you could say that my poor son was a living, breathing research subject for the character of Sami.  However, I can assure my readers that my son’s life is wonderful compared to Sami’s!

9780008132309What’s the biggest challenge in establishing a new series?

For me, White Crocodile, my debut thriller was hard act to follow, firstly because it was very personal to me, as it was based on time I spent working in the minefields of Cambodia, and secondly because it got universally fantastic reviews, being called variously, ‘a stunning debut’ in the Sunday Mirror, ‘an ambitious thriller’ in The Mail on Sunday, ‘a powerful, angry book’ in The Times, and being compared to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in The Independent.  The biggest challenge in establishing the Jessie Flynn series, was therefore to find characters and a subject matter that readers would enjoy even more than White Crocodile.

I knew that I wanted to write a series because, although many readers of White Crocodile wanted to see Tess Hardy again, her job as a mine clearer and the subject matter didn’t really allow for her return.  I also wanted to write a series that used my expertise – as a psychologist and my military experience – and one that was a little out of the ordinary in the crime genre.

In Jessie Flynn and the two other key characters, who appear in Fire Damage, Captain Ben Callan and Detective Inspector ‘Bobby’ Marilyn Simmons of Surrey and Sussex Major Crimes, I really believe I have developed characters who my readers will love and want to live with in many future novels.

Before writing your first novel White Crocodile you did an MA in Creative Writing – was that an experience you would recommend for wannabe writers?

Most novelists I meet are former journalists, but I had no previous writing experience beyond school essays, just a strong desire to write White Crocodile.  Writing a novel is a real challenge, not just in terms of crafting great sentences, but also in terms of developing believable, empathetic characters and sufficiently complex and surprising plots.  I found the MA enormously helpful and would definitely recommend some kind of formal writing teaching for wannabe writers, if they have as little experience as I had when starting out!  However, there are many ways to skin a cat and reading widely in the genre in which you write is a great way to learn how to write well in that genre.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

The hardest lesson I’ve learnt is to be self-aware and to take feedback from people who are more knowledgeable than myself.  Writing a novel is a huge commitment in terms of time and emotional energy and with White Crocodile I had to throw away and rewrite about a third of it on the advice of my agent.  At the time, it was heartbreaking, but the experience taught me so much about how to write a great crime novel and neither White Crocodile nor Fire Damage would be nearly so good without the very painful lessons I learnt from my agent right at the beginning of my writing career.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I have always loved to read and much of my childhood was spent immersed in stories.  Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series was one of my favourites and in common with many other tomboys I wanted to be George.  Two other books that really captured my imagination as a child were Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird.  They are both fantastic psychological thrillers for young people, with great story lines and incredibly vividly drawn, memorable characters.  I have read both of these novels a number of times over the years and never fail to appreciate them.

I am still an avid crime and thriller reader, which is why I choose to write in that genre.  I love writers such as Jo Nesbo, Stieg Larsson, Martina Cole, Mo Hayder and Lee Child.

Mo Hayder, generates fear in a novel like no other writer I know.  Jo Nesbo’s novels, particularly my favourite which is The Snowman, are also terrifying and he is fantastic at developing very complex plots that make it impossible to put the book down.  I must have read all 500-odd pages of The Snowman in two days.  Martina Cole is gritty and realistic and Lee Child just writes enjoyable and very easily readable stories.

I also love Khaled Hosseni, because he blends fact and fiction so well, taking readers into a very traumatic real word, through incredibly empathetic fictional characters.

What’s your best advice on writing…

My best advice is to read widely, particularly in the genre that you are interested in writing in, to take advice and be self-aware and most importantly, to enjoy yourself.  Enjoyment and passion will transfer itself to the page.  I love Jessie Flynn, Sami Scott and the other characters in Fire Damage, and really enjoyed writing about them, and I think that this love and passion really makes the novel work.

What’s next for you and Jessie?

I have already completed a first draft of the second Jessie Flynn novel and sent it to my publisher, Harper Collins, so I am waiting with baited breath to see if they like it.  Jessie Flynn is a hugely compelling and multi-dimensional character, and as such is a gift to an author, and I am looking forward to developing her, Captain Ben Callan and Detective Inspector ‘Bobby’ Marilyn Simmons of Surrey and Sussex Major Crimes, in many future novels.


Fire Damage, the first Jessie Flynn novel, is out this Thursday — March 24th – in hardback, published by Harper Collins.

Guest Post: Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart by Terrence McNally

Photo: Terrence McNally

Now the Girl Waits With Gun Blog Tour has rolled to Crime Thriller Fella, let’s talk about Constance Kopp…

She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters from the city to the country fifteen years before. When a powerful, ruthless factory owner runs down their buggy, a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their farm. The sheriff enlists her help, and it turns out that Constance has a knack for outwitting the criminal element, which might just take her back out into the world and onto a new path in life.

Constance is a larger than life character, to be sure – all the more remarkable, then, that she was a real life person. Author Amy Stewart has taken Constance – and her smart siblings – and turned the story of America’s first woman Deputy Sheriff at the beginning of the 20th Century into the first of a new series of novels for Scribe.

In this Guest Post, Amy – the award-winning author of six novels – tells us about the obscure historical feud that inspired Girl Waits With Gun…

9781925228571_72dpiWhile researching my last book, The Drunken Botanist, I ran across a story about a man named Henry Kaufman who was arrested for smuggling tainted gin. I thought I should do a little more investigation to see if Henry Kaufman went on to do anything else interesting.

That’s when I found an article in the New York Times from 1915 about a man named Henry Kaufman who ran his car into a horse-drawn carriage driven by these three sisters, Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp. They got into a conflict over payment for the damages, and it escalated from there. The sisters received kidnapping threats, shots were fired at their house, and they were generally tormented for almost a year.

I never did figure out if this Henry Kaufman was the same one who was arrested for gin smuggling, but I kept digging into the story of the Kopp sisters. Once I compiled a short stack of newspaper clippings, I thought, “Well, surely somebody has written a book about the Kopp sisters. At least a little local history book, or a children’s book, or something.”

I was amazed to find out that nothing had been written about them at all. There was no book, no Wikipedia page—nothing. They’d been completely forgotten about. I reconstructed their life stories from scratch. A lot of people write historical fiction about well-known figures from another era, but I think it’s a very different thing to pluck someone from obscurity and put the facts together for the first time.

The result is Girl Waits with Gun—the first in a series, all based on the real-life story of the Kopp sisters.


Girl Waits With Gun is available now in paperback, published by Scribe.

The Intel: Adam Brookes

abrooksSpy novels have never been so popular, and Adam Brookes is at the forefront of a new generation of authors who are reinventing an enduring genre for a whole new century.

To kick off the Blog Tour for his new novel Spy Games, published by Sphere, Brookes gives us the intel on the second oldest profession.

It’s fair to say that he knows his stuff – as a BBC correspondent in Washington, Brookes was deeply engrained in the world of government secrets, and has reported on assignment from many of the world’s most dangerous countries, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and North Korea.

And in China he found himself in a potentially dangerous situation when he received repeated visits from an anonymous man offering to sell him military secrets to pass to British Secret Services – a likely ‘dangle’ designed to entrap him. The event inspired the writing of his first thriller, the acclaimed Night Heron.

Brookes is a fascinating and informed interviewee. He talks about his hunted protag Philip Mangan, how technology is changing the face of the spying game, and he talks about the big beasts of the genre who inspired him to write…

Tell us about Philip Mangan…

Philip Mangan is a freelance journalist who works in China. He files copy for a newspaper and television packages for a small TV news agency. He’s tall, rangy, red-haired, shabbily dressed, disorganised in all but his thoughts. We meet him at the start of Night Heron in Beijing, where he’s based. He tries to report seriously on China, but Communist Party control and the difficulty of getting to the story leaves him feeling hamstrung and restless. He’s vain, too, and, like many journalists, he sometimes hankers to be involved in the events he observes. It’s that impulse that will draw him into espionage, and into trouble.

Spy Games picks up where its predecessor Night Heron left off – with Mangan in a very sticky situation. Where does Spy Games take him?

By the start of Spy Games, Mangan has fled China. We find him in Ethiopia, still reporting, hovering at the edge of the clandestine world. But Chinese intelligence knows who he is now. And they have plans for him.

Is it difficult to keep up with ever-changing geopolitical complexities – are you afraid your topical spy novels will be superseded by real events?

I try not to think about it, to be honest. And I try to focus on the building of my imagined world, where real geopolitical events may be reflected, but where they aren’t essential.   You can still read a spy novel written in the Cold War – one long ago left behind by events – but which retains its power because of its characters and the world they inhabit, and the predicament they find themselves in.

9780751552539As the BBC’s China correspondent, you found yourself in a dangerous situation when a man offered to sell you military secrets – what happened?

This elderly guy came to the BBC Bureau in Beijing and tried to get me to accept Chinese secret documents. He claimed to have all kinds of tantalising information – military secrets relating to missile technology – and he wanted me to be his go-between with ‘the right people’ at the British Embassy. I sent him away, rapidly. He was very persistent, but eventually disappeared and I heard no more. I’m fairly sure it was some sort of provocation. Someone was testing me, just to see what I’d do. This happens to journalists and businessmen from time to time. It’s not so unusual, but it’s weird when it happens to you, the sense that you are being watched, evaluated.

How has spying as a profession changed over the years, do you think?

I’d only know from what I read and what people tell me, but I think much has changed because of technology, obviously. Information that once moved on the airwaves in code, or in diplomatic pouches, or was handed around in paper files, now resides on servers. Technical collection now uses the bulk of intelligence agencies’ resources – cyber, eavesdropping, satellite imaging, the tracking of electromagnetic and chemical signatures, biometric monitoring, data mining. But many in the intelligence agencies continue to argue for the centrality of old-fashioned human intelligence: the recruiting of agents to spy.

Technology has changed things here too, of course.  Where a fabulously successful Cold War agent like Penkovsky might steal or photograph hundreds of documents, a single USB stick can now hold hundreds of thousands. Where once the target of agent recruitment might be a disillusioned colonel or a wayward diplomat, these days the agencies want to recruit systems administrators, too, for their access to networks and servers full of secrets. Intelligence agencies have become huge, expensive bureaucracies reliant on the private sector for digital infrastructure and support. But there are still agents and handlers: that world still exists, and will for a long time to come, I think.

How did you start writing?

With difficulty. I was a journalist for more than twenty years, and only through the daily grind of writing dispatches and news stories did I begin to get any sort of feel for good writing. I never planned to write fiction. It just sort of crept up on me in my forties, and now here I am, stuck with it.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

I think it was learning to grit my teeth and take the edit administered by, well, whoever happened to be editing that day. And then learning to appreciate the edit. And then learning to value it, and to love the rewrite.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

Le Carre, of course, because he both defines the genre and transcends it. Alan Furst for atmosphere and economy; his Dark Star was the book that really made me think about attempting to write fiction. William Boyd for his complex, flawed characters and his understanding of how stories about spies speak to all our fears and anxieties. Hilary Mantel because, well, Hilary Mantel. Thomas Cromwell was an intelligence operative, remember.

Give me some advice about writing…

Only if you give me some back. In truth, I hate giving advice. Someone might follow it. I’ll pass on some advice which helped me. It’s from Will Self: ‘You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished.’

What’s next for you and Philip?

A third, and final, descent into darkness. In which Philip Mangan must decide if he wishes to fight his way back into the light.


Spy Games by Adam Brookes is published 10th March by Sphere, price £7.99 in paperback.