Tag Archives: Wicked Game

The Intel: Adam Chase/Eve Seymour


We love writers here, and we’re keen to learn from them. Earlier in the week we reviewed Wicked Game by one Adam Chase. Turns out Mr. Chase is actually a pseudonym. EV Seymour, author of the Paul Tallis novels, was recently unmasked as Chase at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

You know the drill with The Intel. We ask crime writers how they go about the business of getting words on a page. But  we also took the opportunity to ask Eve why she chose to go undercover for her new book about Hex, the assassin.

How has your own experience influenced your writing?

From an early age, I’ve been an observer, the typical kid sitting on the sidelines watching others.  Most writers are frustrated psychologists and I’m endlessly intrigued by the way in which human beings tick, particularly at the more extreme ends of the spectrum.  During my teens, I went through a phase of reading tomes on clinical psychology, which now I’ve written it down, makes me sound a bit strange.  I’ve outgrown it, honest!  I’m also a news junkie, always on the lookout for that odd story, the one to which I can apply the ‘What if…’ principle.

I was lucky enough to have an amazing experience a few years ago when I spent an evening at the ‘secret’ headquarters where firearms officers, security services, (UK and foreign) SAS and MOD train.  There, I was taken to a laser suite, handed a specially adapted (unloaded) Glock 17 wired to a computer, and took part in a simulated training exercise. It was scary, extremely demanding, and the debrief afterwards threw me – it’s actually quite hard to remember in exquisite detail the moments leading up to ‘an incident’.

Afterwards, I was escorted to the armoury, (although not allowed inside) and handled just about every variety of weapon I could come up with, including a Desert Eagle, Uzi, MP5, Magnum and, of course, a Walther PPK.  There had been an amnesty for illicitly held weapons just before my visit and, aside from machetes, sub-machine guns and automatics, the array of home-made and adapted weapons were worrying. The experience had a profound effect on me and made me realise the specific demands we place on those who defend us.  Professionals walk an incredibly fine line between life and death.

What comes first – plot or character?

I see these as indivisible.  Only a certain character will behave in a given way, and this will lead the plot down a particular route.  If your main character is an estate agent, he’s hardly likely to have access to weaponry, let alone use it!  This is a long-winded way of saying that character and plot work hand in glove.  However I admit that Hex rates as a complex main protagonist. His blatant moral ambiguity is what really hooked me and created a huge challenge for me as the writer:  how to make an essentially bad guy a hero?  The trick was to put him on the spot right in the opening.  It’s stretching it to say that Hex has a Damascene moment, but I needed to craft in a point where he suddenly has cause to pause and doubt the nature of what he does for a living.  Maybe, character has the edge, after all!

Take us through a typical writing day for you.Eve portrait

I’m an early riser and have been known, although not that often, to sneak out of bed around 3.00 a.m. and write like hell.  I’d add that I don’t get ‘gripped by the Muse.’  I’m a planner and I research.  This often takes the form of reading up on defence and security.  It can take months before I put a story together and write a single line.  Those days are more leisurely, but once I’m happy that I’ve got all my notes sorted, then I’ll have a slightly more disciplined working day when I write a skeleton plot-line and then, big breath, I write.  This is when the long hours kick in and I become fairly anti-social, which is only really a problem for those around me.

A typical day will start around 8.00 a.m.  I won’t eat lunch but I consume water and tea by the bucket-load and my heart-starter coffee is always at noon.  I try not to look at emails, but will usually check in a couple of times during the day and finally emerge bleary-eyed around 6.00 p.m.  It’s not always easy to switch off, but I do my best to pretend!

Who are the authors you love and why?

I’m a sucker for historical fiction and political thrillers.  I particularly admire Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and James McGee for vivid characterization.  Michael Dobbs gets my vote for his Winston Churchill series.  Too many to mention, but I love American writers for their sheer sense of guts, pace and action.  They are the usual suspects:  Robert Crais, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Lee Child (who isn’t American but is based there) John Hart, Robert Ludlum, Greg Hurwitz, Kyle Mills.

For me, and this is sticking my neck out, British writers tend to have what I’d describe as more ‘soul’ in the way in which they write.  To list a few:  Tom Rob Smith, R J Ellory, John Harvey, Stuart Neville (Irish), Stephen Booth, Martyn Waites and I can’t, of course, forget the great spy writers:  Frederick Forsyth and John Le Carre, Gerald Seymour and Henry Porter.  I’ll pretty much read anything that catches my eye.  I’ve just read ‘Alex’ by Pierre Lemaitre and thought it stunning.

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

Rejection.  Nobody likes it or gets used to it, but it’s part of the deal.  If you let it, it can do horrible things to your mental health.

How do you deal with feedback?

Constructively, I hope. Writing a novel is a solitary process, but once you show your work to others then feedback is important because it helps a writer hone the story.  My agent, Broo Doherty, has a keen editorial eye and I always pay attention to her comments.  Once I’ve taken these on board, a discussion follows where we bat about ideas.  The feedback process isn’t really finished because the publisher and any independent editor drafted in will also have their own ideas.  Processing feedback is part of a writer’s life and shouldn’t be something to fear.  The important point is that everyone is working together to make the novel the best it can be.

Give me some advice about writing.

  1. Read as widely as possible and try not to talk too much about your ideas to others because you may lose the original magic that made you want to write the story in the first place.
  2. You can only discover your own voice if you sing, so just get on and write!
  3. Don’t let anyone rain on your parade.  Be tenacious.  Be courageous.

What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the market place?

Don’t rush into it.  You only have one shot, so make sure it’s a good one.  If you can afford it, use a reputable editorial consultancy to look at your work and give you an honest and constructive appraisal.  This comes with a word of caution:  do your research beforehand.  If you can’t afford it, let someone you trust (not your best friend, or your best friend’s auntie) read the work and give you straight, down the line, criticism.  Once you’ve made revisions, do everything in your power to seek representation by an agent.

The market place has never been tougher.  If an agent is prepared to represent your work, you stand a half decent chance of it being placed with a publisher.

Why did you choose to use a pseudonym for Wicked Game?

Among certain quarters, there is a perception that women cannot write convincingly and authentically about contract killers, guns, weapons, biological, or otherwise, explosions, flying off in helicopters, tearing off on motorbikes and security service issues.

Admittedly, there is a long tradition of female writers creating male detectives – P.D. James and Adam Dalgleish – but there are far fewer female writers who have male action adventure heroes as their main leads.  Added to this, I wanted to write a first person narrative because it gave me more of an opportunity to allow readers to get inside Hex’s head – important when you bear in mind that he starts the novel as a really bad guy.  At times, I felt from initial feedback that we (me and Hex) would be an impossible sell.  Hence, I reckoned, that if I couldn’t beat my male counterparts, I’d join them.

What’s next for you?

‘Game Over’: the second in the Hex series.  I’m just about to put it through its final edits.  Suffice to say, Hex’s life takes an interesting turn…

Wicked Game – Adam Chase

rsz_wicked_game_coverProfessional assassin. That sounds an interesting job. The hours are flexible. You get to meet no end of fascinating people. Carry a length of piano wire. Wear wigs and stuff. And there’s a bit of international travel.

Of course there are downsides. You never know when that simple ‘hit’ is going to blow up in your face and suddenly you’re on the run, a beautiful MI5 spy at your side, with the world and his wife trying to kill you.

In these morally ambiguous times, being an assassin is a growth market, in the crime thriller fiction market at least, and the latest conflicted tough-guy on the shelf is Adam Chase’s Joshua Thane – or, as he’s known to his clients, Hex.

Let’s consider the blurb:

Joshua Thane, aka Hex, is a freelance assassin. His next target is Dr Mary Wilding, a British microbiologist suspected of trading secrets. Breaking into her house, he discovers someone has beaten him to it – she’s already dead.The portable hard drive he’s ordered to steal is also missing.

About to flee the scene, Hex comes face-to-face with Wilding’s teenage son. According to normal rules of engagement, Hex should kill the boy to protect his own identity and professional reputation, but turbulent memories from his past trigger a crisis of conscience.

Bewildered by his actions, Hex allows the boy to live and flees; yet his nightmare has barely begun. With his own life under threat for apparently botching the job, Hex embarks on an international quest to find the real killer and redeem his soul. Using his old contacts, including crime boss Billy Squeeze, he unravels a criminal conspiracy to develop and detonate an ethnically specific biological weapon. Rogue state, terrorist, or organised crime, whoever has the information, holds the power to deal to the highest bidder.

And the British security services want it back…

Wicked Game is a solid thriller, the first in a series about Hex, who gets involved in an international plot way above his pay-grade.

Despite the state-of-the-art bioweapon narrative that powers the plot, Wicked Game has an old-school, Eric Ambler charm. Hex’s relationship with beautiful MI5 lady McCallen has a spiky energy to it – Hex and McCallen hurl a whole freezeful of cold stares at each other in a futile attempt to disguise their mutual attraction – and the first-person narrative and dialogue is terse and knowing.

Chase builds Hex’s secret world well. The tradecraft and procedures used by the intelligence services ring true. I particularly liked the way all the secret services arrive en masse in their blacked-out vehicles to linger at the scene of the crime.

One of my frustrations about many thriller novels is the way they never add enough suspects to the mix, but Chase’s narrative is suitably twisty-turny, as Hex races from one dodgy character to another in a bid to foil the conspiracy, notching up a few juicy candidates for the role of unpleasant antagonist.

As an assassin, Hex is a curiously sensitive and vulnerable soul and, like many a conflicted hired-killer before him, his doubts and inner turmoil lead him towards a plan of action that benefits the Greater Good.

But character is action, so they say, and I’d like to have seen Hex work harder to get to the bottom of it all. He’s got plenty of people who are willing to fill in the gaps of his knowledge in explanatory passages. Some more sustained peril, a few more violent hoops for Hex to jump through – the action scenes are very effective – would befit a man with such a hazardous vocation.

But any novel about a hired killer is a balancing act, we’re asked to admire people who do a despicable thing for a living, and Chase does well to get us to like Hex in this debut adventure by giving him a tragic past, and by pricking his stony conscience in the face of a conspiracy of abominable proportions. Wicked Game is an enjoyable addition to a burgeoning genre.

Like the intelligence community, publishing can be a shadowy business, there are wheels within wheels, and the question is:  just who is Adam Chase? We’ll find out later in the week.

The Intel: Matt Johnson

We like writers here. And we’re keen to learn from them. Matt Johnson is the author of Wicked Game, which has been an extraordinary success on Amazon. He’s currently working on the follow-up, Deadly Game.

cover3How does your own experience influence your writing?

Wholly. Write about what you know is advice given to many a writer starting out. It’s good advice, particularly when you choose to write in a genre where authenticity is so key. I weave fiction into personal real-life incidents, personalities, experience and emotion. I also model characters on people I have met, using their personality traits and speech pattern so as to ensure that fictional characters have the kind of variety that we see in real life.

Research can make up for in-depth knowledge, but there really is no substitute for experience. When you live through something you not only see it, you smell, feel, hear and taste the experience. Then, when the time comes for you to recreate it in words, you have a far greater wealth of memory to call upon.

What’s your writing process? What comes first – plot or character?

First comes research. I read books, magazines and newspapers. I watch current affairs programmes.  Most importantly, I read outside my writing genre. I do this to learn how others write, how they describe, expressions used and styles of composition.

If something sparks an idea I make a note of it and, at all times, I carry a little digital recorder. So many times I found that an idea for a story or a character or plot development would occur to me and would be forgotten by the time I reached somewhere to right it down.

For me, plot and characters tends to develop together but, for consistency I write a character profile once a character appears. The profile will be in more detail if the character has a larger part in the tale

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

That’s a challenge. A typical day? I tend to write creatively in the afternoon. I walk the dogs first thing and once in the study tend to start the day with emails, twitter messages and the blog.

As lunch draws closer I review the chapter plan of the project, and look at how the story is developing. This gets me back in the groove. I always have a plan that is several chapters ahead to try and eliminate writers block. The plan acts as a prompt, no blank page to stare at! If I have a block, I take the dogs out, with the recorder of course. Often, in a different environment, an idea will occur to me.

On a writing day I tend to set myself a target of 1000 words. Normally, I achieve it and sometimes I get on a roll and exceed it. If I don’t write at all I will be thinking about the story and the plot but I try not to fret if I cannot get to the keyboard.

Who are the authors or you love, and why?

I have very eclectic taste, from Baldacci, Patterson and James Herbert, through to Kipling, Mark Twain and Ken Follett. The last book I read before my current project was Treasure Island. I would say that the greatest influence on me, in terms of style, is James Patterson. I liked his short-chapter use which I found to be excellent at keeping my attention. I find that, at the conclusion of a chapter, I tend to flick forward to see the length of the next. If its huge I may put the book down, but if it’s short I read on… and on… and before you realise it, the book is nearly finished.

I like a good story that can transport you to another time and place when, for the time being, you have to stay where you are. And I like a book that makes you think.

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

Overcoming fear. The fear that I am wasting my time, that nobody, not even me, will enjoy reading my composition. I have been approached by a surprising number of people in the last year who are intending to write. I always say that if you enjoy writing then get on with it, think of it as an enjoyable hobby, not a means to achieving success, fame or fortune. Having people praise and be prepared to pay to read your work is the icing on the cake, the most important thing is to enjoy the writing.

How do you deal with feedback?

I tend to respond to constructive criticism with a willingness to learn. I don’t have a monopoly on experience, knowledge, ideas or ability. If someone criticises I tend to listen to it without taking offence. I tend to evaluate it, assess it’s worth, and if useful it will influence me. That said, some feedback is motivated by jealousy, some is just rude and some critics are really not qualified to do so, but that doesn’t stop them.

Positive feedback is also immensely useful as it tells you what you are doing right. If people like the depth to which you have described a character or if they praise the twists in a story then you are reassured that the decisions made in the writing/proof/edit stage where the right ones. That gives the confidence to carry on.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing?Mart low res

In my case, my decision to start writing came quite late in life and had nothing to do with writing a novel. In the 1990s I was diagnosed with PTSD following a number of violent incidents I had been involved with in the police. I wrote about this in some depth on my blog. I suffered a typical reaction to counselling where emotion overcame my ability to talk about experiences and feelings. I was asked to write things down when I felt able and to bring my notes to the counselling sessions. Many months later, my counsellor told me how much she enjoyed my writing and suggested I consider writing a book.

It was years later before I felt able to do so, but when I did start to weave my personal experiences into a novel, I found it an enjoyable and cathartic experience.

Give me some advice about writing…

Read… a lot. And don’t just read the story, take the time to analyse style, technique, character creation etc. Even look at choice of font and page layout. It all makes a difference. So many indie books you see on kindle get these basics wrong. To the reader, if a book looks amateurish in terms of layout and is littered with errors, then it is likely to be labelled as poor, even if it is a fantastic tale.

Characters. People love a good story but also like to relate to the participants. If your reader likes your protaganists then they may be encouraged to keep reading. Try humour, nothing encourages affection like an ability to make your reader laugh.

What’s your best advice for an author looking to get into the marketplace…

Be patient and don’t rely on agents to do it for you. You have to be pro-active, build a profile and develop a readership. Most importantly, have a realistic expectation as to what you hope to achieve. For every Lee Child, there are thousands of published authors who make pocket money from their books, no more.

What those thousands of authors have in common is the pleasure of seeing their work in print. That is a reasonable aspiration for any writer. Very few ‘best selling’ books actually make their authors wealthy so my advice is to be realistic about what you aim to achieve.

Have dreams, we all do, but don’t set the bar so high that you are sure to suffer disappointment.

What’s next for you?

Second novel syndrome! That awful situation where an author is expected to produce a book that is as good as the first one. Wicked Game has made a name for me, got me on BBC radio, a world-wide readership and even brought me an agent. With 100 5* reviews now on Amazon it’s an act to follow.

I had been writing a police based novel set in North London but with an overwhelming demand for a sequel to ‘Wicked Game’ I put that project on hold. ‘Deadly Game’ the second novel in a trilogy is nearing first-draft completion and I have an outline plan for a third novel in the series.

A bit about Matt:

Matt Johnson is not a typical author. A divorced dad to one daughter, he lives in a converted barn and on a daily basis exercises his four gundogs. A keen biker, he rides a ’99 Harley Fatboy and in his spare time scuba dives.

A retired soldier and Police Inspector, Matt witnessed horrific scenes in the aftermath of the London terrorist attacks during a career spanning over 20 years. He recalls the moment in 1982 that bombs exploded and the chaos that followed.

“It was July. I was 25 and working in the CID Crime Squad in North London. My colleague and I were manning a CID car. We were among the first on the scene of the Regents Park bomb explosion, two hours after a similar attack at Hyde Park. A bomb hidden underneath the bandstand exploded during a performance by the Royal Green Jackets band to about 120 people. The audience and band were peppered with six- inch nails, causing serious injuries and instantly killing seven band members. It was carnage. Then, on April 17th 1984 I was driving a marked traffic car when word came over the radio of a shooting in St James’ Square outside the Libyan Embassy. Our car was sent to escort an ambulance with an injured officer to get it to a hospital. The traffic was a nightmare. The roads were chaotic and blocked up. We were forced to drive on pavements, between bus stops and shop fronts and to direct vehicles out of the way so that we could get to the Hospital as soon as we could. It was a tortuous drive. What I had no idea of at the time was that the casualty was my friend PC Yvonne Fletcher. She had been at a party at my home only a few weeks previously. I only found out when I arrived home that night and saw it on the news.”

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=412456475544240&set=vb.100003396743348&type=3&theater  is a link to Matt’s facebook page and his first interview on BBC Radio Wales in 2012 about the day Yvonne was shot, the way PTSD affected him, his recovery and how the book came into being.

In 1992 Matt was present at the Baltic Exchange bombing in central London. A few years later he started to suffer recurrent nightmares, night sweats and other symptoms that saw him diagnosed with PTSD.  As part of his treatment for the condition he was asked by his counsellor to write notes about memories, dreams and incidents he had been involved in. Those writings inspired the counsellor to comment that they were the basis of a good book.  One evening, Matt sat at the PC and started to weave his experiences into a novel. ‘Wicked Game’ is the result.