Tag Archives: William Boyd

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it difficult to keep up with ever-changing geopolitical complexities – are you afraid your topical spy novels will be superseded by real events?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

The Intel: Andrew Shantos

Andrew ShantosAndrew Shantos has turned to some of the biggest names in show business, Elvis, Jimi, Marilyn, that fellow from The Doors, to populate his debut novel – but wait, you cry, surely they’re, you know, deceased.

Turns out they’re not. In Dead Star Island, they’re living in blissful anonymity on a remote island and still partying like there’s no tomorrow. That is, until someone starts killing them off for real. Greece’s former top cop Mario Gunzabo is called in to solve the mystery of the Déjà vu Killer. But can the part-time tennis coach and full time alcoholic stop the killer in time to save the rest of the superstars?

Andrew’s comic thriller is a high-concept romp and a rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster which combines his love of music, dead rock stars and ferrets.

In the the latest stop of his Blog Tour, Andrew gives us the intel on his one-armed detective, which music icon he’d love to perform on stage with – and he earns some extra Intel brownie points by mentioning the undisputed king of high-concept, Ira Levin…

Tell us about Dead Star Island…

It’s a spoof murder mystery. Dead Star Island is home to sixteen superstars the world thinks are dead, but who faked their deaths to live in tranquil anonymity on a secret island paradise. Until now, that is, because there’s a killer on the loose, taking them out one by one in repeats of the deaths they staged to leave the real world.

Your alcoholic, one-armed detective Mario Gunzabo comes with a ferret up his sleeve – tell us about him!

Gunzabo came about from a silly game on holiday in Cyprus. My wife and I were trying to outdo each other with ideas for outlandish detectives. I suggested a one-armed detective called Mario Gunzabo. And she immediately said, with a ferret up his sleeve.

So that was the starting point, but Gunzabo evolved into a fully formed character over many drafts and rewrites, and in him is a mixture of many relatives in Cyprus, long dead, that I remember vividly from my childhood. An important part of the backstory is how he lost his arm, why Didi exists (or not), and how this continues to affect his life and the investigation.

Dead Star Island is a fascinating idea – where did you get the inspiration?

About five years ago, I was listening to LA Woman by The Doors, feeling a bit sad and thinking, “Oh, I wish Jim Morrison wasn’t dead.” Then I thought, “Maybe he isn’t. Maybe he’s hanging out with Elvis on a desert island somewhere… Of course, Jimi would be there. Marilyn too…” And I found I couldn’t stop thinking of people who’d be there with them – basically anyone who was on my bedroom wall as a teenager.

So that’s how the idea came to me. But I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot, in particular about why I had the idea, which I’ve written about in more depth on another leg of my Blog Tour, in a piece called ‘The Psychology of an idea’.

Dead Star IslandOn your website, there’s a quiz you can do about the island, a music playlist, a map and even a graph on which details how many hours you spent writing the novel – how important is it for authors to provide extra content for readers?

To begin with I just had the idea to put an application form on my website, so that people could apply to go and live on the island. It was just a bit of fun, but it made me laugh doing it and I kept on adding new pages, like the quiz to try and guess who the residents are, based on the crazy caricatures my mate Joel did (it’s a tough quiz, no one’s managed full marks yet, not even anyone at my publisher).

But yes, there is an ulterior motive: I want to find and engage new readers, so my hope is that when people see the website, they’ll want to come back, and they’ll tell their friends that they’ve found something worth reading – hopefully much like the book itself.

Mostly though, I just really like the idea of a book living outside the confines of its pages. So that what you’re reading is an excerpt, a particularly interesting episode in the universe someone has created.

You’ve played the Hammond organ in lots of bands – which deceased musical icon do you wish you could have played alongside?

Jim Morrison, every time! The keyboard player I look up to the most is Ray Manzarek of The Doors, so I guess the ultimate would to have been in his piano stool, shaking my head in a stoned trance while playing a ten minute solo during Light My Fire at the Hollywood Bowl, Jim shrieking and doing some kind of crazy tribal dance in front of me. At the after party we’d hang out with Jimi, probably get drunk (definitely get drunk), sing a few sea shanties, and talk pseudo-philosophical nonsense. This would last several days until one of us got taken to hospital.

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

Probably what I talk about in my blog post “How many hours does it take to write a novel.” I remember finishing my first draft (written at night in the odd hour when our newborn baby actually decided to sleep), and giving it to carefully selected friends and family, naively thinking that the concept alone would be enough to wow everyone. That most definitely was not the case, and slowly, realisation dawned: I had only just started. I suddenly knew how much work was ahead of me, and I nearly didn’t carry on.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

There are loads; it’s tough to pick out any in particular, like it’s tough to pick your favourite bands. In general I’d say the authors I admire most are those who write with economy and clarity, but also with flair and imagination. I’m never that bothered about genre, I’ll read anything by anyone, so long as they meet these criteria.

As for names, well of the old favourites, I like Hemingway and Orwell best. They’re the literary equivalent of The Stones and The Beatles for me. I’m gradually working my way through Elmore Leonard’s work (I finished Freaky Deaky last week, which I loved and recommend to any crime lover).

Someone who is slightly forgotten these days is Ira Levin, who was massive in the fifties and sixties. Pretty much every one of his novels has been made into a film, some of them several times over. Most are absolute classics: A Kiss Before Dying, The Boys From Brazil, The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby. They often have a crime element, all are amazing ideas, full of tension and suspense, and inevitably you find yourself devouring them in a single sitting.

Give me some advice about writing.

Work hard and be open to criticism. These two things make you a better writer.

Writing is one of the few crafts people expect to be good at immediately. There’s the old joke about asking an Australian if they can play the violin, and the Australian replying, “I dunno, I’ve never tried.” But really, you have to practise, practise, practise, and you have to actively seek criticism. Plus you have to read lots too. I often forget that, and have to remind myself: read, read, read!

Mostly we’re blind to our own faults, but see them more easily in others. It’s like anything: if you want to be good at it, you have to work hard. Above all though, have fun. Enjoy it. Otherwise what’s the point?

What’s next for you?

I’ve got lots of ideas. If anything too many. It’s a nice problem to have though, so I’m going to use a few of them in a collection of short stories, which will have the additional benefit of being good practice for the next novel.

I do have three or four ideas for full-length novels, but knowing now how much work it is, I’m taking my time and want to let them stew away in my head for a few months. I read a fascinating piece in the Guardian the other day, where author William Boyd talks about his writing process. He spends about three years writing each of his books, the first two years of which is research and planning.

That’s a long time, and I hope I’ll be quicker, but then again Dead Star Island took three years… can I book a slot in autumn 2018 for my next blog tour?


Dead Star Island, published by APP, can be ordered through Amazon priced £4.99 for Kindle and £8.99 paperback right here.

To get in touch visit Andrew at his website andrewshantos.com or on Twitter @andrewshantos

The Intel: M. Sean Coleman

Netwars: The CodWe all love a bit of fictional cyber crime.

All that frantic keyboard tippy-tapping just flies off the page. People bark clever acronyms and codes names at each other and discuss server logs and Intrusion Detection protocols, surveillance code, and bits and bytes. If, like me, your knowledge of computing goes as far as turning on the Playstation, it’s all terribly exciting –  like a portal into a secret world.

The rise of the Deep Web, cyber attacks and espionage is opening up whole new narrative frontiers. And yet, of course these cyber thrillers are written in the oldest data delivery system in the world:  a story. You may hold in your hand an ebook, the words may be backlit, but it’s still a good, old-fashioned story.

Or maybe it isn’t.

Netwars: The Code is a series of six ebook episodes, described as a unique global project. As well as an ebook series, it’s an interactive web documentary and Graphic novel apps, a fusion of fact and fiction about the increasing threat of cyberwarfare.

It features characters such as the cyber avenging angel Strider – mild-mannered computer geek by day, ruthless executioner by night – and his deadly nemesis Nightshade. It features the tall, beautiful and intelligent computer whiz Rebecca MacDonald, who’s caught up in the cat-and-mouse war between the both of them. Netwars has the galloping cartoon energy of a Saturday morning cartoon serial – but updated for the 21st century.

Each of the six-episodes of Netwars: The Code is only 100-pages long, and is written by London-based author M. Sean Coleman, who also wrote the script for the graphic novel app. Here’s the link to the first ep.

It’s ambitious stuff, and I’m not sure I’ve explained it properly. Luckily, Sean has agreed to give us The Intel on the Netwars series, about the dangerous evolution of new technology, and, of course – because this is The Intel, after all – he’s got lots of fabulous thoughts about the writing process.

M. Scott ColemanTell us about The Code – what’s it about?

It’s a crime thriller set in the seedy and little known world of the Deep Web – a place where, under the cloak of anonymity you can buy drugs, weapons, porn, even order a killing, just by knowing where to look. The Code tells the story of a rogue vigilante who uses the Deep Web to find his targets – picking out those who have broken his unique code of practice, and who have escaped justice. He makes it his business to ensure that they pay properly for their crimes. To further complicate matters he is also a consultant to the National Cyber Crime Unit.

When his latest target turns out to be closely connected to the underworld bosses of the Deep Web, he realizes that he has been betrayed by the one person he thought he could trust – his mentor. And now, that same person is coming after him, and he is the most powerful and dangerous man in the Deep Web.

At least, that is how the plot kicks off. Partly, the book deals with the fact that none of us really stop to think about how almost everything we touch and interact with these days, from our cars, to our houses, to the pumps and monitors in hospitals, could actually be used to kill us if a malicious actor was that way inclined. I wanted people reading the book to think twice about getting into an elevator, or driving a car that can park itself, or allowing their smartphone to report where they are and what they are doing at every moment of the day.

Netwars is an ambitious cross-platform project – what does that mean?

I think it genuinely means that if we had ever tried to pitch the whole project as it exists now from the outset, people would have laughed us out of the room. Netwars has evolved into the beast that it is now, but it began as a slightly smaller scale project. The project now comprises a TV documentary, an interactive web documentary, a three part graphic novel series for iPads and Android Tablets, and a six-part serialized novel, which also happens to be an audiobook. And that’s not all, we are still developing extensions of the Netwars world in other formats and on other platforms.

How do the narratives of all the different platforms connect?

We had a mantra throughout the production process of all of the parts of the project which was that everything should be possible, but nothing needed to be done. Basically, what that meant was that we wanted the audience to be able to find the content on any of the platforms and fully engage with the stories there, but we didn’t want anybody to feel that they had missed something by not, for example, reading the novel, or graphic novel, or only seeing the documentary. Our other guiding principle is that nothing could happen in any of the fictional parts of the project that weren’t based in reality.

We created a character, usually known as The Salesman, who appears in all of the fictional parts of the project, including the narrative backbone of the interactive web documentary. He is the glue. For the web documentary, it is he that lures the viewer in and makes them part of his dark world. He features in the graphic novel series, as a minor but important character, and he appears in the novel as the main character’s mentor, and eventual nemesis. In each case, you are introduced to him in context, meaning that you can enjoy one part of the project in isolation without feeling that you are missing any information.

How have your own experiences prepared you for working on the Netwars project?

Well, as an assassin myself… No, I’m joking. I thought about applying to be an Mi5 agent once, but I think I am both too indiscrete and too impatient. Plus, I know it would be nothing like James Bond. In reality, the only experience I could draw on for this project was my passion for technology and my casual worries that we are allowing machines to take over too many angles of our life. There we are worrying about whether the machines will become sentient and kill us all, nobody seems to have considered what would happen if somebody wanted to turn those machines against us.

A lot of what I researched kept repeating the statement that most of the systems we rely on were designed before we had terrorism. Which sounds stupid, but I know what they mean by that. An airplane is not a weapon unless it is used by terrorists to make a political or religious statement. In the same way that a screwdriver or a hammer are not weapons unless used that way – it’s just that we have legislation for carrying hammers around the place, whereas our essential infrastructures are often running on a machine less powerful than our TV. It’s a looping answer to your question. I have always been interested in how technology helps us be more efficient. Working on Netwars has made me research, in great detail, what the risks of relying on those technologies are.

Do you think the way we are consuming narratives is changing?

Yes and no. I think, at heart, we still want to be told a bloody good story. I think audiences, readers and consumers are all less worried about where that content comes from or how they get to see or read it. Just looking at myself, I still resist watching Netflix on my iPhone, but I am more than happy to watch on my iPad. I read on a kindle now, even though I have shelves full of books which I have an almost fetishistic relationship with.

Last year I would have said that I could only read non-fiction, especially for research, in an actual paper book, but the Netwars project research changed that, as there were some books that were only available digitally. I think we all want to be swept along, excited and impressed – we want characters we can trust, characters we can fall in love with and be excited for or disappointed by. The main difference is that we expect to find them all over the place, wherever we happen to be. We are as comfortable following a character on twitter as we are watching them in a drama series.

When we read a book, we often expect to see the TV series or the film of the same story, or at least the same world. I think there is more blending between the platforms, and as our viewing and reading experiences become increasingly connected, that will continue to develop.

Do you think authors need to start thinking about new ways to get their work onto the marketplace?

I don’t know. I worry that we head into a world where the cart leads the horse. I think, as a writer, you should ask yourself what your idea would be best as: a novel, a short story, a film, a TV series, a radio play, theatre, mime, a series of magazine columns, a web series, a blog, an art installation… I think the days are gone of being able to say: I am an author, or I am a screenwriter, or I am a playwright, or whatever.

I think the boxes have changed shape, and writers limit themselves if they think only in one category. That being said, I think the dawn of self-publishing, blogging and the whole digital age opening up readership again, means that there are wider opportunities for writers to build an audience without being beholden to the publisher, commissioner and producer. I think if someone has a passion to tell the story that they have brewing inside them, they should just get on and do it, the best they can, and if no one will take it, self-publish and prove them wrong. Right?

Take us through a typical writing day for you?

I’m pretty organised about my schedule. Some people are not, and prefer to let the creativity flow as and when it hits them. For me, if I don’t trick myself with a schedule, I get nothing done.

I work at my home, I have a wonderful office there, that is only for writing and it is a place that I can shut the door on at the end of the day, which is also important. I usually hit the desk at 8.30am, when my partner leaves for work, and I spend an hour replying to emails and doing bits of admin and invoicing. I realised that, even with the greatest self-control, the Internet was too distracting so from 09.30 until 13.00 I use a cheap program called Freedom, which shuts off my router and, unless I completely restart my computer, keeps me off the web.

I have a little notepad beside my keyboard and I jot down all of the questions that come up or things I need to research as I go along – I would otherwise spend about 30 mins or so finding out which park they were running through in the scene I was writing, only to cut the whole scene later. I just put a red X in the manuscript and plough on. I’ll go back and fill it in later.

Between 13.00 and 15.00 I have lunch and walk the dog. That is usually my background thinking time – I try to clear my head of what I’m doing and just look around me. Quite often, if I’ve been wrestling with a scene or character element, I will talk to myself (or the dog) as I walk and usually by the time I get home, there is a solution. I also use that time to answer any emails that may have come in, or reply to calls that I’ve missed (I also put my phone an airplane mode while I write – all pings and beeps must be silenced!)

I am back at my desk by 15.00 and I work through with everything off again until 17.00 usually, but 18.00 on bad deadline days. I like to leave a scene unfinished so that I can pick up straight away the next day and not have to start a new scene from scratch. It always helps to knock off a few hundred words quickly at the start of a session, it makes you feel like your achieving something.

At the beginning of every project I make a soundtrack using Spotify, of about 200 songs. This is all I listen to when I’m working, and it has nothing to do with my taste in music, it is about getting into the mood of the piece you are writing straight away. My writing is not always at the computer, either – I could be on the sofa in my office with record cards, fleshing out ideas, or scribbling all over the whiteboards on the walls – the music is always on – it stops me listening to the neighbours or being distracted by the people on the street outside.

When I finish for the evening I leave my desk ready to start straight away and then I go downstairs and start cooking, which is my other passion. That is pretty much my routine. If I do it right, I shouldn’t have to work later than 18.00 and never on weekends. Life is important too.

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

Writing is bloody hard. Especially, finishing is hard. Having the ideas are fine, and you’re really excited to start, but do yourself a favour and make sure you plot out what’s going to happen the whole way through. Make sure you read your plotting again and again, before you start writing. During your plotting, if you are really excited, by all means, write out the scene in your head, but don’t just dive in. Completion anxiety really freaks me out. Even when you have finished one piece, and know you can successfully do so, when you start the next one, there is always a time when you think: I don’t think I can do this. Embrace that neurosis. That’s what makes you a writer!

I think the other hard thing is finding your own voice and having confidence in it. I had help with that. My old friend and mentor, Neil Richards – an excellent writer himself – struggled with me as a young writer, some 20 years ago, to help me figure out what kind of a writer I was going to be! Through his patient, intelligent criticism, I stepped out of the shadow of those I was trying to parody, and eventually, believed that I had a voice too. It was never going to be for romantic comedy though! Or even comedy full stop. We laughed a lot at some of my early writing, but the truth was, we were laughing at how bad it was. He had the ability to make me see how bad it was, but without making me give up hope. He found the good bits and pushed them hard.

I guess the thing with finding your voice is that it has to come from you, but often, it needs someone who knows what they’re looking for, to see that spark, and help you to ignite it. Whenever I write now, I assume Neil will be the one reading it, and I try to imagine what he will think. Usually, I imagine he’ll tell me I can do better. Fortunately, these days, he’s a friend, and too polite to tell me he hated it!

How do you deal with feedback?

If it’s good, I love it. I copy and paste it and put it on my website! Feedback is tough. I learned through a lot of my producing work that you can’t get into personal conversations over feedback. There will be people who love what you do, and people who hate it. The thing about feedback is that somebody has taken the time to write a review or offer and opinion about your work, and that means a lot. Even if that opinion was negative, usually people are able to justify their feelings. If they felt a character was underdeveloped, or a theme was too uncomfortable, or the piece was badly researched, whatever, it’s a perfectly valid feeling. If we had the time and strength, we would go back and re-read and think about our work with those comments in mind, but we have to charge forward with the next thing.

The point is, readers aren’t wrong about their own opinions. I have read books by authors I love, that I didn’t enjoy on that occasion. I have read books that I loved that other people hated. The fact that people read your work and take the time to comment, whether negatively or positively is amazing. As a neurotic writer, the more positive comments the better. But then, the more pressure on the next book…

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

William Gibson, for his amazing creativity, intelligence, imagination. William Boyd for his incredible characters. I love most crime thrillers, and I really admire anyone that can create a character that returns again and again with a new adventure. Lee Child, for example, nails that with Jack Reacher – you know what you’re getting. It’s a great skill. There are some stand out books that I have just loved – like The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. When I read it, I just thought it was such an individual and interesting concept.

I could go on, I read every day. For me, if your book is on a shelf, somewhere, you’ve made it. It’s a fantastic achievement, to have finished a story and put it out there for everybody to see. It’s a terrifying thing knowing that everybody is reading the words you wrote, and wondering whether they like them or not.

Give me some advice about writing…

If you’re going to do it, do it every day – even if it’s just a bit. Writing is like training – the more you do, the quicker, stronger, better you get.

Plan, plan, plan. Then write.

Don’t be too precious about getting it right the first time – learn to draft. I often have lines in first drafts like: ‘He says something really funny about her shoes. She doesn’t think it’s funny.’ I don’t need to know what the funny thing is there and then, because that’s not what the scene is about, it’s an emotional moment and I can come back to the detail of it. If I spend too long figuring out what the joke is, I’m out of the emotional moment anyway.

Get somebody who knows about story to read your work. If you can find other writers and offer a you-read-my-work-and-I’ll-read-yours kind of deal, that’s ideal. Your family and friends love you too much to tell you they didn’t like it, and don’t have the tools to tell you why. Unless they’re an editor, writer or agent, in which case it’s too close to home. Of course they must read it, but don’t be surprised if they are disturbed by the darkness within you…

What’s next for you?

I have an interactive storybook for pre-school children, called Milli’s Adventures on Apple-Tree Hill, coming out in the summer on iPads and Android tablets. It’s about a little snail called Milli who doesn’t know how to be a snail and has wonderful adventures trying to find out. It was created and illustrated by the wonderful Jana Schell and I am honoured to have been able to write the stories for it. I love it. Meanwhile, I have just begun writing the sequel to The Code, so keep your eyes open at the end of the year for the second book.


Once again I’m blown away by the detail authors are willing to share with us about their writing process – I hope Sean’s interview gives you as much inspiration as it did me.

By the way, Sean mentions his mentor, Neil Richards. You may recall that Neil’s already done his own fascinating interview for The Intel, and you can see that here.

Crime Thriller Book Log: Kill, Murder, Solo, Prayer

Is that money I hear jangling in your pocket, a spare bit of cash burning a hole in the lining? I can tell you’re itching to spend all those pennies on some new crime thriller books. Let’s take a look-see at some of the week’s new releases.

Goodness, Frederick Forsyth that has been writing for a long time. His seminal assassination thriller The Day Of The Jackal came out in 1971, back when I was only, erm — well, never mind. He’s been tapping away ever since, writing his novels on a typewriter. For the curious younger readers among you , this is what a typewriter looks like:1-1234699141PRLF-1

Forsyth writes twelves pages, or 3,000 words, a day, all week round, surrounded by a horseshoe of tables with all his research laid out on them. His research, he says, is meticulous, and he’s even posed as a arms-dealer.

images-1His new book came out this week. It’s called The Kill List, and the blurb goes like this:

The Kill List: a top secret catalogue of names held at the highest level of the US government. On it, those men and women who would threaten the world’s security. And at the top of it, The Preacher, a radical Islamic cleric whose sermons inspire his followers to kill high profile Western targets in the name of God. As the bodies begin to pile up in America, Great Britain and across Europe, the message goes out: discover this man’s identity, locate him and take him out.

Tasked with what seems like an impossible job is an ex-US marine who has risen through the ranks to become one of America’s most effective intelligence chiefs. Now known only as The Tracker, he must gather what scant evidence there is, collate it and unmask The Preacher if he is to prevent the next spate of violent deaths. Aided only by a brilliant teenaged hacker, he must throw out the bait and see whether his deadly target can be drawn from his lair.

The Kill List is out now, in hardcover and on the kindle.

And what else came out?

855074235Well, we’ve spoken about William Boyd’s James Bond novel before, so we’ll keep it brief. In Solo, Bond embarks on an unauthorized mission in Africa. Interestingly, Boyd has mentioned Daniel Day Lewis as the person he saw in his mind’s eye as Bond, and Day Lewis doesn’t look so different from Ian Fleming’s physical template for his hero, the singer Hoagy Carmichael.

Solo also features a recipe for salad dressing should you get peckish while reading it. Don’t roll your eyes. There’s a precedent for that kind of thing in Bond. Fleming was asked to contribute to a book of travelogues calling Thrilling Cities by writing about New York. Fleming hated the city, but contributed anyway, with a short story called 007 In New York. Perhaps to take his mind off the task, he included Bond’s precise recipe for scrambled eggs.

There you go. So, anyway. Solo, in hardback and e-reader formats.

Before he returned with a vengeance to his acclaimed Bernie Gunther novels, Philip Kerr wrote some interesting stand-alones, including A Philosophical Investigation, Gridiron and Dead Meat.

51sW20Tr1KL._SY445_Now, several years later, he’s written another one, called Prayer. Get on your knees for the blurb:

Special Agent Gil Martins investigates domestic terrorism for the Houston FBI. He is a religious man who is close to losing his faith; the very nature of his job has led him to question the existence of a God who could allow the things that Gil sees every day.

But Gil’s wife Ruth doesn’t see things the same way and his crisis of faith provokes a fracture in their marriage. Gil’s world is breaking apart.

At the same time, Gil starts to investigate a series of unexplained deaths that bring this crisis of faith into uncomfortable focus.

When Esther, a disturbed woman, informs Gil that these men have been killed by prayer, Gil questions her sanity. But as the evidence mounts up that there might be something in what she says, his new-found atheism is severely challenged, more so as he finds his own life is next on the line.

Prayer is out on kindle and in hardcover. And put your hands together, Kerr is hard at work on another Gunther novel.

51LImIGopML._SY445_And finally, look to your right and you’ll see Simon Beaufort‘s The Murder House. Simon is the pseudonym of historical novelist Susanna Gregory and her academic husband Beau Riffenburgh. Together they’ve written eight sir Geoffrey Mappestone novels about a Crusader in the Eleventh Century who solves murders and stuff. However, a perusal of the blurb may suggest a teensy change of direction:

When PC Helen Anderson takes the files for a forthcoming court case to study over the weekend, she commits a cardinal error. For those files are not supposed to leave the police station – and the moment they fall into the wrong hands, Helen’s ordinary, uneventful life begins to spiral out of control.

For one small lie will lead to another, then another – culminating in a rendezvous in an ordinary suburban house in an ordinary Bristol street …the scene of a gruesome and extraordinary murder.

Yes, Simon’s gone all contemporary. There’s not a single helmet, citadel or pointy stick to be seen. The Murder House is available in hardcover.

Hannibal, Whicher, Blitz And Life: TV Crime Log

Gosh, start looking for the Record Button on your remote, because there’s tons of stuff on the telly this week.

Unknown-3Hannibal debuts on Sky Living tomorrow night, and is a procedural based on the relationship between Dr. Hannibal Lecter and criminal profiler Will Graham – working together to solve crime! – before Dr Lecter’s cannibal antics rather soured their friendship.

Thomas Harris fans will recognise Graham, played by Hugh Dancy, as the damaged FBI man responsible for Dr. Lecter’s incarceration in the novel Red Dragon. It’s an audacious attempt to kick life into a serial killer character who became a bit of a joke with his Young Hannibal Adventures, or whatever that last book and movie were called.

The aim, says series creator Bryan Fuller, is to explore the relationship between Lecter – played by the excellent Mads Mikkelsen – and Graham in the first three seasons, and then dramatise the events of Red Dragon and The Silence Of The Lambs in two final seasons. A terrific idea, but Hannibal’s in the middle of its run on NBC, and despite decent reviews, recent ratings haven’t been hugely encouraging. Fuller is one of those showrunners whose shows – Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies – are well reviewed and pick-up devoted cult followings, but tend to get cancelled quickly.

Fuller has made changes which invest new life into familiar characters. Graham’s boss JackCrawford is there, as played by Laurence Fishburne, but irritating journalist Freddie Lounds is now a woman.

I shall be watching Sky Living tomorrow – that’s Tuesday at 10pm.

images-1There’s another intriguing premise in Thursday night’s Murder On The Home Front, on ITV.

Yes, we’re in the Second World War again, right in the heart of the Blitz, but the concept behind this crime drama is to discover some of the secrets of the early days of forensic investigation.

Here’s some blurb that may enlighten you further:

‘When young women are found murdered DI Freddy Wilkins believes the obvious suspect is the vulnerable loner, Wilfred Ziegler as a result of the swastikas carved on the victims’ tongues. Dr Lennox Collins the passionate and brilliant Home Office Pathologist and Molly Cooper, his vivacious young secretary have their doubts and employ ground breaking forensic techniques to ensure the right man is brought to justice. However, Lennox soon learns that not only is he fighting a battle to modernise the way in which crimes are solved, but he’s also clashing with a government who will go to any lengths to ensure the country’s morale is sustained – even cover up a murder.’

Based on the memoirs of Molly Lefebure, secretary to the Home Office Pathologist Keith Simpson, Murder On The Home Front concludes next week. But if it’s a success, I’d imagine we’ll get more of the same.

Unknown-9Life Of Crime, which starts a three episode run on ITV on Friday night, follows three decades in the career of a policewoman in the Metropolitan Police. The aim is to show how the choices she makes as a rookie officer have explosive repercussions on her professional and personal life.

We first meet WPC Denise Woods in 1985, against the backdrop of the Brixton riots, then in 1997 in the second episode, and then in 2013 when she’s a senior office. Woods is played by Hayley Attwell, who also appeared in the movie version of The Sweeney and William Boyd’s spy romp, Reckless.

Life Of Crime is written by Declan Croghan, who penned some of the better episodes of Waking The Dead, and also Ripper Street. You can watch it on Friday night at 9pm – The Gentle Touch slot!

images-2Cranking out the crime dramas like there’s no tomorrow, ITV has a sequel to The Suspicions of Mr Whicher on Sunday night.

The Murder In Angel Lane follows  19th Century former Met Detective Jack Whicher as he launches on his career as a ‘private inquiry agent.’

Paddy Considine sports an impressive pair of sideburns as Whicher, who’s employed by Olivia Colman – dusting off her trademark bleak expression from Broadchurch.

This blurb will explain the plot better than I can:

When Whicher saves a respectable country lady from a violent robbery in a dangerous quarter of London, he learns that this woman, Susan Spencer is desperately hunting for her vulnerable young niece, Mary. Mary has come up to London in search of a young man, Stephen Gann who has made her pregnant.

Susan commissions Jack Whicher as a “private inquiry agent” to find her niece and the young man and Whicher is drawn irresistibly into a disturbing and puzzling murder case, which brings him up against wealthy and powerful figures and throws him into conflict with his former colleagues in the Metropolitan police.  The investigation leads to a private lunatic asylum where Whicher himself must confront the darkness of his own demons.

I do believe that ITV is smoothing its skirts and batting its eyelids at the possibility of another Whicher drama in the future. The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher is on ITV, Sunday night at 8pm.

The London Book Fair 2013

2col_298x200_lbf2013_logo_with_datesAttention all aspiring crime-authors – it’s the London Book Fair till Wednesday.

Look, Mark, you say, that’s all very well, but this book doesn’t get written by itself. I’m with you there, friend. But held at Earls Court in London, the Book Fair is where 25,000 literary agents and scouts, publishers, booksellers and marketing professionals all come to talk books and publishing. That’s 25,000 people who can help you along the path to getting published.

This year the Book Fair is making a big attempt to reach out to writers. If you’re an author, it’s one of the ways you can find out more about publishing or self-publishing, or get inspiration on how to break into an increasingly competitive business or advance your career.

The Author Lounge is a place that brings together experts from all parts of the publishing industry – from editors and designers and agents and booksellers – to share their expertise and insights into modern publishing with authors and unpublished authors.

There’ll be talks and seminars and discussions over the next three days, including a look at how the new digital landscape is opening up new opportunities for authors; how to make the most of marketing; and how to help readers discover your books.

And if you’ve managed to sign up for it, there’s also The Lit Factor – see what they’ve done there? – that gives unpublished authors the opportunity to meet and network with literary agents.

Authors such as William Boyd will at this year’s fair, as well as Roz Morris, whose terrific Nail Your Novel is absolutely one of the best writing books on how to write a novel you could possibly read.