Whilst travelling in Europe last year, the cover for James Swallow's first book in his Rubicon series, Nomad caught my eye and I was soon devouring the book in between sight-seeing.
It's an action-packed thriller with a fantastic cast of characters, and the next in the series, Exile will be out later this year. I'm therefore delighted to welcome author, James Swallow to the blog to have a chat about his writing, and find out what's next for Rubicon protagonist, Marc Dane.
New York Times bestselling author and BAFTA nominee, a former journalist and an award-winning writer of over forty books, along with numerous scripts for videogames, radio and television – the list on your bio is impressive! Can you tell us a bit about how your writing career began?
As for the germ of the idea that became Nomad, it formed out of a few different things. I’ve always liked these kind of stories and at the basic level, part of me just wanted to write one for the challenge of it. I missed the high-octane thrillers that I’d enjoyed in my youth, and I saw a lot of commentary talking about the genre as if it was something that was past its time. I certainly didn’t agree with that. But if I had to point to one single element, it was a desire to invent an action hero for the digital age who felt real and relatable, a guy who has to work hard for every victory he gets.
Those opening scenes with Marc Dane being thrust out of his comfort zone as a techie behind the scenes to fully-fledged agent on the run really snag the reader from the outset. He’s different to a lot of other thriller protagonists in that he’s not all brawn and guns – was this a conscious decision on your part, or was that how the character came to you?
It was absolutely core to the creation of Marc Dane. I’ve been living with the idea of him since around 2008, when I first started gathering material for Nomad, and he’s definitely a reaction to all the fiercely-competent, super-accomplished, never-miss types that populate a lot of action thrillers. Those heroes never seem like they are in danger of failing. I wanted more of the everyman type, a guy who uses his skills and his intelligence more than being a crack shot or fast with his fists.
And Marc also grew out of a realization I had that almost every action protagonist I was seeing were infallible guys with no tech-literacy! The heroes - the trigger-pullers, the door-kickers – were very separate from the backseat guy in the van working at a laptop, and I wondered what would happen if the latter was forced into doing the job of the former. I like the idea that Marc is just out of his depth, but that he can still win through.
And what’s next for you as an author?
I’m currently working on a couple of projects under non-disclosure agreements that I can’t talk about right now, and I’m also developing the plotline for the third novel in the Rubicon series.
James, thanks for being such a fantastic guest - it's been great chatting with you!
It's been a difficult few weeks for me, having to keep this under wraps but I'm chuffed to bits to share with you today the new cover for Detective Kay Hunter's next investigation, Will To Live.
Here's the blurb:
Firstly, congratulations on the success of your debut novel, Deep Down Dead. Was the novel a result of your MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) at City University, London or did you go there with the idea bubbling away in your mind already?
I got the idea when I was out in the States just before I started the MA programme. I’d been sent a brief for a pre-course assignment - writing a chapter that introduced a new character - and had to email it to my tutor and fellow students before we met for the first lecture. It was when I was driving from the mountains of West Virginia and into rural Virginia that I had the idea - inspired by the discovery that the taillights on my hire car weren't working and finding out that the nearest place I could get them fixed was over a hundred miles away! I stayed overnight in a rundown motel and from then on only drove in daylight. But it got me thinking - what if you had to keep driving and your taillights were out? And what if you got pulled over by a State Trooper because of it? And what if when they leaned into the car to take your licence they heard banging in the trunk from the person you'd put in there? It started me thinking about the sort of person who might travel with a person in their trunk and why - and that's how Lori Anderson came about!
What did you enjoy most about doing an MA in Creative Writing?
The way the tutors Claire McGowan and Laura Wilson encouraged us to experiment with our writing – style/point of view/sub-genre/everything really – to find what suited us best and what we enjoyed. The whole programme was highly experiential – we wrote fresh pieces each week to submit and critique in ‘live workshops’ – it got you used to feedback fast, and into the routine of writing to deadlines and self-editing.
Another huge part of it for me was the camaraderie of being part of a group of writers all going through the same thing. We experienced the highs and lows of writing together, celebrated the good stuff and commiserated on the tough stuff, and supported each other through the novel writing process. We still meet now as a writing group and workshop our current WIPs.
Hopefully you’ve never had to bury a dead body (if you have, please don’t tell us where it is!), but it’s evident that the experience and training you undertook has become such an important part of Lori’s character. Did she appear on the page fully formed, or did it take you a while to get to know her?
Her voice arrived fully formed, and I knew there was a dreadful secret lurking in her past but it wasn’t until I’d finished the first draft that I found out what it was (although I knew it was connected to her husband, Sal and JT). When I realised – I was on a train from Scotland to London at the time - I wrote those chapters in one rapid burst.
Writing in first person is something that I’d find a little out of my comfort zone, but it works so well in Deep Down Dead. Was it a conscious decision to write in first person?
That was the way she came out naturally! I’m fairly happy writing in first person or close third, but I wrote Lori as a first person narrator from the start. Maybe it was partly because I was travelling through the American South at the time – my inner voice kind of sounded like Lori, although my outer voice didn’t at all!
How did the Aidan Snow thrillers develop? Did you start out with a series in mind?
At the time I started writing the first Aidan Snow novel I was living in Kyiv and reading a lot of SAS thrillers, only one of these mentioned Kyiv and then it was factually wrong. This got me thinking that I could write my own thriller set in Ukraine as although I wasn’t an expert on the SAS I was an expert on Kyiv. Aidan Snow is basically me, if I’d been in the SAS. I wrote the first book to see if I could and once I’d finished it knew I wanted to turn Aidan Snow’s exploits into a series.
You taught drama at a school in Ukraine – how did you get into that, and how much of that experience and structure do you use when writing?
After getting a Drama degree I did a PGCE so I could teach it. But then I realised that the world was a huge place, hence I was headhunted to join an international school in Kyiv. I set up the Drama department for the first International Baccalaureate (IB) School in Eastern Europe. Improvisation was a skill I had to rely on as an actor/teacher and this I think makes it easier for my mind to think of story ideas, settings and characters.
‘Hetman’ introduced Aidan Snow to readers back in 2008 and a lot has changed within the digital publishing industry since then – including the book title! If you could give 2008 Alex Shaw one piece of advice, what would it be?
Get an editor. I am still plagued by typos that I missed (when it was self-published), that my subsequent editors have missed but that readers don’t.
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