Introducing the Rubicon series – an interview with James Swallow

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?

Thanks, Rachel! I always say, I like to keep busy…

I started off in my late teens writing for small press publications and fanzines, first as a hobby but it soon became a consuming passion. That gave me the first opportunity to hone my craft. I gradually stepped up to working on professional publications, and along the way I learned some useful skills – most importantly that deadlines are king! – and along with a brief diversion into scriptwriting, I eventually made the jump to prose… Which, to be honest, was where I had always wanted to be.

I first discovered your writing through your novel, Nomad last year and it reminded me a bit of Terry Hayes’ I Am Pilgrim – I think due to the intensity and fury in the story.  How did the germ of the idea for Nomad grow and develop into the finished novel?

I loved Terry’s book, it was my poolside holiday reading the year it came out. I think in a lot of ways, I Am Pilgrim reminded people in the publishing industry that fast-paced action thrillers are still a strong draw for readers, and that’s certainly the same wheelhouse that Nomad is aimed at.

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.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know your other books were in the steampunk and speculative fiction genres (sorry!), even though I started out writing spec fic short stories! What appeals to you about these genres?
My steampunk books – the Sundownersseries – were actually my first ever prose fiction sale, a quartet of adventures set in the Old West for the young adult market, and the work I’ve done in science fiction straddles a lot of different titles and fictional universes. I think what I like about writing stories in an unreal world is the ability to let your imagination cut loose and come up with the strange and unusual ideas for characters, worlds and events. And also, I’ve always felt that speculative fiction is a great way to hold up a kind of distorted “fun-house mirror” to the real world, allowing you to explore themes that might seem too close to home if tackled more directly.

How did you get into writing for the worlds of 24, Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Stargate, etc? Can you tell us how writing in these worlds differs from the restrictions of your own?

I’ve been lucky enough to write stories in fictional worlds that have given me a lot of entertainment over the years. It’s challenging and rewarding in equal measure – you get to add something to the patchwork of a greater narrative and reach an audience who might otherwise never read your work, but there’s also the restrictions that come along with that. Essentially, you are playing with another kid’s toys and you have to hand them back intact when you are done! The challenge comes in finding new dimensions and new narratives in worlds that have already been explored. It’s a unique experience.

The follow-up to Nomad, Exile is out in July – what can readers expect from this next instalment in the Rubicon series?

Exile takes place a year after the events of Nomad, and the story goes from Croatia to a CIA black site in Poland, the glittering towers of Dubai and the lawless streets of Mogadishu… Marc Dane has drifted into a job working as an analyst for the UN’s Department of Nuclear Security, an agency that tracks the illegal trafficking of atomic waste and nuclear weapons. When he stumbles on evidence of a potential rogue weapon of mass destruction, he finds himself drawn into the schemes of a ruthless Somali pirate warlord, and once more Marc joins forces with the Rubicon team in a race against time to prevent the unthinkable from happening.

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!

Find out more about James here:


Buy Nomad here:


Pre-order Exile here:


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