Eason exclusive interview & extract: James Swallow
Thriller writer James Swallow blazed onto the crime writing scene in 2016 with ‘Nomad’, the first in the pulsating and explosive Marc Dane series. The eagerly awaited third Dane book ‘Ghost’ is published on 31 May — just in time for Father’s Day! We’re delighted to welcome James to the Eason blog to tell us about his writing inspiration in this exclusive interview, and also to share with us an exclusive extract from his forthcoming novel, which is available to pre-order now on www.easons.com.
Exclusive Q&A with James Swallow
What’s the inspiration behind your Marc Dane series?
The biggest inspiration for writing these novels were the high-octane espionage stories and techno-thrillers I loved from the 80’s and 90’s. I really wanted to write a tech-savvy action-adventure, but one through a more modern lens. It was important for me to have a hero facing off against deadly threats who wasn’t an elite black-ops tough guy or a super-suave secret agent.
My lead character Marc Dane is someone who really has to rely on his wits, his quick thinking and his resourcefulness to survive the challenges before him. Writing Marc, I’ve tried to create a hero that is capable and smart, but also fallible. It’s important for me to portray him as someone who earns his victories.
He grew out of a realisation I had that almost every action protagonist I was seeing in other novels were these superheroes with very little technical literacy! They were very separate from the typical backseat guy in the van working at a laptop, the character who is usually relegated to the side-lines – and so I wanted to explore what would happen if a character like that got dragged out of his comfort zone and into the middle of the danger . . .
What’s your writing routine?
It’s a mix of “very disciplined” and “not at all as disciplined as it should be” . . .
Generally, I work a six-day week from nine to six with an hour for lunch, and I try to keep to that “day job” type of routine. The first part of the day is spent answering emails, checking news feeds and doing research work. The back end of the day starts with a review and editing pass over whatever I wrote previously, and that gets me up to speed to write to the current day’s word-count target. The target changes from project to project. I don’t have any special rituals or anything like that to get me in the right frame of mind – I just think of the quote from TV writer Brian Clemens (who worked on classic action-adventure shows like The Avengers, The Protectors and The Professionals); ‘There’s no mystery; arse to chair, pen to paper.’
Do you write in chronological order or write scenes separately and then fit them together?
I’m definitely a chronological writer. I know it works for some authors, but the idea of bouncing around a narrative as you write it just leaves me cold. I do plot out the storyline and the scenes in fine detail, so I’ve got a clear roadmap before I set out, but I find that the characters and the narrative will grow and change as I progress through the timeline. By the time I reach the end of a novel’s first draft, I will have to go back and make changes so that everything flows smoothly, but I could never start at the end and work backwards . . .
Do you always know what’s going to happen to your characters when you start writing?
At the start, I think I do. I am sometimes mistaken! As I said above, I have my plot roadmap and the arc for my characters fits into that, giving them specific story “beats” to connect with. But the novels grow and shift as you write them, and so there are always places where a character will spark off a scene or a plot element. When that happens I try to let them dictate where they need to go – if you try to force a character into a plotline that is wrong for them, then something is off about the whole story.
How do you go about naming your characters?
I have a rule of thumb for this. When I’m writing an action-adventure, or something with some pace to it, I look for character names – especially for the hero or the villain – that are iconic, emblematic and punchy. My litmus test is: does it sound right when you snarl your hero’s name as if you were a supervillain about to throw them in a shark tank? Think of lines like ‘Goodbye, Mister Bond!’ or ‘Jason Bourne just showed up on the grid in Geneva . . .’ Can you slot your character’s name in there and still have it sound cool?
Which fellow authors do you admire?
That’s a tough one to answer! There’s so many incredible writers out there. I have great regard for titans of the thriller genre like Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy, Wilbur Smith and Robert Ludlum, and the great science fiction writers who have influenced me include William Gibson, Douglas Adams, Iain M. Banks and Philip K. Dick.
GHOST by James Swallow