Today I’m pleased to welcome Adam Brookes to the blog. Adam is the author of Night Heron and his latest novel to feature Philip Mangan, Spy Games, was published by Sphere on 10 March 2016. Adam kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Spy Games.
Spy Games marks the second time that journalist Philip Mangan has allowed himself to get drawn into espionage against China. He first tasted the covert life in ‘Night Heron’, and ‘Spy Games’ is a sequel. Mangan has discovered that he has a self-destructive taste for this hidden, parallel life. We find him lying low in Ethiopia at the start of Spy Games, but Chinese intelligence operatives are seeking him out, bringing gifts for him to take to the British. Why does he allow himself to do it? Because he can, and it makes him relevant and important, no matter the cost to others.
2. Where did the inspiration come from for the book?
I lived and worked as a journalist for a long time in Asia, especially in China. And over the years I became aware that the relationships between countries are conducted, in large part, out of sight. You can see the diplomacy getting done, for the most part. And if you dig, you can find out a good deal about the commercial relationships. But the military relationships are much harder to fathom. And then, most secret of all, is the world of intelligence, where countries will spy the living daylights out of each other, and collaborate when it suits them, sometimes at the same time. A little study reveals just how huge the world of the intelligence agencies really is, and I became intrigued by this nagging sense that our appreciation of the world and its statecraft is limited to the overt, when so much happens that is covert. And I thought it might be interesting to develop the idea in my favourite form – the spy novel.
3. What do you think are the perks and downsides to writing a recurring character?
Perks: You get to know them well and you can tell a much longer story in more depth. And your readers have a character to invest in and hang on to and look forward to.
Downsides: It’s hard to keep a recurring character plausible. How many times is your hardboiled spy/detective/PI going to go down that dark alley? How many close shaves are they going to survive? Why do they just keep on doing what they’re doing? There’s only so many weird compulsions you can dream up. Part of the question here is this: does your character recur in one long story arc spread over several books? Or does he/she start afresh with each new book? If the latter, you’d better have a strategy to keep the reader persuaded. The most successful writers do, of course.
4. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?
I think I’m a plan, plan person, with some flexibility built in. It’s great to have a synopsis and to know where I’m going, but sometimes the writing throws up a better idea than what’s in the plan. So then, out comes the knife. Stick a knife in the plan and make the changes. I think it’s a terrible mistake to drop a good idea just because it’s not in the plan. As to time, ‘Night Heron’ took me four years and three rewrites, partly because I was still working full time in journalism. ‘Spy Games’ I wrote in less than a year, not least because my thriller maestro genius editor, Ed Wood, was helping me plan, plan, plan.
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
Mostly I run slowly, drink, annoy my children and play the mandolin. When I can, I travel, and I live for our summer trips to Eskdale, in the Lake District.
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
That sounds like purgatory. It would have to be long, I suppose, and challenging, and something you could go back to again and again and find new things. Poetry, then. Collected Poems and Plays of T.S. Eliot, maybe? At the risk of sounding off my head, there’s a book called Tang Shi San Bai Shou, or Three Hundred Tang Dynasty Poems, which is an anthology of classical Chinese poetry. If you haven’t ever looked at it, do, it’s magical. I try to include bits of it in my novels, just because.
7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. You must have answered a lot of Q&A/interview questions before. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
I am completely stuck on this question. Since arriving at it, I have made coffee, read Facebook and Twitter, eaten a sausage sandwich and searched your blog to see how other writers answered it. I am reduced to facetiousness: would you like a pint of IPA? Yes, please, and some pork scratchings.
Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.
It’s been my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.
About the book
“Fearing for his life, Mangan has gone into hiding from the Chinese agents who have identified him as a British spy. His reputation and life are in tatters. But when he is caught in a terrorist attack in East Africa and a shadowy figure approaches him in the dead of night with information on its origins, Mangan is suddenly back in the eye of the storm.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away on a humid Hong Kong night, a key MI6 source is murdered minutes after meeting spy Trish Patterson. From Washington D.C. to the hallowed halls of Oxford University and dusty African streets, a sinister power is stirring which will use Mangan and Patterson as its pawns – if they survive.“
Spy Games by Adam Brookes is published 10th March by Sphere, price £7.99 in paperback.