How did that happen?
2006—the year the first one came out—feels like yesterday in some ways, and yet, in others, it’s a lifetime ago. Because that first book did change my life. Before it was published, I was cruising along as a screenwriter, writing TV shows like the BBC spy drama Spooks (that’s about to be remade by ABC) while, quietly, on the side, nursing along a small pet-project: turning a ten-year-old, unproduced movie script of mine called The Last Templar into a novel (just as a personal exorcism with zero career expectation, but that’s a long story*).
Any cruising ended with its publication. Because writing a novel—a 150,000 word thriller that takes place in different settings and eras, all of which require serious research and plotting—is (obviously) a far more intensive, and rewarding, endeavor.
For me, anyway.
Right now, as I sit here typing this blog entry, I’m at the tail end of the reflective period that always follows my delivering a manuscript. Writing the books is so immersive that, much to my publishers’ dismay, I find it hard to just reboot and launch into a new story. The characters, and their sojourn, linger in my mind for weeks and weeks, and, frankly, I’m in no rush to wipe them out. Also, this is the first time I’ve brought back characters from a previous book. My first three novels weren’t part of a series, they were stand-alone stories with new characters each time, which also made it harder to say goodbye to them and move on with mercenary ruthlessness to the next crew.
I don’t have that excuse for the next book. It’s also a Reilly and Tess story, and I’m eager to dive into it as it’s going to explore a dark past of Reilly’s that hasn’t come up so far.
So how does it happen?
It starts with a big theme that really interests me, something I’m happy to devote many months to exploring, something I feel is relevant to the world and the times we live in. In the two Templar books, it’s about religion, about why we believe, what we believe in, how much we really know about its history. In The Sanctuary, it was about why we age, why we die, what do we really know about the science of ageing, are we genetically programmed to die and what it means to be mortal. In The Sign, it was about the resurgence of religion as a force in politics.
The theme evolves into a question. What if we discovered something that proved everything we believe in is based on a lie? What if ageing and death weren’t inevitable? What would happen if something happened that the whole world witnessed but no one could explain, could the whole planet be converted to one, new religion?
The themes, and the questions, are fun to think about, but they don’t make a good thriller. For that, you need a plot. You need motivation. You need bullet-proof, adrenaline-raising conviction. The discovery of something that undermines the foundations of Christianity? Sure, but … who’s after it, and why? A man who loses his wife and unborn child to a medical complication and blames the Church’s stance on abortion—maybe. A sign in the sky that unifies the planet—nice concept, but for drama, it needs more, as in: what if it was a hoax? What if you could create it? Why would anyone do that? And what if one of the plotters double-crossed the other to use if for something even more extreme?
The last piece of the puzzle is, who’s going to live it? After Templar, part of the challenge in writing The Sanctuary and The Sign was to create new leads—Mia and Corben, Gracie and Matt—that made sense, in terms of the story they were thrust in. It’s a blank slate—they could be anyone. And that part takes time. Who are they? Why are they in my story? What background, what skill-sets do they have that make them fun to read, interesting, different, unusual? (for instance, Corben’s a disillusioned CIA agent, Matt’s a reformed car thief)
This time around, bringing Reilly and Tess back for more, was a new experience for me: revisiting old friends. And I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them, making them grow, messing with them. I’m looking forward to doing it again, real soon—well, soon enough, anyway.
Watch this space.
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