1) Have you always wanted to be a writer?
My father was a part-time writer—of newspaper columns, short stories
and radio plays—and as far back as I can remember I went to sleep,
and sometimes woke up, to the tap-tap-tap of his typewriter. He always
assumed that I would follow in his footsteps and my mother claimed that
he chose my name so that it would be short enough to fit as a by-line
in the single column of a newspaper. When I was 16, and not doing very
well at school, he used his influence to get me my first job as a cub
reporter. It was always going to be that way.
Did your work as a journalist give you any advantages over people who
don't have such a background? I mean, for becoming an author?
think so. Over a career of 40 years I had extraordinary access to people
and situations that it would have been difficult if not impossible to
get close to without the advantage of a press card. Most of my characters—both
the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad’—are based
on real people, and my plots stem from real events. That is partially
because, after 40 years of never being able to invent anything, I find
it rather difficult to make things up.
How long did it take you to finish 'Flint'?
conceived the Grace Flint character in 1991, based on three female undercover
cops I had written about in non-fiction terms. I played around with
the idea, and developed the original plot, over the next seven years.
It was very difficult to concentrate on the novel, or find the time,
because I was still working as a full-time journalist and traveling
a great deal. Towards the end of 1998 I took three months off to write
the first 40,000 words—or about one third of the eventual novel.
Once I had multiple publishers I was able to quit as a journalist and
write full-time and I finished the book in about nine months. The second
novel in the Flint series took about 18 months to write. The third has
taken almost three years because, strangely enough, it gets more difficult.
And how long did it take to find a publisher?
five minutes—or so it seemed at the time. The incredible Ed Victor
read the first 40,00 words of Flint 1, and agreed to become my agent,
in early March 1999. By the end of that month he had secured multiple
book deals with publishers in the US, the UK, Germany, France, Italy,
the Netherlands and Israel—and he’d sold the film rights
to Hollywood. The Flint books have now been published in 26 countries.
How does the public react to your writing?
love it or they hate it. Sifting through the readers’ comments
on such web sites as Amazon.com, I would say that very few people are
Are you good with criticism?
if it’s based on the merits of the story. I’m not very susceptible
to the criticisms of people who object to the amount of money I reportedly
As you write about a complicated matter, I assume you have to do a lot
I said, I find it very difficult to make things up—not a good
handicap for a novelist! So, yes, I have to visit every location in
my novels, find a suitable street or a house in which I’m going
to set a scene—and I film or photograph everything. It doesn’t
always work. For example, I originally set the opening of Flint 2 in
the Twin Towers in New York and spent two weeks playing out every moment
of the action. Then 9/11 happened and I had to junk all of that research
because I was uneasy that I would be accused of exploiting the tragedy.
My publishers would probably accuse me of over-researching but it’s
very hard to change the habits of a working life time.
I'd think that information about MI6 and other secret services would
be classified. Do you make up everything, then, or do you base yourself
is based on fact—or what I believe to be the facts, based on 40
years of hanging around these kinds of people. Of course I sometimes
exaggerate events for dramatic purposes but it is all soundly based.
For example, in the third Flint novel, to be published next year (2006)
I write about a body found drained, broken and folded into a TV carton.
It may sound outlandish but it happened, in Miami. I saw the body in
Any plans for other novels, or will you stick to Grace Flint?
plan is to write seven Grace Flint novels that will take her from the
age of 30 to 55, to allow her to develop as a fully-grown character
who is marked by her experiences. I do have two other non-Flint novels
fermenting in the vat. Whether I take a break from Flint to write one
or other of them remains to be seen. Probably not. As the world-wide
audience for Flint grows, there is understandable pressure from the
publishers to keep feeding the monster.
What do you read yourself?
in the thriller genre—at least not while I’m writing: the
danger of being unduly influenced by other writers’ styles is
simply too great. In my down time I love to read Le Carre (mainly his
earlier work), Scott Turow, Don Delillo and Elmore Leonard. The master,
so far as I’m concerned, is Thomas Harris who sometimes comes
up with phrases that I would die to have written. For example, in “The
Silence of the Lambs”: Jack Crawford, watching over his wife’s
deathbed, hearing her breath flutter, checking to make sure she hasn’t
yet died. When he is sure that she is settled and comfortable…
Back at his chair he cannot remember what he was reading. He feels the
books beside him to find that one that is warm. Quiver.