1) Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes. 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.

2) 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?

I 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.

3) How long did it take you to finish 'Flint'?

I 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.

4) And how long did it take to find a publisher?

About 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.

5) How does the public react to your writing?

They 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 neutral.

6) Are you good with criticism?

Yes, 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 got paid.

7) As you write about a complicated matter, I assume you have to do a lot of research?

As 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.

8) 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 on facts?

Everything 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 the box.

9) Any plans for other novels, or will you stick to Grace Flint?

My 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.

10) What do you read yourself?

Nothing 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.

 

 
© 2005 Nickie Fleming/Jansan