This is definitely one of my favourite series, so even though I reviewed 37 Hours last year I thought I would show my support on this tour by hosting a guest post.
The only way to hunt down a killer is to become one…
After two long years spent in a secret British prison, Nadia Laksheva is suddenly granted her freedom. Yet there is a dangerous price to pay for her release: she must retrieve the Russian nuclear warhead stolen by her deadliest enemy, a powerful and ruthless terrorist known only as The Client.
But her mysterious nemesis is always one step ahead and the clock is ticking. In 37 hours, the warhead will explode, reducing the city of London to a pile of ash. Only this time, Nadia is prepared to pull the trigger at any cost…
The deadly trail will take her from crowded Moscow to the silent streets of Chernobyl, but will Nadia find what she is looking for before the clock hits zero?
The gripping second novel in J.F. Kirwan’s brilliant spy thriller series. Perfect for fans of Charles Cumming, Mark Dawson and Adam Brookes.
Write what you don’t know
There is a well-known author’s maxim to “write what you know”. For example, I get very fed up when reading some article about scuba diving where the journalist starts talking about how she went diving to thirty metres with her oxygen tank… because if it was pure oxygen rather than air, she’d most probably be dead. Such errors are a failure by the writer to do the basic research, or in such a case, base it on very limited experience, literally a dip in the ocean.
The simple solution is to write what you know, the most straightforward (in theory) being to write a memoire. But this would lead to a very limited range of fiction if that was all authors ever did. And what about thrillers? Are we to assume that authors such as the deservedly successful thriller writer Lee Child used to be a military policeman habitually killing people? And what about science fiction and fantasy? By definition we don’t know what will happen in the future or in a parallel universe, what jobs and technology and magical artefacts people will have. The counter-argument of course is that neither does the reader, and so if the author can make it all seem convincing, then the reader will ‘suspend disbelief’ and enjoy the story set in apace or in a magical realm. What makes something sound convincing?
For much of fiction, the author can do some research to gain facts, to garner snippets of information that will give the writing a sense of authenticity. But to give it real ‘street-cred’, the author has to dig deeper than textbooks or Wikipedia, and find the tricks of the trade. For example, most books on scuba-diving will tell you not to rise too fast, in fact, no faster than the small bubbles leaving your mouthpiece exhaust (regulator), to avoid getting decompression sickness (the ‘bends’). But if you are diving deep, really deep, you can ascend faster (and might have to), as long as you slow down in the last thirty metres. I have had to do it twice for real, both in emergencies, once because my buddy and I were running low on air, having been cornered at depth by a school of hammerhead sharks…
But an author can also lie. This is fiction we’re talking about, right? But the lie has to be good, it has to sound credible, and in fact it has to sound ‘smart’. Here’s an example. Lazarus is interrogating Bill Danton, and has taken Bill’s own gun (a Glock) to threaten him:
Lazarus sat down, the glock pointing at Danton. “I’d rather not call in the others, we’ve known each other a long time, They’re young, eager, like we used to be – they don’t know shit, don’t show any respect.”
Danton had often wondered what his own victims thought about once they knew what was going down. Did their lives flash before their eyes? His didn’t. He watched the Glock.
“I need a name, Bill.” Lazarus fished out a small pad with a pencil attached, and offered it.
Danton almost laughed, in these days of smart phones and IPads; a fucking pencil and paper. He took it, wrote her name, handed it back to Lazarus, who glanced at the name once then pocketed it away, not meeting Danton’s eyes anymore.
The big man walked around behind him again, picking up a cheap cushion on the way. Danton knew the glock made no sound before it fired, no giveaway click that the end was coming now.
“What about you, Bill? Anyone special in all your years?”
Lazarus was right behind him. Danton could almost sense the short barrel aiming toward the back of his head, behind the cushion that would act as a crude silencer. He’d loaded the gun himself with dum-dums. At this range it would blow his face off. All that money spent on facial reconstruction, all for nothing.
Does the Glock make a sound before it fires, a click? I don’t know, I’ve never handled one. Would it blow his face off if loaded with dum-dums? According to a paramedic friend who worked in Northern Ireland during ‘the Troubles’, yes, and he showed me pictures I wish I’d never seen to prove it (this was twenty-five years ago, and I still remember them). As a reader, did the info about the Glock make it seem real, credible, and add to the tension? If it did, then it worked. If it didn’t, read Lee Child, as he makes the point better!
For authors, however, the most challenging aspect of ‘writing what you don’t know’, is with characters. Each major character, and even some more minor ones, must have their own ‘voice’. If they don’t, then to the reader they will all seem the same, and in particular their dialogue will ‘sound’ the same. If an author is writing a lot of characters, they may begin to ‘blur’ for the reader unless they all have distinctive voices. But it is not easy to write completely different characters, because to make them convincing, the author has to get inside their heads and values and attitudes.
Lazarus and Danton are both killers. Lazarus does it reluctantly, Danton enjoys it. But I don’t leave it there. I’m a psychologist, so I create credible histories for both characters. I’ve had a few readers say, with some discomfort, that they almost understand why Danton is the way he is, even though they want him six feet under, no question about it. Now, I’m neither a killer nor a sadist. But you can go quite far when writing. You ‘just’ have to get inside their heads, immerse yourself, and write how they would see the world. It can be a scary process. It should be, or else you’re not doing your job.
Just make sure you can find your way out again. And sooner or later, kill them off.
If you want to find out more about this brilliant book then be sure to follow the rest of the tour…
J.F. Kirwan is the author of the Nadia Laksheva thriller series for HarperCollins. Having worked in accident investigation and prevention in nuclear, offshore oil and gas and aviation sectors, he uses his experience of how accidents initially build slowly, then race towards a climax, to plot his novels. An instructor in both scuba diving and martial arts, he travels extensively all over the world, and loves to set his novels in exotic locations. He is also an insomniac who writes in the dead of night. His favourite authors include Lee Child, David Baldacci and Andy McNab.
Reviews for J.F Kirwan books