Derek Thompson is the author of The Spy Chaser series; here is a link to his website:
Q: What inspired you to start your Spy Chaser series?
A: When I attended a novel writing summer school a few years ago the main character just arrived in my head. I knew he was a photographer so I asked him why he was doing and why, and followed the thread of my imagination. I saw right away that he worked in surveillance, but I also wanted to know about his personal life. How does someone compartmentalise their work and their relationships, and what happens when the barriers break down?
As a fan of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, I chose to create rounded and morally complex characters and then added some snappy dialogue to produce my version of a contemporary British noir. I wanted to write about a different kind of ‘hero’ – the kind that doesn’t have killer martial arts moves, and who isn’t a crack marksman. In that respect, Thomas Bladen is a fairly ordinary person (on the surface!) in extraordinary circumstances. He has a relationship with Miranda and her family, a woman he clearly loves (and who doesn’t take any crap from him!), and almost no relationship with his own family.
Usually when you read thrillers and spy stories most if not all of the working dynamics are already established, but I wanted to watch a group of people form a bond, learn to trust one another over time – with a few false starts – and gradually come together as a team. I also wanted to explore what makes someone go into a job where they need to keep other people’s secrets, and hide their own.
In the interests of disclosure I should add that while I’m no spy, I did once help someone track down and turn the tables on a blackmailer and I have been a casual victim of gun crime in the past. You draw upon what you know…
Q: What is the series about?
A: In the first book, Standpoint, Thomas Bladen has worked in the UK government’s Surveillance Support Unit for two years, but has kept it hidden from those closest to him. One decision – to withhold some evidence until he can investigate it privately – is the loose thread that steadily unravels his carefully controlled existence.
Thomas discovers what his colleague, Karl McNeill, already knows – that parts of the SSU are being used to gather intelligence by the Shadow State: a United States of Europe that no one has voted for, run by industrialists, military figures and politicians. There is also an American strand to the plot and some US characters feature in the series (I lived in the US for a year, a long time ago).
Thomas repeatedly has to decide where he stands and whether he can hold the line without crossing it. As the series progresses he learns that the difference between friend and foe can be a matter of expediency. He could walk away at any time, but when did that ever solve anything in his life? Besides, once he knows what’s really going on, he can try to do something about it.
Q: What makes Thomas Bladen worth reading about?
A: I think that’s the hardest question and probably the most important one.
One of my favourite lines that’s said to Thomas in Shadow State is by a US government agent. He tells him: “You haven’t come out of a box like most of the people I deal with in the community.”
That’s the draw. Thomas Bladen isn’t James Bond or Jason Bourne (both great characters in my opinion). He’s a little down-at-heel but very resourceful and has a strong sense of justice.
Naturally, I’m biased, but this review on the Amazon page for Standpoint about sums it up:
This book is an excellent read from cover to cover. The storyline is compelling and the characters are deep with many levels of complexity which indicates that the author has an in depth knowledge of the human psyche. The dialogue is sparkling and witty with amusing one liners sprinkled throughout. The character of Thomas is very ordinary and a little seedy and is somewhat reminiscent of the erstwhile George Smiley. The plot is multi layered with twists and turns at every point and one is never too sure where one is going to end up. All in all, this book is a jolly good read for anyone who enjoys a thriller that will keep them hooked from start to finish.
Q: What happens in Shadow State?
A: Thomas Bladen has supported his surveillance partner, Karl McNeill, in the intelligence war against the Shadow State for three years now. But finally they have taken an interest in him.
A code word triggers a betrayal, bringing Thomas face to face with a Shadow State operative who can wreck his life. All Thomas has to do is expose a defector and they’ll leave him in peace, but why – and who is the real enemy?
Consequences stack up like poker chips. A stakeout becomes a rescue mission; an intervention leads to murder; allies may pose the greatest threat and loyalties are stretched to breaking point. Soon Thomas and Karl are forced into a deadly game, where the only way out is to turn the Shadow State against itself.
Shadow State will be available later this year.
Check in with my Author Central page for updates: https://www.amazon.com/Derek-Thompson/e/B0034ORY08
Q: How did you become affiliated with Joffe Books?
A: It was a combination of preparation, effort, luck and timing!
After completing Standpoint I wrote the sequel, Line of Sight, and I mapped out plans for a series. I submitted Standpoint to a few agents, without success. Fortunately, I had subscribed to http://www.writethismoment.com and one week they carried a listing that Joffe Books was open to submissions from new authors. Jasper Joffe was looking for a thriller series and because I had carried on after Standpoint I was able to pitch him the Spy Chaser series. They are primarily an ebook publisher and they’re very good at what they do. So far the series has sold around 15,000 copies and I am exploring how the books could be adapted for television.
Q: How does your day job with the National Health Service, affect your ability to pursue your writing career?
A: It’s a triple edged sword!
Firstly, the job gets me out of my own head and into the world. It also pays some of the bills (I work as a part-time freelance writer as well).
Secondly, as the job is part-time and local it leaves me space for writing.
Thirdly, as the NHS department I work for is involved in mental health it has given me an opportunity to talk with healthcare professionals about psychology, trauma, therapeutic tools, and the human condition. This has helped me understand my characters and their motivations better, and hopefully myself as well.
Longer term, my goal is to reduce the office hours and derive more of my income as an author and freelancer.
Q: What have you done to market your book?
A: At the time of writing this, Shadow State hasn’t launched yet. But as far as the previous three books go, I have:
- Blogged about them and sought out other places where I can blog.
- Set up a Facebook page for my writing: https://www.facebook.com/ProfessionalWriter1/
- Set up a Twitter account @DerekWriteLines so I can use a service like Tweetdeck to set up Twitter campaigns.
- Set up an Author Central page on Amazon, where people can find out about all my books:
- Written a press release for my local newspaper.
- Taken a guest spot on local radio.
- Networked online until my fingers ached.
- Continued to engage with readers wherever and however possible.
Q: What makes for a good spy thriller?
A: I think it’s a combination of intrigue, action and good characterisation. The plot can be down-to-earth or saving the world, as long as the characters live and breathe on the page. I also think good dialogue is key for illustrating character, bringing the plot down to eye level, and creating a sense of reality and perspective that makes us want to return to the author’s world and the people who inhabit it. Authentic voices help readers care, and writers need their readers to care.
Q: What trends in spy novels annoy you?
A: Interesting question. I’d say I’m not a fan of the reset button, where a character starts the next book (sometimes even the next chapter) totally unaffected or changed by the events they’ve witnessed or experienced. I don’t want to see superheroes in spy novels. I prefer characters who can be vulnerable and who sometimes get it wrong. The reader will root for them all the more.
Q: If Thomas Bladen got a job in your office at the NHS what job would suit him best?
A: Given Thomas’s ability to spot the details other people miss and his talent for finding trouble I’d see him in an investigative role. That could be as a diligent patient advocate, in a meticulous audit capacity, or perhaps as a spy gathering evidence in order to root out malpractice or corruption in the organisation. I’d expect him to follow his own moral code and to challenge any kind of injustice. Consequently, I think it might be a short assignment!
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.