by Terence Strong
(Author of Whisper Who Dares, The Tick Tock Man and Some Unholy War)
‘Where do you get your ideas from?’
Isn’t that the question all authors dread? I mean just where do you begin?
My stance when giving a talk to enthusiastic readers is to begin with ‘I know the three questions you are all dying to ask. So we can get on, here are the answers: In the bath. A garden shed. And, yes, I always use a rubber – because we all make mistakes.’
That usually manages to set the tone.
I’ve been a member of the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) for a long time, although I feel a bit of a fraud because I’m probably classed as a thriller writer rather than a crime writer – although crime writers certainly thrill. Or at least the best ones do.
And crimes I write about just seem to be a bit more ostentatious and on a bigger scale than most. Mass genocide, world terrorism, war crimes and narcotics. While crime writers may be content with a bottle of arsenic, I’m only happy with a phial of polonium. I always thought the CWA should have an annual Kalashnikov Award, although I can’t complain as they do now have the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger to represent the hunt to find international criminals of all types.
This is sounding like an excuse for we thriller writers to be as accepted in decent literary society as the authors of traditional crime novels and whodunits. Well, the truth is, we thriller writers have nowhere else to go and need to be loved like every other author. After all, we all have to answer that ideas question. Like me, you probably get some yours from national and local newspapers.
Most weeks I read the profile of a CEO of a multinational in the Business Section and know I can plan simply from that how to go about finding him or her to assassinate them. Or, in more mellow mood, to abduct for ransom, or capture and hold his wife and children hostage and to work out how I’d get away with it.
I sat in an optician’s once and listened to a delightful young lady give all her personal details, address, telephone number and email to the receptionist. She became my first serial killer victim.
I buy two weekend broadsheet newspapers every weekend to keep up to date with everything in the world – at home and abroad.
But often ideas come without trying . . . through half-remembered dreams. The one I remember most vividly was being stuck in London knowing there were IRA bombs being planted all around us. I asked this beat copper, which way should I go. He shrugged and said ‘Your idea’s as good as mine, mate. Just run!’ That ended up as the Seven Dials Bomb in The Tick Tock Man.
More recently I awoke as a spy being controlled by chef John Torode and Greg Wallace from Masterchef. They provided me with a hooker and told me to be nice to her because she was one of their best. Absolutely true. They have now become the inspiration for MI6 field officer Ollie Parsons and an Australian Army minder on secondment in my new thriller WOW (code-name) which is due out shortly.
Even better they are joined by the evil teenaged Chief Mbobo, inspired by a contestant who appeared on BBCTV’s The Apprentice a few years back. Mustn’t say too much as I’ve turned him into a nasty piece of work. It’s amazing what they’ll try to sue you for nowadays.
Less controversial was feisty lawyer Sam Browne in Rogue Element who was inspired by one of Joanna Lumley’s creations and actress Frances de la Tour who – in my head – magnificently became the character of MI6 officer Iona in Deadwater Deep.
The Asia-born Ravi in Some Unholy War was influenced by a brilliant pro bono charity solicitor fighting against the almighty NHS in my private life. At one point I locked antlers with a consultant in a battle that caused me tremendous personal anguish and grief. He became a character. I killed him in Cold Monday (the BREXIT thriller). On paper. The bastard.
From that same real-life situation two nurses, who were brilliant, were awarded with starring roles in the same book. I captured their personalities and breathed new life into them. Ah, yes, it’s true that one of them did get bumped off. But she was collateral damage. Not intended, nothing personal.
A gorgeous and daffy barmaid at my local – The Lying Toad – very successfully transformed into my hero’s secretary and inadvertently saved the day by her unpredictable way of doing things. Amalgamating several friends or acquaintances into one character is also fun. It gives the author so much to work with. Mind you, sometimes it’s best not to mention it to the person concerned – even if you think you know them well. Recently I raided someone I knew – and disliked – in the 60s. The revenge was late, cold, but very sweet.
Yesterday in Waitrose, a cocky new greengrocery shelf-stacker told me blatantly that asparagus was not in season. That’s why the store had none in stock. I looked into his eyes and saw that he had no soul.
It is very possible that by next year he will be a junior officer in the Russian Army and will be shot dead during the writing of Ice Island.
Terence Strong © 2017
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