Today I’m delighted to host a guest post from Adam LeBor, author of The Reykjavik Assignment.
About the book:
UN covert negotiator, Yael Azoulay, has been sent to Reykjavik to broker a secret meeting between US President Freshwater and the Iranian president. Both parties want the violence to stop, but Yael soon realises that powerful enemies are pulling the strings. Enemies for whom peace means an end to their lucrative profit streams.
Out now from Head of Zeus, click HERE to get a copy!
About the author:
Adam LeBor is a British author, novelist and journalist. Born in London in 1961, LeBor has worked as a foreign correspondent since 1991. He covered the collapse of Communism and the Yugoslav wars for The Independent and The Times and has worked in more than thirty countries. He currently reports from Hungary and Central Europe for The Economist, Monocle magazine and Newsweek. In the United States, he contributes to the New York Times and the Daily Beast.
LeBor has written three novels and eight non-fiction books, which have been published in more than twelve languages. He reviews books for The Economist, the New York Times and Literary Review.
There is an old joke about two foreign correspondents in a bar.
The first asks: “So what are you up to nowadays?”
His friend replies: “I’m writing a thriller.”
The first replies: “Really, neither am I.”
Every journalist it seems, secretly aspires to be a novelist. At first glance, journalism, especially working as a foreign correspondent, appears to be the ideal training for a career as a fiction writer. We write about revolutions, riots and coups. We get arrested, tear-gassed and shot at. Such dramatic and dangerous experiences are a rich source for future works of fiction.
Several well-known and successful thriller writers began their careers as journalists. Frederick Forsyth, author of Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File, worked as a foreign correspondent for Reuters. Stig Larsson, creator of the Lisbeth Salander trilogy, was a Swedish reporter who specialised in investigating the far-right. Alex Berenson, an American thriller writer, is a former reporter for the New York Times, while Jonathan Freedland, aka ‘Sam Bourne’ is a journalist at the Guardian.
I started out as a foreign correspondent since the early 1990s, covering the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe and the Yugoslav wars for The Independent and The Times. Living in Budapest for more than twenty years certainly gave me plenty of material to use in my first thriller, The Budapest Protocol. Working in Bosnia during the Yugoslav wars, I spent much time with UN officials and peacekeeping troops. That eventually inspired the ‘Yael Azoulay’ thriller series, featuring a former Mossad agent who now works as the covert negotiator for the UN secretary-general. My latest thriller, The Reykjavik Assignment, is the third volume in the trilogy.
But in some ways the essence of journalism, what we call the 5 Ws and an H – Who, What, When, Where, Why and How – is the worst training for a career in fiction. There is a deep and inherent tension between non-fiction – especially journalism – and fiction.
Journalism has a clear mission to explain; to outline an event, or series of events and clearly explain their causes and consequences. Journalists do the thinking, so the reader does not have to. Fiction – especially crime and thriller writing – does the opposite. The aim is to lay false trails, to deceive the reader, to cut-back, double-back and triple cross. The writer must make the reader do plenty of work, both to engage him and also so that the ‘Eureka’ moment, when it happens, is all the more pleasurable and satisfying.
This was especially difficult for me when starting out as a novelist. The hero of The Budapest Protocol was (perhaps not surprisingly) a foreign correspondent based in Budapest. Early versions of the book had the sinister conspiracy explained in the first few pages and solved soon after.
What was needed, I soon realised, was less a learning curve than an unlearning curve. Or, as my wife said, when looking at first drafts, “Stop explaining everything”. After a while, I learned not to.
Still then other hazards awaited: over-using research and slathering on too much detail; placing a (metaphorical) flashing blue light on an important connection so that readers don’t miss an important connection (they won’t) and didactic dialogue. E.g., hero to love interest: “That’s incredible, you have just solved the mystery of the sinister conspiracy and saved the world”. (I exaggerate, but you get the point.)
But with enough determination and tenacity the unlearning curve can be mastered. The readers of my thrillers certainly seem to think so. But take a look at The Reykjavik Assignment and decide for yourself.
Many thanks to Adam LeBor and Blake Brooks at Head of Zeus for today’s post!