Author JAMES SWALLOW talks to me about "NOMAD"
‘An intelligent, likeable and, above all, believable hero is faced with a frighteningly credible threat in a thriller that hits the tarmac running and doesn't stop accelerating until its terrifying conclusion.’ - Ben Aaronovitch
‘A terrific white-knuckle, lip-chewing thriller. Marc Dane is the British Jason Bourne. About bloody time!’ - Rhianna Pratchett
Published by Zaffre, 2nd June 2016, hardback, £12.99
eBook published 2nd June 2016, £8.99
eBook published 2nd June 2016, £8.99
NOMAD is a fast-paced espionage thriller for the digital age, inspired by the works of Ludlum, Fleming and Clancy but firmly set in a Post-WikiLeaks world where private military contractors, agile terror cells and corporations wield as much power as national intelligence agencies.
Marc Dane is a MI6 field agent at home behind a computer screen, one step away from the action. But when a brutal attack on his team leaves Marc as the only survivor - and with the shocking knowledge that there are traitors inside MI6 - he's forced into the front line.
However the evidence seems to point towards Marc as the perpetrator of the attack. Accused of betraying his country, he must race against time to clear his name.
With nowhere to turn to for help and no one left to trust, Marc is forced to rely on the elusive Rubicon group and their operative Lucy Keyes. Ex US Army, Lucy also knows what it's like to be an outsider, and she's got the skills that Marc is sorely lacking.
A terrorist attack is coming, one bigger and more deadly than has ever been seen before. With the eyes of the security establishment elsewhere, only Lucy and Marc can stop the attack before it's too late.
Q: How did you get started with your writing career and what has the journey been like?
I began writing stuff for small press fanzines and the like, which became a stepping stone to articles for genre media magazines. That taught me a lot of good habits about writing to deadlines! After a brief diversion into scriptwriting, I made the jump to prose and rocked on from there.
It’s been a trip, for sure. While it hasn’t always been easy, I relish the challenge and the rewards are worth it. I can’t think of myself as anything else than a writer, and I consider myself very lucky that I get to do this job for living.
Q: You’ve written lots but nothing like NOMAD, why the change in direction?
I did dip a toe into the world of thrillers a couple years ago with a book called DEADLINE, which was based on the TV show 24, but NOMAD is my first piece of long-form original fiction for several years and it’s a departure from my more usual military sci-fi work.
Action-thrillers have always been a favourite genre of mine, and I’ve always wanted to try my hand there. I wanted to write NOMAD as a challenge to myself, to reach out to a different audience, but mostly because I love these kinds of books.
Q: How long has Marc Dane been in your mind and when/how did you “find” him?
I’ve been living with Marc in my head since around 2008, when I first started gathering material for my hypothetical thriller project – but the sketch of him has been around for a lot longer than that.
He grew out of a realization I had that almost every action protagonist I was seeing in media were these super-competent, near-flawless guys who had little to no tech-literacy. You had your hero (the trigger-puller/door-kicker) and your backseat guy (the hacker in the van working a laptop). I asked myself what would happen if the latter was forced into doing the job of the former – someone who had to work a little harder for every victory, who was smart and resourceful...but sometimes fallible. That’s Marc Dane; he has to work at being a hero, and I think that makes him more relatable.
Q: How much ‘on location’ research did you do? And where?
Pretty much every location in NOMAD is a place I’ve visited personally – London, Washington DC, Rome etc. – and I think being there can give you a unique confidence about writing a place that comes through in the text. And sometimes, being on the ground can spark ideas – for example, there’s a chase down the side of Mt. Etna in Sicily that was inspired by traveling that route myself.
Q: Did your characters come to you before the plot or did the plot come to you first?
A bit of both, really. Some of the key elements of the plot were inspired by real-world events like the predictions of security consultants on the War on Terror, and the explosion in cyber-warfare. The characters evolved from themes and ideas I wanted to explore, taking on shape as the plot grew alongside them.
Q: How much control do you have over the characters? Did the book ever take completely unexpected turns?
I outlined NOMAD very thoroughly before I wrote a single word of it, so the narrative of the final book is more-or-less the one I wanted it to be. But I also tried to leave places for the characters to evolve as they went, and there are moments where a character’s growth led me to rewrite a few things.
Q: Tell us about the key differences between writing for games and novels.
Books are a more lonely pursuit, because it’s largely just the author and an editor or two, and because of that smaller circle you have more creative control of the work. Games, on the other hand, are the product of a team which can be anything from four or five folks in a small indie studio right up to hundreds of programmers, artists and designers for a top tier “Triple-A” project. That means there are more cooks in the kitchen, but you also get a shared energy from working with talented, passionate people.
In terms of the actual nuts-and-bolts of it, working on a game can involve several different kinds of writing – scripted scenes, prose, radio-style dialogue, pure plotting, world-building and character design – and that’s part of what makes it so interesting.
Q: You have researched exotic weapons systems, intelligence service operations, terrorist methodology, drone technology, hacking and computer security for NOMAD. Tell us a little bit about what you’ve learnt. Anything surprising? Where do you begin?
I could fill another novel with all the stuff that I uncovered during my research – and that old adage about “truth being stranger than fiction” certainly proved itself to me along the way! I took a deep dive into technology blogs, military-industrial reports, digital security and hacking groups. I read up on private military contractors, drone warfare, terrorism – anything I could get my hands on – and then I asked the “what if?” questions. If something was happening today, I tried to extrapolate what would happentomorrow. But the real world has a way of overtaking!
I lot of what I learned was pretty hair-raising things about modern cyber-security and the lack thereof in our wired society. One of the crazier examples I came across were a group of hackers who could actually duplicate digital passwords by sound– literally listening to the changes in ultrasonic frequency emanating from a computer’s CPU and decoding them into data, with no physical contact required!
Q: What’s next for Marc Dane?
He’ll be back for another adventure in 2017...and hopefully, more to follow that!
Q: And what’s next for you? Tell us a little bit about your other projects.
As well as working on the follow-up to NOMAD, I’ve been involved in a couple of videogame projects that will be arriving at the end of the summer – NO MAN’S SKY, a sci-fi exploration epic in a near-infinite universe; and DEUS EX: MANKIND DIVIDED, a futuristic cyberpunk conspiracy thriller. I’ve also written BLACK LIGHT, a novel that serves as a prequel to MANKIND DIVIDED, and an episode of a new radio adaptation of the classic DAN DARE adventure comics.
JAMES SWALLOW is available to write features on, but not limited to, exotic weapons systems, intelligence service operations, terrorist methodology, drone technology, hacking and computer security. James is available for interview. For further information please contact Emily Burns, Head of PR at Zaffre Emily.firstname.lastname@example.org or 07540763179.
About the Author
James Swallow is a veteran author and scriptwriter with over 15 years of experience in fiction, television, radio, journalism, new media and videogames. He is the three-time New York Times bestselling author. He was nominated by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) for his writing on the critically acclaimed DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION, 2013’s blockbuster videogame with over 2.18 million copies sold.
‘Exciting and thought-provoking in equal measure, NOMAD is a thinking reader’s white knuckle thrill ride. James Swallow has written a benchmark technothriller for the 21st century, one that’s as engrossing as it is plausible.’ - Richard Dansky, writer of video games including SPLINTER CELL, GHOST RECON, RAINBOW SIX and most recently worked as lead writer on TOM CLANCY'S THE DIVISION, which has been this year's biggest game release.