I love a good tale of espionage, and have been hugely inspired by Len Deighton's Cold War thrillers and Ian Fleming's Bond novels. And it was during my writing studies that I decided to 'go for it' and create my own spy and series. I too wanted to create a world of international spying, with grand plots, larger-than-life foes and exciting locations. I also wanted my novels to be fun, (hopefully) laugh-out-loud, and to be flavoured with a healthy tot of escapism via a protagonist we can identify with and root for; yet a protagonist whose toils and battles, whilst entertaining, are played out on a dark, murky and very true-to-life undercurrent. Oh, and I wanted a touching love story too. Not much to ask then.
And so, enter Bristo Trabant - my MI6 spy with a difference, who, by default, is sent to the South of France to maintain surveillance on the world's most notorious arms trafficker - Gunboat Charlie Chávez. By his own admission, Trabant is completely the wrong man for the job, but no one is listening, and not even the head of MI6 can envisage the severity of the consequences that follow.
The outline for the plot literally came to me over one weekend, arriving like a tidal-wave of creativity that at times I could barely harness. And the core changed little as each scene developed. I visited each location to ensure authenticity, and through those travels I met countless wonderful people whose influence coloured the book beyond my wildest dreams. To name but a few: the young restaurateur in Biot, South of France, whose grandmother, after cooking my beouf bourguignon, joined me for a glass of wine to recount her own experiences in the French Resistance. The guides at Ancon Expeditions, Panama City, who tailored my tour to incorporate the gang-riddled barrio of El Chorrillo, so I could see precisely where a tough street kid like Gunboat Charlie would have risen from. And of course, Her Majesty's Royal Navy, in particular the officers and crew of HMS Ark Royal, whose time, insight and enthusiasm gave the book the military weight I was looking for.
Much of the inspiration for Bristo's character came from the Trabant P601 car itself; from how it was born in a dark, totalitarian state, constructed despite having only the most meagre of resources, and how it came to symbolise the rise of a people as they battled and ultimately triumphed against the most awful oppression. To quote a certain French Secret Service operative: ”Perhaps the Trabant has a more inspiring and heart-warming story than any other car in history.“ She could feel its energy – the energy of the underdog, and how it was defined by its history, by its place in a changing world, and how it gave hope and opportunity to a people striving for a better life; a better life which many, blessed themselves with being born into more fortunate circumstances, take for granted. And she also knows that the Trabant car deserves far better than the ridicule it so often receives. It was this energy that I longed to harness.
Dead Men Should Know Better took a little over five years to write. It has been a wonderful road of fun and fulfilment, late nights and beautiful sunrises, head-scratching and endless re-writes. And now it's finally the book I always wanted it to be, which simply would not have been possible without the advice and guidance of many brilliant people.
Thank you for reading, and I very much hope you can join Bristo on his debut mission. He's going to need all the help he can get.
© Ancon Hill Publishing