Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Writing Porch Author Q&A with Jeremy Duns, author of 'Free Agent'

Trade publications and fellow thriller-writers are raving about the debut novel from Jeremy Duns, FREE AGENT (Simon & Schuster UK, Viking Penguin US), with William Boyd, author of Restless, describing it as “a wholly engrossing and sophisticated spy novel… fascinating and compelling,” and Jeff Abbott, author of Panic, raving “Jeremy Duns offers an entirely original and fascinating take on the classic spy novel in this provocative, fast-paced thriller,” calling him a “compelling new voice in suspense fiction.”

Book blurb on 'Free Agent' by Jeremy Duns.

Meet Paul Dark. In 1945, the British agent took part in a top-secret mission to hunt down and execute Nazi war criminals. But all is not as it seems. Almost 25 years later, a KGB officer turns up in Nigeria, where the Biafran war is underway, wanting to defect. His credentials as a defector are good: he has highly suggestive information indicating that there is a double agent within MI6, which would be a crippling blow to an organization still coming to terms with previous betrayals. Dark has been largely above suspicion during MI6’s years of self-recrimination, but this time he’s in the frame. Desperate to save himself, the morally complex and unforgettable Dark heads to Nigeria to confront the KGB officer—with fellow agent Henry Pritchard in hot pursuit. All too quickly it becomes apparent that everything he has believed about the events of 1945—which has formed the basis of his life’s work—has been a lie. This is especially devastating because the bulk of these lies center around a tangled web involving the only woman he has ever loved, and the death of his father.

FREE AGENT is a gripping spy thriller that combines the adrenalin-pumping suspense of a Jason Bourne film with a deeply researched Cold War background. It’s a novel of innumerable cliffhangers, all set within a constantly evolving moral universe, and the twists and turns will keep readers guessing—and sweating—until the last page. It is the first in a trilogy featuring Paul Dark.

Free Agent was published in the UK in May and will be published in the US, Canada, Australia and elsewhere next month.

How did you get your start in writing?

I was a journalist for several years, but this is my first novel. I’ve wanted to be a novelist since my teens, but somehow I could never get around to it. Finally, one day, I decided it was time I should.

What does your writing routine look like?

I get up at 8 o’clock most days, and take the kids to school. After that I settle down and try to work until five, with a break for lunch. I do that five days a week, but I also work in the evenings and on weekends, depending on how fired up I am. In a way, though, I’m always working, because I can be doing something else entirely and thinking about the book.

Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why.

I write spy novels, and am a great fan of the genre: favourites include John le Carre, Len Deighton, Eric Ambler, Graham Greene and Elleston Trevor. I also love Lawrence Durrell’s novels. His style takes some getting used to, but I love the texture of his language and the rich worlds he built. The Alexandria Quartet and The Avignon Quintet are like the greatest BBC costume dramas that haven’t yet been made. I’m also a big fan of the American travel writer Kate Simon, who I think had a brilliant eye for detail – her books have been a great help to me in my research, but they are also beautifully written.

What are you working on next?

I’m just starting work on my third novel, which is the final part of my Cold War spy trilogy featuring British agent Paul Dark.

What made you decide to write this novel?

In my twenties I started reading a lot of spy novels, and something about them struck a chord. I thought if I wrote one it might give me a structure that would stop me from being too self-indulgent. I started researching tentatively, just as a bit of fun, but then got more serious about it and as the ideas started coming together I became pretty obsessed with it.

What challenges did you face with this book?

Free Agent is set in 1969 and I was born in 1973, so getting all the period details right took a lot of work. And it’s also largely set in a war, which was – as wars tend to be – very complex, and I wanted to get that right, of course. Finally, it’s told in the first person by a character who is difficult to empathise with in many ways, but I wanted readers to empathise with him. So the voice took me a while to develop.

What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?

Keep going, even if you think what you’ve done isn’t any good. I spent a lot of time on the first few chapters worrying about every word. You will edit it dozens of times anyway, so try not to get bogged down with tiny details and just push on until you’ve got a complete draft. Nobody needs to see the bad drafts but you.
EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006. Her short story 'Mum in Decline' won third place in the Smoking Poet's annual short fiction contest. Larson is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'


steve on the slow train said...

I wonder whether Duns read "Half of a Yellow Sun" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which takes place during the Biafran war. (Found your blog through Facebook.)

Jeremy Duns said...

Hi Steve,
I started writing Free Agent several years before Half of A Yellow Sun was published, but once I had finished it lots and lots of people told me to read it! I have a copy on my to-be-read pile, and am looking forward to it.