Ryan Drake is a man who finds people who don’t want to be found. Once a soldier in the British Army, he now works for the CIA, leading an elite investigation team that tracks down missing agents. But his latest mission – to free a prisoner codenamed Maras and bring her back onto US soil within forty-eight hours – is more dangerous than anything his team has attempted before. Despite the risks, the team successfully completes their mission, but for Drake the real danger has only just begun. Faced with a terrible threat, he is forced to go on the run with Maras – a veteran agent scarred by years of brutal imprisonment. Hunted by his former comrades and those willing to do anything to protect a deadly secret, Drake is left with no choice but to trust a dangerous woman he barely knows. For he has only one chance to save those he loves and time is running out…
Big thanks to author Will Jordan for taking the time from his busy schedule to answer some questions about his explosive debut thriller ‘Redemption’. While studying for a degree in IT, Will Jordan worked a number of part time jobs, one of which was as an extra in television and feature films. Cast as a World War Two soldier, he was put through military bootcamp and taught to handle and fire weapons in preparation for the role. The experience piqued his interest in military history, and encouraged him to learn more about conflicts past and present. Having always enjoyed writing, he used this research as the basis for his first thriller and is currently writing the second novel in the Ryan Drake series. Read what Will has to say about the writing process, the power of visualisation and the confessions of a geek. See my review – Redemption.
The action thriller genre is quite a burgeoning market with some very established tough guy names, Andy McNab, Chris Ryan et al. What do you think ‘Redemption’ brings to the genre to set you apart?
Obviously a lot of the appeal of guys like McNab and Ryan comes from the fact that they’ve actually done many of the things they write about, so their tradecraft and procedures are all spot on. That’s great for this genre but the thing that really fascinates me about any story is the characters. They can be endlessly subtle in their complexity, they can be brave, noble, cowardly, vindictive or brutal, and anything in between. Their changing relationships and the choices they make can drastically alter the flow of the story, and so characters are what I tried to focus on with Redemption. There’s an emotional complexity to the story that goes beyond simple shoot-outs, double crosses and chases. Those things are all important to thrillers, but I wanted more than that. I wanted to show the effect that such a life has on real people and how they deal with each other. The relationship between the two main characters (Drake and Anya) is the real heart of Redemption – the way they both start out damaged and hurting in their own ways, and somehow through their shared experiences find a measure of comfort in each other. That’s what I think sets this book apart from a lot of thrillers out there.
Ryan Drake is a tough guy with a softish centre which makes him more appealing. Did you deliberately make him a more empathetic character to attract a cross-gender readership?
I think you have to go with your instincts and write characters that you personally find appealing rather than what you hope other people will like. The minute you start doing that, you compromise your own commitment to the story.
Drake is the way he is because that’s the kind of character I personally find interesting and engaging. He’s reasonably tough, intelligent and resourceful, but he’s also flawed and human just like the rest of us. He can make mistakes, he’s often caught off balance and forced to improvise, and he’s nursing the pain of a past he’d rather forget. That, I think, makes him easy to identify with.
A lot of authors in this genre seem to be caught in a kind of arms race to make stronger, cooler and more dominant protagonists who never get scared or angry or doubt themselves (in what I call the Jack Reacher Effect). But for me that’s counter-productive because it robs the story of drama and tension when you know the main character can handle anything that comes his way.
With Redemption I was very keen that Drake be much more down to earth and believable. And given that this is the first book in a series, I also wanted to give him plenty of room to grow and develop. He’s got a long journey ahead of him and Redemption is only the first step.
The character of ‘Maras’ aka Anya is a great example of a kick-derriere female character. Was it a conscious decision to have a feisty female protagonist at the heart of the book and how hard was it to characterise her so realistically?
Absolutely! And I’m glad you liked her. It’s funny, but the question I get asked most often by readers is, “Will Anya be coming back in the next book?” She will, for those who want to know. She’s central to the series I’ve planned. In fact, the entire idea for the story actually began with Anya.
I had this image in my mind of a seasoned veteran who’s been cut off from the rest of the world for a period of time, who is dismissed by their younger counterparts as a relic of another age but who soon proves more than a match for anything that comes their way. The usual cliché would be to make such a character a gruff, tough-talking middle aged man and pair them up with a younger, less experienced woman. That idea bored me to tears frankly, so I switched the genders of the two characters and suddenly it all just came together.
I now had a female character that was complex, experienced, dangerous, intelligent and, gasp, over forty! It seems ridiculous in this day and age but you still rarely see it in thrillers, so that immediately made her interesting. Anything that goes against convention is just fine with me.
Once I had a good feel for where the character was coming from and the kind of life experiences that had shaped her, the rest of it simply fell into place. All her idiosyncrasies like insisting on sleeping on the floor or awkwardly trying to apologise to Drake after lashing out at a man who had been harassing her… it all just made sense right away, as if she were a real person I was getting to know as the book went on.
Anya’s scenes were the most fun to write because there are so many facets to her character for me to explore. She starts out completely cold and withdrawn, having been reduced to the very basics of survival by her years of imprisonment. But as the story progresses she gradually comes to life again. She starts to recover the humanity she was forced to give up, and her journey with Drake causes a bond to develop between them. That gradual transformation, and the things we learn about her past, was one of the key elements of Redemption.
In fact, when one of my friends first read the manuscript, they told me it was a good book but that it felt more like Anya’s story than Drake’s. My first response was pretty much, “You’re right.”
You’ve said in your author biog that you have an interest in weaponry and have researched this subject thoroughly. Could you share a little more detail on how you went about this and what sparked your interest initially?
Well, I’d always had a bit of an interest in military history so I’d absorbed a lot of useless knowledge over the years. Then, when I was studying for my degree I took a part time job as an extra for TV shows and films. A couple of them were war movies so naturally we had to be put through boot camp to at least teach us the basics of being soldiers. It didn’t exactly make me want to be one, but it did inspire respect for what they do.
As for the weapons in Redemption, I was keen to be able to talk about them from experience as it seemed like an area where a lot of writers fall down. I was lucky enough to visit a couple of rifle ranges out in America where they’re happy to offer shooting lessons, but the most useful visit was in the Czech Republic a few years ago when I booked myself on a day trip to a shooting range.
I got picked up in central Prague and bussed out to a disused military base in the back of beyond where they had virtually every gun under the sun ready to be fired. At first I was very aware of the fact that I was in the middle of nowhere surrounded by a bunch of armed men I didn’t know, but it turns out they were all really good guys – totally friendly, laid back and happy to answer questions. The fact they threw in free beer only added to my positive impression!
There is a truly global feel to the book with the various foreign locations you depict which feel authentic. How much of this was a balance between imagination and research?
Most of the scenes in America were based off my own experiences (motels, shopping malls and so on). Visits to places like Washington and Daytona also helped me get a feel for the setting, what it’s like just to walk down the street, what the characters would see and hear and smell etc.
Obviously there are certain parts of the world that are pretty hard for the average person to visit. Certainly the sections in Siberia and Iraq had to be based largely on imagination and whatever information I was able to dig up on them. I’m really big on visualising scenes as they play out, so knowing how places look is very important. For the prison scenes I’d spend hours trawling the net looking at pictures of Russian jails, getting an idea of the layout, the processes, even the colours they painted their walls. It all helps me visualise my characters in that setting.
What’s next for Ryan Drake?
For his next adventure he’s off to Afghanistan to rescue a high-ranking CIA official held hostage by an old enemy of Drake’s. Of course, nothing is ever simple, and he’ll soon find that he’s part of something far bigger and more dangerous than he could have imagined. And a certain character from Redemption will be back to settle old scores of her own.
After that, there are three more books planned in the main series. I know exactly how it’s going to end, and I’m both looking forward to that last book and dreading it.
I’d also love to write a prequel trilogy centred on Anya, shedding more light on her murky back story. I think it’s fair to say I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, and I’m loving every minute of it! For me there really is nothing better than taking a simple idea in your head and turning it into a fully developed story that people can follow and enjoy.
‘Redemption’ was the only debut novel to make the ‘Bloody Scotland’ crime fiction shortlist. How thrilling was that?
It was a real honour to be shortlisted, especially since it was the festival’s inaugural year. For me it was an acknowledgement that Redemption was more than just a guns-and-chases action movie script; there was substance and meaning to its story that seemed to resonate with people. The judges were all very complimentary of it; apparently Ryan is a sexier version of James Bond!
Obviously you always hope you’re going to win stuff like that, but just making the shortlist and getting that kind of recognition right off the bat was a great feeling.
And just for fun…. How would you describe your life in 8 words?
I only need three – Just. Getting.Started.
Who is your favourite fictional hero?
For me it has to be Tony Stark from the Iron Man movies. He’s a wonderful combination of genius intelligence, flexible morals and wise-cracking arrogance. The fact that he’s a billionaire playboy doesn’t hurt either!
What is your greatest achievement?
Climbing Ben Nevis with a severe hangover. Probably the closest I’ve come to passing out from exhaustion. Lesson learned – heavy drinking and mountain climbing do not mix!
What is your favourite occupation when you’re not writing?
Video games. The perfect way to put my brain in neutral and unwind after writing. I’ve been a computer geek as long as I can remember, and will be until I get old and computers start to scare me.
Your Desert Island read would be……
The Lord of the Rings. It’s a rich and complex narrative in which I find something new every time I read it. Plus it’s so long that I figure I’d either be rescued or starve to death by the time I finished it, so I wouldn’t have to worry about boredom!
Visit Will’s website here: http://www.willjordanbooks.com/
SACRIFICE–Ryan Drake (2)- to be published Summer 2013
A Black Hawk helicopter carrying a senior CIA operative is shot down by a surface to air missile, its lone passenger taken hostage by a fanatical insurgent group bent on driving the Coalition from Afghanistan at any cost. Knowing this man holds information vital to the ongoing conflict, the CIA bring in Ryan Drake and his elite Shepherd team to find and rescue their lost operative. But nothing is what it seems, and within hours of arriving in the war-torn country, Drake and his team find themselves caught in a deadly conflict between a brutal terrorist warlord and the ruthless leader of a private military company. And lurking in the shadows is a woman from Drake’s past determined to settle old scores.
Dark secrets and shocking revelations await him in the burning heat of the Afghan summer as Drake is forced to confront the most terrible question of all – how much is he prepared to sacrifice to reach the truth?