For those unfamiliar with your fiction, how would you describe your novels?
I think the best summation would be – old school action thrillers with a modern edge, or cold war novel/modern action movie hybrid.
Who is one of your favourite fictional characters and why?
I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t say Bond, but not for the reasons you may think. When I was a kid the Bond films only came around once every couple of years and there were no video stores then either. So, unless there happened to be one of the old Sean Connery films on TV, I developed my attachment to the character via Ian Fleming’s books. The books were pretty raw with none of the flash of the movies, and I prefer that.
Fleming created the character of Bond loosely around his service as a Naval officer during the war while fleshing him out with characteristics and exploits of other people he knew at the time. Inherent in that development were all of the normal human failings and flaws which grounded Bond in a reality that readers could relate to while he was having these incredible adventures in unreal situations. I loved reading those stories as a kid and I still do. It should come as no surprise that Fleming is my primary influence!
You have written: “I always wanted to create some kind of international agency, because of all the things I used to watch and read as a kid – The Professionals, The Man from U.N.C.L.E and so on. When the time came to get it down on paper, the agency became Intrepid.” An agency such as Intrepid supplies your main character goals (missions) and motivations (to bring criminals to justice). Do you find it difficult personalise these goals and motivations for your main character, or do you find that his values are in sync with those pursued by Intrepid to an extent that he gladly carries out the missions give to him?
I try to keep my main character, Alex Morgan, as grounded as possible. He is after all a human being and I don’t subscribe to the idea of a hero being a machine who doesn’t get affected by what he does. Morgan very much believes in Intrepid. Intrepid exists to protect the underdog unencumbered by borders or bureaucracies which appeals to Morgan’s sense of what is right rather than what happens to be politically expedient at the time in the eyes of one particular nation. He suffers the physical and mental scars of his profession but he prevails.
It’s very important for Morgan to believe in what he’s doing in order for him to justify the violence that is occasionally required. The tag line I use for Intrepid is: ‘No Name. No Country. No Borders. No Limits’, and that’s exactly what Alex Morgan is all about.
You have written: “I absolutely think about the audience [for my novels]. I set out to write thrillers with international appeal […].” How have you built international appeal into your novels?
Firstly, I work hard to give each story and very international flavour. Not just in terms of locations but also with characters. Secondly, I have deliberately made Intrepid an international agencies with the individual members representative of many countries. This is something I will continue throughout the series and will expand upon by adding new characters to ensure that the organisation grows and develops. Fundamentally, the international-ness comes from Intrepid not being the instrument of just one country or another.
In your opinion, what makes a good espionage thriller? Or what is a good espionage thriller you have read, and what made it work so well?
For me it’s all about a compelling story grounded in reality, great characters, heaps of pace and action and, of course, escape. Think Fleming, Le Carre, Higgins, Forsyth, Cussler et al.
You have written that the hardest part of being a writer has been: “Making sure that each story stands on its own right as an epic tale, while still maintaining the overarching themes of the series.” Could you discuss how you made your novels stand on their own while still maintaining the overarching theme of the series?
I’ve always held the view that a person should be able to randomly come across one of my books anywhere – whether it be in a book store, a library or just borrowing it from a friend – and enjoy it without ever having read one of the others. So, in simplest terms, each book represents a new mission and, if I’ve done it right, each story should provide a sufficient thread for the reader to grasp the grand narrative of the series by the way I (attempt to!) entwine the attitudes, experiences, character traits and motivations of the principal characters into every story.
Occasionally I may reference a previous story but hopefully that will entice a reader to go back and discover the earlier books and connect the dots.
You have written: “Book one in the series, Defender, took me a decade to write and book two, Hunter, was roughly six months, so my writing process has vastly changed.” What advice do you have for writers starting out who want to get their debut novel written over the next 6-12 months?
Plan! Plan! Plan! Honestly, plan in your own way but just get the bones of the idea down before you set off. I find that the best thing to have down before you start writing are the major reference points of the story. These don’t need to be very detailed but enough for you to know where you’re going. How you’ll get there is the fun part. That’s where you get to be creative!
What is next for your fiction writing?
I’m currently finishing the third novel in the Intrepid series, working on the development of a TV pilot, and planning a new series of thrillers which I’m really excited about.
You can read more about Chris Allen and his fiction at http://intrepidallen.com.
The Australian Literature Review