On Monday night, we held our first online TBYL Event, where we had a chance to chat with author Chris Allen. It was entertaining and informative, a fabulous insight into writing, reading and living an adventurous life.
Here’s how it happened…
TBYL: To start with… the links between yourself, your career and your writing absolutely fascinate me. Could you tell us a little more about how you came to writing, and the relationship that your work has with the stories that you tell?
Chris: Great question. It’s one of those chicken/egg scenarios I think. I’ve wanted to write from about the age of 14 or 15. I loved action movies and TV shows, obviously the Bond films became my favourites but back then you had to wait for them to be on TV rather than just going out and hiring the (dare I say it) video! So, the only real option for me was to find the books to read in between waiting for Bond movies to appear on TV. As soon as I read Ian Fleming’s ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ – it was in the school library – I was hooked. Then it was a matter of wanting to lead a life that would enable me to write my own stories and one thing led to another…
TBYL: Do you think you would have been able to write the stories that you have without the real-life experiences that you’ve had?
Chris: There are many great authors – past & present – who have not actually led the lives of their protagonists yet they still manage to write fantastic stories. The crux of the issue is that people want to be entertained by the story. The ability to achieve that, the process of conveying the story is different for every writer. In my case, I was eager to get out and see the world and have some adventures of my own with the intent to write about it all at some point. In my case, as an errant teenager, anything I tried to write back then was just drivel. So, I think it was best that I waited for a while. As it turned out, I ended up getting my first book published when I was about the same age that Ian Fleming was when he had Casino Royale published.
TBYL: Did you ever find yourself in the middle of a place, event, adventure and thinking ‘wow, this’ll be a good story’?
Chris: Occasionally I did found myself saying ‘If I live through this I may just write about it!’
TBYL: Your characters are very likeable or loathsome, well developed and stay with you once you’ve finished reading the books. How do you go about building such a believable cast?
Chris: Thanks so much. I’m thrilled to hear that reaction. There are two sides to this. Firstly, I base my principal characters i.e. Alex Morgan and his compadres, on people I actually know very well. For the most part, these are people with whom I’m still very closely connected. So, its easy for me to describe them as they are – as you say, likeable and real. In terms of the loathsome creatures who from time to time inhabit my pages, I’ve also based some of them on people I have personal experience of. Of course, the antagonists really need to be, in my opinion, larger than life. So, I tend to draw of characteristics, attitudes or behaviours I seen in others that I don’t like and then infuse them into the larger than life evil-types who Morgan has to deal with.
TBYL: What do your friends think about being committed to page (the good guys I mean)?
Chris: I think the guys secretly love it, although they do like to chastise me a bit for taking liberties. That said, they’re always keen to tell anyone who’ll listen that they’re the inspiration for this character or that one. It’s funny.
TBYL: How you do set yourself apart from other action and adventure writers?
Chris: Phew! How do I answer that one? I guess, in a contemporary sense, what I’m trying to do with my Intrepid series is write stories that are (I hope) reminiscent of the stories I grew up on while giving them a new edge. Someone recently described my books ‘like an old friend with new stories’ and that really captured it for me. While I want to keep the books as real as possible, I don’t want to be writing training manuals. So, it’s important for me to also maintain the escapism.For example, there are plenty of books out there about the CIA, the FBI, Secret Service, Mossad etc etc but I want readers to be excited about something completely new… a truly international agency that serves the world community, not just one country. That’s why I cam up with Intrepid.
TBYL: I assume that’s why your take your reader to a new location almost every new chapter?
Chris: Yeah, I like to keep the reader on their toes! It’s important to not only keep the pages moving but, wherever possible, I like to catapult the reader through the chapters. Taking people around the world while they’re sitting on a bus or train immediately gives them that sense of escape. That’s what I enjoy so much about my favourite books. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve missed their train stop on the way to and from work. I love that!
TBYL: Personally, I really like the fact that although your stories are rich with detail, they’re not heavy with ‘specs’. Is this choice to avoid micro-detailed descriptions of weaponry/strategy/etc deliberate?
Chris: You’re spot on about the specs and weaponry. I believe in giving the reader just enough to enable them to make sense of those things so that they can continue to enjoy the story rather than leaving them qualified to actually operate the gear!
TBYL: At about the time of Hunter’s publication, you struck up a new friendship with Momentum Books. Can you tell us a little about this? How are you finding the digital publishing industry?
Chris: I’ve been really fortunate to have found a great publisher to work with on Defender and Hunter. Joel Naoum is the publisher who runs Momentum and it was clear to me right from the outset that he got where I was coming from – the whole ‘old-school meets new-school’ approach I’m taking with the books. So, it made complete sense for me to partner with Momentum under Joel’s stewardship. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Digital publishing is absolutely the future. That said, there are still huge sections of the reading community around the world who prefer to read from the printed/paper page and in my view, as an author you have to address that if you want your work to be read by as many people as possible. After all, if you’re a rock band and you know that half of your potential market still listens to music on vinyl, you’re not going to limit your latest album just to CD or digital. You’re going to get vinyl LPs pressed too! That’s certainly my approach anyway!
TBYL: So what about you? Do you have a preference when you’re reading?
Chris: I fall right in the middle – I love my kindle and it’s full of my old and new favourites, but I still like to pick up a paper book and settle in for a read! The stories are everything. I have all of Conan Doyle’s stories in paperback and eBook. Can’t get enough. In fact it’s much easier to read the full Sherlock Holmes compendium on my kindle than carting around a paperback the size and weight of an average house brick!
TBYL: Do you have plans for Intrepid 3 yet? What can you tell us?
Chris: Ah ha! THE question Well, I am currently writing the third Alex Morgan adventure which, those of you who’ve read HUNTER will know, is called AVENGER. I don’t want to spoil it by letting on too much but I can assure you that I will be delving much more into Alex Morgan. A lot of readers have told me that they want to know more about him, so I’m really enjoying bringing Alex to life, exploring him as a man not just a secret agent.
I must extend a huge thank-you to Chris, Sarah and Momentum Books for helping make Intrepid Month happen. I had a fantastic time, and I hope you’ve all been adequately tempted to pick up one of Chris’ books! You wont be disappointed…
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