I started writing political thrillers simply because the genre could contain all the things I wanted to tell after a career in diplomacy and counter-terrorism. As a Swedish diplomat, involved in some of the most secretive projects you could imagine, I could pick my story material straight out of my everyday work. A meeting with CIA at the US Embassy in Rabat? Tracking Al-Qaida across the Sahel? A top brass conference with Brits and American spooks in Brussels? You name it.

But to turn all this exciting stuff into a good read was, and will always be, a great challenge. That’s why I eventually chose to become a full-time writer. I wanted that challenged, and I wanted to tell the stories in fiction that I was forbidden to even whisper a word about as a diplomat.

For me, a story always starts with the characters. If they are alive, the story will be alive. Political thrillers are about human drama in a grand, international setting. To me, it is about life and death in the spy business. To engage a reader, I need antagonists full of conflicts, hopes and fears, lies and vulnerabilities. Thus, I do the work I’ve always done: I listen to people in the Ministries and intelligence agencies, I observe them. Literally, I spy, for fiction’s sake. To reach fingerspitzgefühl of how the average MI6 analyst delivers a ten sentence summary of the current development in Syria can make a fast-paced story about MI6, Syria and a top-secret operation to counter ISIS burst forth.

Writing thrillers, in essence, means I go back to business. Back to the big international issues that are on everyone’s mind, be it terrorism or something else. Back to the people working in the intelligence business, the diplomats, the spooks and the mercenaries. Then I put these people in a crisis, let them face their toughest choices, their worst fears. From that I weave a story that will not allow you to put down that book until the story has been told to its end.

Into a Raging Blaze, Andreas Norman’s debut novel, is published by Quercus

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