When I wrote Spartan I wanted to capture the essence of what it feels like to be an MI6 field operative – the loneliness, the requirement for rifle-shot decisions, the mistakes that can be made, the intensity and complexities of a mission, and the casualties that can occur in an operation. I have been there and know exactly what it feels like.
My story has a constant microscopic focus on my protagonist, Will Cochrane. There are no “cut scenes” to others’ points of view; nothing shared with the reader that excludes Will, meaning the reader and Will are taking the journey together and have exactly the same amount of information. You are not completely in his head – I wrote the story in the third rather than first person – but you are constantly by his side.
Naturally, given my background, I am often asked about the authenticity of the detail in Spartan. A large part of the novel takes place in Europe and I chose that location deliberately. It has the highest concentration of spies from all around the world and remains the premier frontline for espionage activities. And it has a rich historical backdrop which is important to my writing. I will concede that if an intelligence unit blazed its way across contemporary Europe in the way that Will and his CIA allies do in Spartan then you’d hear about the gun battles on the news. But Anglo-American intelligence units have engaged in such ferocious direct actions in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and in other, less high-profile, locations in recent decades. I’ve drawn from those real events and have used literary license to transplant them into the landscape of my choice.
I am restricted in what I can write about espionage techniques and indeed any detail which could compromise real ongoing operations and intelligence operatives. But that doesn’t matter because I write from the perspective of a field officer – and in the field you are typically alone and have no recourse to sophisticated and classified support, or to gadgets. Having a pen that shoots bullets might be useful in the field, but try getting through airport security with one.
As a child, I would spend hours in second-hand book shops reading obscure novels about early twentieth century spies and bomb-carrying anarchists operating in the backstreets of Europe. I loved that fictional world. In large part, reading is responsible for the path I took to join MI6.
Conversely, my experiences in MI6 were responsible for me taking a long break from reading. I was living an unrelenting real adventure, though it was dangerous, complex, and the ramifications for making mistakes in a mission were typically deadly. When I left MI6 I had no desire to continue a life outside of the “normal” world. If anything, my challenge was to reintegrate back into it. Then I started writing Spartan and the process produced something unexpected – I regained the same enthusiasm and wonder for adventure that I had when I read as a child.
Happily, now I’m a published author who lives in a normal world and wants to entertain readers who have fire in their bellies. Spartan is the first novel in the Will Cochrane series. It is my intention to give you one hell of a journey.
Spartan is publshed by Orion