Interview with Alan McDermott
Author of Fight to Survive
Alan McDermott is a successful British thriller writer with 10 published novels, featuring the ‘Tom Gray’ & ‘Eva Driscoll’ series. In a previous life he was a software developer.
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Alan, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. And particular thanks for giving Profile a sneak preview of the new cover: Gray Genesis. Could you outline your writing process? How do you structure your time, the redrafting process – and your plots?
- Most of the time, I get up at 6AM, have a couple of coffees, do 40 minutes on the exercise bike, then get my daughters off to school. By 8.30 I’m ready to write, and although I aim for 1000 words a day, I often underachieve. Procrastination is my biggest enemy, but editing as I write also slows me down. I’m not one for writing a first draft, then revisiting it months later. Once it’s down on paper and I type The End, it’s off to the editor.
Plots are hard to come by. My first story, Gray Justice, came about after watching Road Wars, where cops chased a car thief for 20 minutes. He was eventually caught, and the voiceover said that it was something like his 30th crime, and he got a community order. It didn’t sound like much of a punishment, and I wondered what would have happened if he’d stolen from the wrong guy. That was the seed of the idea, and a year later I had my first novel.
It’s not easy to come up with something original when you consider that something like 50k books are published on Amazon every month. Not all will be in my genre, obviously, but there are only so many twists you can throw at readers before they start to spot them a mile away. I’ve tried plotting out in advance recently, whereas before I would just write the opening scene and wing it from there. I prefer to have a solid base to work with these days.
Your books are definitely in the ‘action thriller’ genre – hard-hitting and fast-paced. How do you feel about the handling of violence in fiction? Has your own approach to action – and the depiction of violence - changed much over time?
- In my earlier books, I would share every gory detail with the reader, but more recently I’ve tried to leave it to their imagination. A bit like the shower scene from Psycho, where you didn’t see anyone being stabbed, but you know it happened. In my most recent work, a chapter ends with a prisoner who many might feel deserves a grizzly death, but I simply have one of the characters say ‘Fetch the tool kit’. The readers can then decide what happens to him.
Creating two series of books must bring its own challenges. Could you talk a little about establishing a ‘voice’ for your novels?
- When I started out, I only planned to write one novel, but that turned into six books in the Tom Gray series. I was aware that putting him through the same thing book after book was going to get repetitive, so I thought I would give Andrew Harvey an outing in Trojan. After that, I decided to take things in a new direction, and had every intention of Eva Driscoll being in a totally different world to Gray. Unfortunately, she needed some help, and I lazily fell back on the characters I’d already created. Sonny and Len from the Gray books helped her out in Run and Hide, and Tom Gray himself shows up in the second book. For Fight to Survive, it’s just Eva and Sonny, and that’s how I plan to leave it going forward.
In a nutshell - what's the storyline of Fight to Survive?
- Eva Driscoll is forced to take on a mission in North Korea, to bring out a defector. As you can imagine, things don’t go smoothly. They are both captured and sent to a remote prison camp that isn’t all it seems. She manages to escape, but what she witnesses there will haunt her forever if she doesn’t do something about it.
Readers who are new to Eva Driscoll should start at the beginning, with Run and Hide. How has Eva changed over these three adventures?
- In the first couple of books, Eva was all-action and a bit of an enigma. In Fight to Survive we get to see her softer side. Not that she’s a pushover, but she can’t stand back while the innocent are in harm’s way.
Eva Driscoll is a bad-ass, isn’t she? How different is it writing from a female perspective? Has this series attracted a different fanbase to the Tom Gray books?
- I actually found it quite easy to write a female character. It helps that she’s an action figure in the Gray mould. I’m not sure it has attracted a new fan base, though. Sales figures suggest that not many Gray fans are as keen on Eva as they are the SAS team.
Could you tell us a little about Eva’s morality, her code?
- As I mentioned earlier, she won’t let injustice slide. I was thinking about making her and Sonny some kind of avenging angels in the next book, righting wrongs and looking out for the little guy. That is, If I write another Driscoll story.
Fight to Survive is book 3 . . .will there be a 4th in this series?
- That is yet to be decided. Looking purely at sales, she isn’t as popular as Tom Gray. I’m not saying never, but she is on the back burner at the moment. I don’t have anything planned for book 13 as yet, but will come up with a few ideas in the next month or so.
You’ve succeeded beyond most writers’ expectations, making a full-time living in a very crowded marketplace, and selling – how many copies? Any advice for the new writer just starting on this journey?
- My advice would be to see it as a marathon, not a sprint. One in a million authors make a killing with their first book, whereas many rely on churning out consistently good work on a regular basis. I’ve sold 1.3 million books to date, but no individual story would have enabled me to write full time. In fact, it was 5 years and 6 books before I could even consider it. Also, you’re going to need a lot of luck to get noticed. I had three books out when I made the first one free, and got lucky when that went to the top of the free charts on Amazon and led to sales of books 2 and 3. At the same time, Rachel Abbott wrote a piece in The Guardian that mentioned my book. Her publisher saw it, looked at my sales figures and offered me a four-book contract. If either of those things hadn’t happened, I think I’d still be doing the day job.
What are you working on at the moment?
- I’m just finishing up the last chapter of Gray Genesis, which is a prequel to the Tom Gray series. It is set in Afghanistan a few years before Gray Justice, but it’s more than just another war story. I’m hoping to see it released in May.
I also have a serial-killer standalone with completely new characters. That is with an editor at the moment, and will also be out in 2020.
She’s working for her enemies. Or so they think…
Ex-CIA assassin Eva Driscoll has found a new life in Australia and believes she’s outrun the Executive Security Office, the most powerful and secretive organization on the planet. But the ESO has been watching her every move and when they approach her with a high-risk mission in North Korea, Eva is forced to co-operate with the organization she once vowed to destroy.
But releasing a high-ranking defector proves costly, and Driscoll is captured and imprisoned in a secret camp on the Chinese border. What she witnesses there will haunt her forever . . . so she decides to take matters into her own hands. But how long can she keep the ESO thinking she’s working in their interests rather than her own?
When her handlers become suspicious, Eva knows time is not on her side. Can she defeat the evil at the heart of the camp and get out alive—or will this final installment really be her last?