1. Do you find Iran, where you set THE CORPORAL’S WIFE, your new thriller, particularly interesting at the moment?
Iran is a top target, and not only for contemporary thriller writers. There are plenty of well sourced stories of espionage runs inside the Islamic Republic by agents of the CIA, the UK's MI6, French and German agencies, and the secretive but obviously highly successful Israeli Mossad. The men who do this work - I've not heard of female spies arrested inside Iran - have to be either excessively greedy and want the money, or desperately hostile to the regime and that leads them towards huge personal danger, or they have been compromised and turned (in the jargon) and so are between a rock and a hard place, and finally the option is that they may have an excessive belief in their own skills and reckon that will keep them safe, a big ask. They usually fall into the MICE profile: Money, Ideology, Compromise or Ego. What makes Iran difficult for the recruiters is that there is no Glienicke Bridge (outside of old Cold War Berlin and where captured agents were swapped routinely by the Americans and the Soviets). If taken in Iran the agent will hang in the yard of the Evin gaol ... and many do. So, Iran and its secrets are a fertile area for writers, and because the stakes are so high, matters of life and death, the characters who play the games are fascinating.
2. Is there anywhere in the world you wouldn’t set one of your novels?
Is there an island or a country where every citizen is smiling and there are no secret police with unpleasant habits in their holding cells, and no mafia groups ripping off the general public? I'm not sure where such a place is and if it exists then it would be much too boring to write about ... that means pretty much everywhere else in the world is on the radar - which means I have to keep slogging away because there are so many good stories to be written.
3. Is there anywhere in which you particularly relish doing your research?
I'm always so grateful to journalists and police officers and soldiers and the 'ordinary' people I meet up with if they accept my assurance that any conversation is 'off the record' and 'non-attrib' and they have enough trust in me to tell it like it is and not with a public relations gloss. Anywhere in the world where I can conjure up a few dark corners and lengthening shadows, and where I can wander and learn is as good a place as any other. It could be Belfast, or the roads around the old hanging gaol in Pretoria, or a bazaar in the North West Frontier, or Sarajevo ... I don't have favourites and still get a huge adrenaline surge when I am on new territory and a story seems to be sliding into my notebook. I am very lucky.
4. You love your sports … do you think you will involve sportsmen in a future novel? Or should they be kept separate!
Sport is a great relaxation for me: sadly, the playing days and participating are now in the dim past. I watch Premiership rugby and first class cricket, and get great pleasure from seeing my grandchildren taking part. Sport is a huge relaxation after a week at the keyboard and I don't permit that to nudge into a story ... it is switch-off time. But, I do believe that sportsman and artists (painters, sculptors, composers, writers) are similar. They walk out into a stadium and don't know how they are going to perform, however well coached. The artists settle in their studio or wherever and don't know whether ideas will materialise, nor where such ideas may be sourced from. We both fly on the seat of our pants: stressful and exciting. For neither of us are there any guarantees of quality or success.
5. Your novels have huge cast lists. How do you keep all your characters in line?
I have big casts of characters and they are an indulgence. It seems worthwhile to invent and create the people in the stories, a part of the privilege of being a novelist. I sketch out their biographies before I start on Chapter One but am quite prepared for any of them go off on their own sweet way and take me with them. I know how a story will begin but rarely have a clear idea of how it will end. They lead me and I'm happy with that freedom given them.
6. Is there one of your books you’d yet like to see made into a drama – either big screen or little?
There are four of the books that are currently either contracted to a film/tv company or are being negotiated for ... that is a different world. If a story gets to the screen then that is a bonus but not something I aim for when writing. It is rare that you hear somebody say they enjoyed the film more than reading the book. But, Harry's Game on UK television and also in dozens of countries, was a strong shop window for what I try to achieve. The screen is good for the ego but, for me, books come first by a long distance.
7. Will you ever revisit Ireland in fiction?
Yes - watch this space.