In the second of a series of occasional interviews, I have recently had the pleasure to interview British thriller writer Adam Blake about his work, his inspirations and his ambitions. I hope you enjoy our chat!
RealChrisSparkle: It gives me great pleasure to welcome the readers of the Realchrisparkle blog to the writer Adam Blake! Hello Adam, and thanks very much for agreeing to the interview. You hit the bookshelves a few months ago with your first book, “The Dead Sea Deception”. Would you like to tell us a bit of what it’s all about?
Adam Blake: Sure – and thanks for having me, Mr. C. The Dead Sea Deception is a conspiracy thriller with a Biblical flavour to it. It ties together a number of different plot threads – one concerning a crashed plane in the US, another about a murdered historian in London, and the third about a man whose entire family just vanishes into thin air one day. Ultimately, there’s a single mystery that relates all these things to one another, and it’s a mystery that dates back to the early days of the Christian church.
RCS: As you say there are multiple threads there. Did you have to do a lot of research for this book?
AB: I did, yeah. One element that’s very prominent in the book is the possible existence of a lost gospel – and the actual gospel of Judas, the Codex Tchakos, is hugely relevant to that. So I read a lot of the scholarship that’s been written about the codex since the National Geographic team translated it, and I read a lot about the early Christian churches. I was especially interested in the Gnostic faiths, and their treatment within the official church hierarchy. There was also a lot of research that related to setting. I wanted all the settings to feel real, and there were some I’d never visited or visited only briefly. And then there was a certain amount of research relating to the logistics of some of the action scenes.
RCS: So this book must have taken you a long time in the planning, I guess. Did you enjoy all that research, or did you occasionally wish you had decided to write about something simpler?!
AB: It was a complete departure from everything I’d written up to that point, so it was actually very exciting and rewarding. I had no idea if I could make a story like that articulate properly – if I could make it work. It was good to find out that I could. In general, I’m terrified of being one of these guys who writes the same book over and over. Doing stuff that takes you out of your comfort zone keeps you fresh.
RCS: It felt very fresh to me! You’ve got a very exciting writing style and there are lots of cliffhangers and surprise twists in this book, which I really enjoyed. Do you meticulously plan ahead how you are going to write it, or do you sit and wait for the story to take you in an unexpected direction?
AB: Thanks! It’s very much a combination of the two. The broad structure has to be planned, and some of the detail is very tightly embedded in that structure. So I work out a chapter-by-chapter plan which is fairly rigorous. But there are always things that just happen because they happen – because as you’re writing, a cool idea will pop up in your head and you follow it to see where it leads. So the scene at Dovecote Farm, for example, where two of the characters are trapped on the roof of a burning building, was down in the original plan in a much simpler form. But when I got there, I wanted to do something big and cataclysmic, which would lead to an irrevocable choice for my male lead, Tillman. The plan is a starting point, in other words, not really a full blueprint. But it has to be there. It gives you the liberty to follow your nose when you need to.
RCS: Have you ever tried to depart completely from the plan? Does it result in an almighty mess, lots of cutting and pasting and an eventual massive “delete”? Or can you rewrite the plan? Or is that cheating?!
AB: Oh, I’ve been known to leave the reservation. I did that with the second Adam Blake thriller, which I only just finished. There’s a character in that, Diema Beit Evrom, who just got more and more under my skin as I wrote. She’s barely present in the first book, but in the second she ends up stealing the spotlight to a very large extent, and her arc became more and more central to how I saw the book working. So the structure of the book changed to accommodate her. And yes, that DID mean that it took a lot longer to write than I’d expected. I made a lot of big changes.
RCS: Excellent, so you will be having a new book out! What’s it called, when’s it out and can you give us a taster of what it’s about?
AB: I can’t give you a title yet – we’re still discussing it. It’s out in August, and it’s a direct sequel to The Dead Sea Deception, taking place about three years later. Trying to avoid spoilers, one of the characters from DSD is called in to consult after an apparent break-in at the British Museum. Someone has broken into a storeroom, but doesn’t seem to have stolen or even touched anything there. And there’s a knife on the floor of the room with fresh blood on it, but no sign of a body and no clue as to who was wounded. Investigating the crime brings together some of the people and plot threads from the first book, and leads to a shocking revelation about a seventeenth century text – a book of prophesies written by a minor religious dissident in Cromwell’s England.
RCS: Wow, sounds great. No please don’t spoil the story for us! I can see from what you say how there might be joint themes with the first book, perhaps a similar structure, but maybe this new book has more whodunit elements? Or am I barking up the wrong tree?
AB: No, you’re right. It’s written very much as a mystery, which then opens out into… well, something else again. It gets bigger in scope as it goes along, and in terms of themes, it’s kind of about family, and belonging, and what you will and won’t do in the name of your tribe, your collective, the group of people who give you your context in the world.
RCS: That sounds like it will be a very rewarding read. Where do you get the inspiration for your books? Do you have a particular interest in historical religious writings?
AB: Yes and no, I guess. I think if you’re going to make it as a writer you have to be interested in everything. Anything you read, see, hear about, fall over, can be a starting point for a book. You noodle around with an idea, and maybe it turns into something. The real Judas gospel was the trigger for the first book. For the second, it was reading about Cromwell’s Barebones Parliament and his troubled relationship with fringe religious groups. I have one major asset, which is that my brother is a historian with a vast lumber room of a mind. If I say to him “What about Cromwell and those fringe religious groups, then, eh?” he’ll turn out to know more about the subject than I could learn in a year by just reading about it. He’s kickstarted a lot of my stories, just in the course of idle conversations.
RCS: That’s handy then! So do you think you will continue to write books that take place in the present but somehow link up with a historical event or culture; or might that become your new comfort zone – and will you then want to move on to other subjects?
AB: I think the next thing I write will turn out to be something different. I’ve got a hankering to write a police procedural. But I also write full-on urban fantasy novels under a different name, so at some point I’ll write another one of those. I was reading something recently – I can’t even remember what it was – and one of the characters says “If you’re lucky, every once in a while, what you do to get by will also turn out to be what you do for love.” That’s the high I’m always looking to get.
AB: In my family, a Chief Constable would have a hard time of it! We’re a larcenous bunch. Yeah, I’d be hoping to get some kind of a work shadowing deal into play, like Jon Courtenay Grimwood did for 9Tail Fox. And, as always, hitting the books and the net for juicy stuff that might turn into seed crystals. Apologies for the mixed metaphor there.
RCS: No worries, mixed metaphors are always welcome here! Now I hope this isn’t too algebraic a question, if an editor came to you and said Adam, we want you to write about X and you said great, that would be my dream job, what would X equal?
AB: Oh man, that’s hard. I think I roam around a lot, in terms of subjects and in terms of themes, so I don’t have any one dream job any more. It’s just whatever I’m obsessing on at any given time. I’d love to get an actual feature film out there, but that’s a question of medium rather than material. And I’d love to write a YA book. That’s something I haven’t tried, and I think it would be very different.
RCS: Is that Young Adult? We don’t have any of those in our household so I’m just guessing! Obsessing is an interesting word though – would you describe being obsessive as a major creative force within you, if that isn’t too psychological a question?
AB: Yeah, YA is young adult. And absolutely, I’d describe myself as obsessive. I think it’s true of my whole family, in different ways. I work furiously when I’ve got a deadline, become totally focused on it to the point where nothing else seems to matter. And ever since I quit my day job, which is twelve years ago now, I’ve lived like Tarzan, swinging from one writing commission to the next and never touching ground. If you take the ground in that metaphor as “being destitute and penniless and out on the street”, that will give you some idea of the way my mind works. Insecurity has made me hugely productive.
RCS: What a great way of looking at it! Well I don’t want to make you more insecure and stop you from being productive, so just a couple of other questions if I may – when you’re not slaving over a hot keyboard, do you have any hobbies or pursuits that take away the pain of the working day?
AB: Reading, of course. And I listen to a lot of music – especially in the times when I’m planning rather than writing. My favourite music tends to be indie or folk, or sometimes what Rough Trade Records calls Americana. I recently discovered both Beth Jeans Houghton and Yeasayer, which counted as a very good day. I go to the cinema, and also watch a lot of American TV drama, which seems to be going through a golden age at the moment. And I sometimes go to live music gigs. I’m going to see Anais Mitchell in May, when she comes over with her Young Man in America tour.
RCS: You said earlier that you write urban fantasy novels under a different name, and in fact in my copy of Dead Sea Deception it says: “Adam Blake is a pseudonym for an acclaimed internationally bestselling novelist based in the UK.” So is it true you are really Dan Brown?
AB: That one always floors me! Why would Dan Brown use a pseudonym to write books that are very, very much in the sub-genre that made his name. If I were Dan Brown, I’d hire a couple of guys to carry a huge banner behind me wherever I walked, that said “I AM DAN BROWN!!!” But I’m not, no. I’m some other guy, known for writing in a very different genre. Which is the point of the pseudonym, really. It’s easier to get a sense of who Adam Blake is if this other stuff is rendered magically invisible.
RCS: I’m relieved really, I don’t have to lie to you about how much I enjoyed the Da Vinci Code now. Actually I wikipedia’d you earlier and it gave me a choice of two Adam Blakes. You’re either the alter ego of Captain Comet or a musician with the band Zoot Woman. If it’s neither of those, which would you prefer to be?
AB: I’d love to be Captain Comet. I don’t know if I could carry off that bright red spandex costume, but he’s got telepathy, telekinesis and clairvoyance. All I’ve got is an ability to spell sesquipedalian without looking it up in a dictionary. No contest. I know too much about Captain Comet, don’t I? That’s something of a giveaway…
RCS: So if the writing ever dries up, there’s clearly a ready-made alternative career path for you. Finally – in all the interviews you’ve ever done, is there one question that no interviewer has ever asked you, yet inside you’ve been burning to answer it?
AB: Maybe “what does sesquipedalian mean?” No, not really. Every interview’s got its own rhythm and rules. I really enjoyed this one.
RCS: You’re too kind! Well thanks very much for taking the time to come on here and tell us a bit about yourself and your books; best of luck for the next rattling good read in August, and keep on swinging like Tarzan!
AB: Thanks, Mr. C. It was my pleasure. And keep on being the benign scourge of theatreland…