Category Archives: Interviews

Spy Author Interview: Mark Greaney (Tom Clancy)

Spies & Shadows TV, Mark Greaney Interview, Commander-in-Chief, Tom Clancy

MARK GREANEY – CONTINUING THE TOM CLANCY TRADITION – FACES THE SPIES & SHADOWS AUTHOR INTERROGATION

Bestselling author Mark Greaney has co-written several books with ‘techno thriller’ legend Tom Clancy as well as his own solo spy thriller novels.

And since Clancy’s death in 2013, Greaney has stayed true to the characters created, continuing the adventures of the Ryans in subsequent novels. His latest novel under the Tom Clancy mantle is ‘Commander-in-Chief’  – available now. 

But how will Mr Greaney fare when subjected to the Spies & Shadows questioning?
Read on…

Your new book, Commander-in-Chief. Pitch it to us!
It’s a book about a Putin-esque Russian leader who is simultaneously threatening the Baltic States as well as trying to get his money out of Russia, because of paranoia about inner threats. President Jack Ryan Sr. is working diplomatically and militarily to thwart the Kremlin’s aims, while his son, Jack Ryan Jr., is following the dirty money trail, which leads to organized crime and a lot of violent characters.

There is land warfare and naval warfare, espionage, statecraft, international finance, and a lot of thrills in this one.

For anyone not familiar with the previous Jack Ryan books written either by yourself or with Mr Clancy, can C-in-C be read as a standalone story, or do readers have to read the previous books before this one?
You can absolutely read it as a stand alone. The characters are introduced in the opening and the plot itself doesn’t require knowing previous Clancy novels.

How long did the entire process take, from initial idea, through to finishing writing, through to the finished printed book in your hand?
I talked ideas with my editor last December, began working on it in the spring, and turned it in in the late summer. There was the usual editing, proofing, printing, etc., so I finally got a copy in my hands in early November for a December 1 release.

Spies & Shadows TV, Mark Greaney portrait, Commander-in-Chief, Tom Clancy
Photo: Mark Greaney

That sounds like it took an entire year, but I also wrote another book during that time, and got married [Congratulations!  BG] – so I was able to fit in a few other things. My honeymoon was in the British Virgin Islands, and it just so happens to be one of the locales in the book! I also did research in Lithuania, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Poland, went on board a US Navy destroyer and visited US Marine Base Camp Pendleton in California.

After a fair few books to your name, you must have established a solid routine that serves you well. What does the typical writing day comprise?
I’m a morning person, at least when it comes to writing, so I get started by 6 and keep going as long as I can stay semi-focussed. I’ll do reading related to the book in the afternoons or evenings mostly. These books are very research heavy, so the actual crafting and writing of the story is just one facet of the work that goes into it. I do work 7 days a week, some harder than others, but usually I am enjoying myself.

If Commander-in-Chief makes it to the silver screen, who would you be your first choice of actors (past or present) to play the Ryans?
Harrison Ford for Jack Ryan Sr- That’s a no brainer. Chris Pine might make a reasonable Jack Jr. He played senior in a reboot of the film franchise for Paramount, and while I was bothered they didn’t use one of the Tom Clancy’s original books for the story, I thought he was fine in the role.

You worked with the late great, Tom Clancy on several books. How did that all come about?
We shared the same editor, Tom Colgan, at Penguin. He worked with me on my paperback series, The Gray Man, and he worked with Tom on his massive Jack Ryan novels. Clancy was looking for a new coauthor, and Tom Colgan thought of me and put us together. I did three books with Tom Clancy before he died, and Commander in Chief is my 3rd since his passing.

What did you most enjoy about working with him?
He was an idol of mine so our first meeting- at his home in Baltimore, will go down as the most amazing and surreal occurrence of my life. Twenty minutes after shaking hands we were talking about Chinese tanks and French jet engines and Cold War spycraft.

The awesome responsibility of taking on these well known characters and putting them in contemporary scenarios is probably the best part of the work, but having the calling card “Tom Clancy’s coauthor” was a great way to open doors and meet a lot of interesting people, so that is a fun aspect, too!

What made you decide to continue the association with him after his death?
I thought it over for a long time, and finally decided that if I was still only a reader of his books (which I had been for 25 years before I started writing with him) I would want someone sincere and respectful of the series to take it over.

I didn’t want his characters to change personalities, or make any huge changes at all, and I thought I was the right guy to steer the ship, at least for the first couple of books. I just agreed to do a 7th book in the series, but I held off for several months, because I wanted to know I had a plot before I agreed to do it. Someday someone else will come along to write Jack Ryan novels, and I’m perfectly fine with that, but for now I’m giving it my all.

How much free rein do you have with the publishers when it comes to plots and setting etc? Are there any plots, characters, or other details where your agent, publisher, or the authorities have vetoed it?
I am lucky to have a great relationship with my editor. We come up with ideas together, I go and write them up into a 15-20 page synopsis, and then we talk it over. I usually get what I want because Tom, my editor, agrees with me, but when he doesn’t he makes his case and I almost always see his point.

There have been a few ideas I’ve had that he thought sounded a little weak, but I managed to talk him into letting me write them up to see if I could “sell” them in the book- If I really believe I can pull something off I’ll just write it and see what he thinks at the end. After I turn in the entire draft he might come back and say a part of the book feels a little slow, a little preachy, a bit too coarse for a Clancy book, or something along those lines, but these are always small and easily correctable issues.

Tom Clancy’s family gets a final “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on the book, and so far at least, it’s always been thumbs up. They’ve been very supportive!

As you’re probably neck deep in C-in-C publicity activities just now and can’t think too far ahead, you’re allowed to roll your eyes at this question, but what’s next with the Ryans?
Actually this is what I’m working on right now – my editor is waiting for my synopsis for the new Clancy book, so I am playing around with ideas. Can’t give away anything yet, because it all could change, but I have a big picture idea that I think would make an exciting book. Now I just have to add about 200,000 more words and I’m done!

When you’re not glued to your computer writing or thinking about plots and characters, what pleasurable distractions do you have?
For an American, I watch a lot of soccer. I played as an amateur into my mid-30’s but got hurt, so now I just watch MLS, EPL and Bundesliga matches. I do a lot of firearms training, partly for book research and partly because I enjoy it.

Just this year I trained under the lead carbine trainer for Naval Special Warfare (Navy SEAL’s) and have done a lot of pistol shooting. Just bought my 2nd AK-47 and joined a new firing range, so I expect to blow a lot of money on lead in 2016.

I travel a lot for research, and I’m off to S.E. Asia in 2016 as well as the Balkans, but my wife and I also want to do some more traveling in Mexico. On top of this we have 2 dogs, so they keep us busy.

Thanks Mark!

Commander-in-Chief is available at all good bookshops, published by Penguin (UK) and G.B. Puttnam’s Sons (elsewhere).
Visit Mark’s website at markgreaneybooks.com for more info about the Clancy books and the Gray Man series.

Spy Author Interview: Andrew Lownie

Spies & Shadows TV, Andrew Lownie Interview. Guy Burgess, Stalin's Englishman

GUY BURGESS BIOGRAPHER ANDREW LOWNIE FACES THE SPIES & SHADOWS AUTHOR INTERROGATION

“Stalin’s Englishman” is the long awaited biography of Cambridge Spy Ring Member Guy Burgess. Written by Andrew Lownie, the book has already been given the Spies & Shadows seal of approval and is a great read for anyone fascinated by the antics of the Cambridge Spy Ring as well as Burgess in particular.

But how will Mr Lownie fare when subjected to the Spies & Shadows questioning?
Read on…

How has ‘Stalin’s Englishman’ been received, both overall, and by separate audiences such as the book trade, spy aficionados and history lovers?
I’m pleased the book has been well-received across the board with over fifty 5* reviews on Amazon, good reviews in all  the nationals including  ‘Biography of the Year’  from The Times and  Mail on Sunday and Guardian ‘Book of the Year’ nominations from William Boyd and Craig Brown. I’ve done over twenty events already with more than twenty already arranged for next year ranging from Texas and Paris to the Travellers Club and Oxford Festival.

What was it about Burgess that made you want to write a book about him?
I’ve always been interested in the Cambridge Spies really from the exposure of Blunt in 1979 as I was leaving school . In 1984 whilst at Cambridge I organised a symposium on them with Andrew Boyle, Chris Andrew and Robert Cecil, Maclean’s biographer and successor as head of the American Department. After Cambridge, I helped research John Costello’s life of Blunt and since then as a literary agent have represented many of the leading books on the subject and reviewed various intelligence books.

Andrew Lownie, Guy Burgess, Stalin's Englishman, Spies & Shadows TV
Photo: Nina Hollington

After I finished my life of John Buchan in the 1990s I began work on Burgess interviewing some hundred contemporaries, many of whom had never spoken before. Though he appears in lots of books, and I think is the Cambridge spy with the broadest hinterland – his circle included Frederick Ashton, Lucian Freud, George Orwell, Michael Redgrave, Laurence Olivier, Stephen Spender, Graham Greene, EM Forster & Maynard Keynes – there had never been a book on him.

What was the biggest “Bloody hell!” moment (something that really makes you sit up) you discovered in your research on Burgess?
There have been lots. First hearing from Sergei Kondrashev, the KGB officer who ran him in Moscow, and also his KGB  handler in Britain, Yuri Modin, that he was the most important of the Cambridge Spies especially for his role just before the Second World War as a secret emissary for Neville Chamberlain.

Then discovering the extent of his female relationships and that he was engaged several times, including to Winston Churchill’s niece, Clarissa (who later married Anthony Eden) and Kim Philby’s secretary and lover Esther Whitfield. Lots of wonderful detail such as his footballing and swimming prowess, the fact he was a corporal in the Cadet Corps at Eton, at Dartmouth he was tipped to be an admiral, the range of his homosexual affairs , the extent to which he was protected by superiors, the sheer number of fictional references etc.

What do you think has been the biggest misconception about Burgess?
He has been dismissed as a buffoon and not taken seriously but he was a highly effective and ruthless spy.

He was the first of the Ring  to penetrate British Intelligence joining MI6 in 1936; the only one to serve in both MI5 and MI6 where he betrayed their ‘order of battle’;  was an agent of influence at the BBC and in the Far East Department of the Foreign Office where he helped shape British policy to recognise Red China; had access to the most secret information whilst serving as private secretary to Bevin’s deputy at the Foreign Office; remained influential as an advisor to the Russians on British policy whilst in Moscow and was prepared to himself kill an agent he had recruited, Goronwy Rees, whose son was his godson.

Although Burgess is long gone, the Establishment and The Powers That Be may still rankle a little over his antics. What if any obstacles did you face in putting the book together?
My attempts for releases under Freedom Of Information Act legislation have constantly been frustrated and quite unlawfully the ominously sounding Knowledge Management Department of the Foreign Office  refused to deal with more than one request every sixty days. I have had to refer them several times to the Information Commissioner and one case is now with a tribunal.

Though the release of the Burgess files is to be welcomed, one has to ask why it has taken so long – such files under the Public Records Act are supposed to have been deposited after thirty years –  and why so much material is still retained or redacted including much material already in the public domain.

Burgess has been portrayed over the years on TV and in the theatre. The most famous is arguably ‘An Englishman Abroad’. If you could choose any actor to play Burgess in a film, who would it be and why?
A whole range of actors have played Burgess from Alan Bates, Ian Ogilvy, Anthony Hopkins and Derek Jacobi to Tom Hollander, Rupert Everett and Benedict Cumberbatch . I think it would be Bates though the others have each brought something fresh to the part. What many people don’t know is Michael Caine, Tom Baker, Edward Fox and Dirk Bogarde were also short listed against Bates.

What ONE word would you use to sum up Guy Burgess?
Charming – a very dangerous word.

Burgess and his Cambridge cohorts, along with George Blake arguably represented a ‘golden age’ for spy writers. How likely do you think it is to be equaled by writers focusing on more recent intelligence events, such as the Gareth Williams affair, or Daniel Houghton’s attempted treachery?
I think what makes the Cambridge Ring so fascinating is they were so able and intelligent, so effective, all knew each other  and so posh. Why should men who so relished life within the Establishment seek to betray it? There’s also the suspicion there are many more spies of the period still to be uncovered. That said, as an agent there’s still plenty of life left in the contemporary as well as historical spy novel.

What advice would you give for budding spy writers? (And does the advice differ whether it’s fiction or non-fiction?)
I think advice is similar. Know your market and competition, do research and polish, polish, polish.

What next for you? Next writing project?
I’m looking at Lord Mountbatten: a different figure to my two previous subjects which requires immersing myself in defence policy, Indian independence, Royal Family and naval operations.

Thanks Andrew!

Stalin’s Englishman is available at all good bookshops, published by Hodder & Stoughton. You can read the Spies & Shadows review here.