many years as an international news
reporter for ITN, Gerald Seymour has covered conflict areas as varied
the Middle East,
and the massacre of Israeli
athletes at the Munich
Olympics, to name a handful.
He knows, therefore, of what he writes. His first book was the
Game’ set in Belfast.
Since then, he has gone on
to write over two dozen thrillers, six of which, including ‘Harry’s Game’,
have been filmed for
television in the UK
and US.After vivid
settings in the Middle East,
Eastern Europe and Latin America among others, his latest book
Collaborator’ – takes us to
Italy, to deal with the Camorra, the ruthless crime network based in
of Naples, and what happens when one of the tight-knit clan members -
daughter of the Borelli family – rebels against their
murderous deeds to become
that most hated of all people – a police informer.
an interview containing much laughter
(which, sadly, not having a soundtrack, doesn’t really come
out on the page) I
asked Gerald about ‘The
and his writing in general.
AM: After all
the other places in which
you’ve set your books, the Middle East, eastern Europe, Latin
America, Europe, why Naples and why
the Camorra as a subject?
Gerald Seymour: Well, I
feed off news stories. And
about three years ago I read a news item about the gangs in Naples, and the
Camorra, which runs all the
crime down there. It’s nothing like The Sopranos, so you have
to forget the
stereotypes – on both sides. There’s nothing glossy
about the Camorra; they’re
the most vicious of organisations, and the police and justice officials
fight them are incredibly dedicated and tough. The location, too, is
special. Naples is a
place of great colour and light,
but there’s great savagery, too. Its inhabitants believe very
much in living
for today… as if living under that massive great mountain
(Vesuvius) means it
could all blow up and end tomorrow in a stonking great traffic queue.
also the attitude which says if you don’t look after
yourself, nobody else
will. It’s incredibly fascinating and intriguing because,
along with the colour
and light, there are some very dark areas. It’s that
combination which makes it
an ideal setting for a novel.
many of your books, this one has a lot of
characters, each portrayed from their own point of view. How do you
all so successfully?
it could be a weakness, I suppose. I tell
myself I should perhaps do a bit more weeding with these characters,
but I just
love covering the many points of view within a story, because it allows
work in the history of the people and the world they live in. For
older generation, the ones who started off the clans, although
they’re in the
background, much like gang leaders everywhere, whether it’s Naples, London, Frankfurt or
wherever, they can never truly walk away from
it. They know that if they allow the power of the gang to wane, the
move in and the whole thing will fall apart. So they’re
AM: Do you
ever see your characters having
potential for a series?
really. I don’t write police procedurals,
where the same people inhabit the same place. I prefer to start with a
page every time, to invent new characters. I have a fear of the idea of
coasting. Anyway, with the kind of characters they are and the
they’re in, it’s not as if they always end up going
off to live a cottage in
I’ve noticed your characters have a high
mortality rate. In fact, I’m partway through your latest, and
ones will actually make it to the end of the book!
from that, do you have a particular
technique for building the characters as individuals?
GS: I talk
to a lot of people. I also write a
500-word biography of each character… where they were born
and went to school,
where they live, what their parents did and so on. I even use photos of
people blown up to A4 size on the wall if I think it will help, to keep
image in front of me. I know what their attitudes are, how they will
certain situations, although that may change along the way as those
change and they take off and have their own heads. But these people
with you for a year, so the detail does become a little obsessive.
you’re a planner more than a push with the
suppose I am, yes. I make an A4 chart per
chapter, and each character has a ‘corridor’, which
is their place within the
chapter. This means I know what follows, and on a Monday morning,
weather, I know what the first sentence will be. With this process, I
near enough what the ending might be… although that can be
necessary. Essentially, this process gives me the confidence to know
they’re all going. It stems from my days in the university
when I had a fear of standing up there and experiencing
‘white-out’. But you
have to believe in the end that it will be all right on the night!
far do you go to do your research? Not all
your settings are accessible to the average punter, are they?
I’m very fortunate to know a lot of
people, some of whom can introduce me to, for example, the Carabinieri.
also lucky enough to meet and talk with a very skilled hostage
while ago, and then a priest in Naples who
travelled from Rome in an
armoured limo with two police
bodyguards – because he’d chosen to speak out
against the Camorra. A very nice,
committed person. I have to say I greatly value the kindness of the
confide in me, and I try to be positive about them and what they do,
they’re extremely dedicated and brave. You have to listen to
people. I was once
described as being like a sponge, and I would certainly agree with
that. But I
get a huge kick out of being where most people would never get to; with
the Squadra Mobile – the Flying Squad
– and others. (Researching)
atmosphere and mood is just as important, too, as the people and
you have to get that out on the page.
comes out very strongly in this book – the
back streets of Naples.
Forcella district, yes.
AM: Six of
your books have been filmed. Do you have
any input to that process?
get invited to the set, and everyone’s very
kind, but you don’t get any input, not really. You inevitably
differences between your creation and the filmed production, but in the
have to shut up and enjoy it. After all, you’re very lucky if
you get it done
favourites among the filmed versions?
‘Harry’s Game’ and the (US)
production of ‘Field of Blood’.
They’re probably my favourites, and true to the books.
was your inspiration as a writer?
from the usual ones, Hemingway, Neville
Shute and so on, I was flying through a thunderstorm in 1973 to Spain to cover
the ETA trials, and I’d picked
up a copy of a new book, ‘Day of the
Jackal’ by one Frederick Forsyth.
It was such a damned good read. That, if anything, was my kick factor
to be a
thriller writer. Not because I thought I could do it better, but to see
could do it too and where it would lead. Then one day my wife brought
pine table, and said, ‘There you are. Get writing.’
So I sat down and wrote the
first chapter of ‘Harry’s Game’.
is, I always wanted to be a thriller
writer. I admired the story-telling ability of these people, with a
beginning, middle and end to the books, and in my writing, I always
strong picture-view of the story – perhaps from my days as a
reporter. For example, in ‘The Journeyman Tailor’,
it begins with the bomb
disposal man walking up a lane towards a device. That came from seeing
kind of situation in real life, such as the negotiator walking out to a
hi-jacked plane, jacket off, arms out, so the hijackerscould see he wasn’t carrying a gun. Very
powerful images, those.
how do these ideas come to you – bath, bed
or somewhere else?
usually bath or bed, I have to say. Most
often while walking the dog, I suppose, often alone. There will be the
and the wind, and something will click. And then there are other
things; I came
across a news clip once, about a man released from a South African
when he was asked what was the worst part of his imprisonment, he
prisoners singing for the condemned man.” That image led to ‘A
Song in the
AM: Can I
ask what you’re working on at the
I’m putting the finishing touches to a story
about Vukovar. It’s set in the present day but goes back to
the period of the
AM: Do you
do much promotional work?
GS: I do
what I’m asked to do. I believe the
publishers need my help just as much as I need theirs, so you need to
time out there. And you meet some really wonderful people while
it. One chap came up to me, holding copies of my books, and said,
remember me, do you?” It turned out he was ex-Special Forces
and I’d run into
him on two separate occasions in different places while I was working
assignment, and I’d told him to ‘go away’
both times! (Laughter) Such a small
What’s your view of current reporting?
print journalism, there are many more
columns and opinion pieces now, which isn’t really news. In
are so many reporters interviewing each other, but I wouldn’t
care for the
constant contact by mobile phone that there is now, with editors
reporters for every tiny detail when nothing has happened. To show the
comparison, when I covered Bloody Sunday in Northern
Ireland, I had no
calls from my editor; I was
just left to get on with it, which suited me fine. We were very lucky
then, we had the freedom to work without all the committee meetings.
question, if you have one piece of advice
for would-be thriller writers, what would it be?
GS: Get on
with it. Don’t show it to your
boyfriend, girlfriend, family, friends; just go away and write. The
is, people say now how tough it is to write and get published. The fact
it’s always been tough. Just do it.
My thanks to
Kerry Hood at Hodder for organising this interview.
information can be found about Gerald Seymour and his books at: www.hodder.co.uk
TO WIN A
Thanks to the
great people at Hodders we have FIVE copies to
giveaway. Simple email the editor by clicking
here. The names will be picked at random. Competition closes 5th
December 2009. just in
time for Xmas!
Glory Boys (1976)
Fox (1979) aka The Harrison Affair
Honour Bound (1984)
of Blood (1985)
Song in the Morning (1986) aka Shadow on