I would like to welcome James Silvester back to my blog. His new book, ‘The Prague Ultimatum’ is out on the 13th April. James has written a guest post for this event.
A huge thanks firstly to Sonya for kindly allowing me back onto her site, and thanks also to Matthew at Urbane Publications for his continuing confidence in me.
Getting the nod from your publisher that he wants to commission your second book and that you need to start work is like downing a cocktail composed of wildly different elements.
First is the elation; sheer and complete. The idea that your work has been well received and the bloke you’ve been working so hard to impress has enough belief in your ability to invest in a future offering, brings with it a joy of a kind all its own. But shortly afterwards, once that has sunk in, comes the clawing spectre of self-doubt along with all its nagging chums. Whereas your first book might well have been written over several years, without deadlines or pressures other than those self-imposed, this time it’s a different kettle of fish. Now there is someone investing in you, both with money and time, and along with the investment comes expectation, deadlines and the deeply ingrained worry that you’re not really up to this…
Of course, you ultimately pull yourself together and crack on, but there’s no denying that some of the challenges are just that little bit harder this time; and this is nowhere more apparent than when designing your new characters. My second book, The Prague Ultimatum, serves as a sequel to 2015’s Escape To Perdition, although not so blindly that it can’t be read as a stand-alone story. But even though a number of characters make return appearances, the focus is on someone entirely new, and putting the pieces of the new protagonist together was one of the most challenging aspects of the entire process.
While in some respects it would be nice to slip back into writing for a familiar and established character, one for whom you have already developed a back story, motivations and relationships, in this case (all spoilers aside) it simply wasn’t an option. This new book required a new Lead, someone who could view the landscape with fresh eyes, less attuned to the political intricacies and moral ambiguities than Peter Lowe, the anti-hero of Escape To Perdition. I needed someone who could fill the role of a Stranger in a Strange Land, someone above the political intrigue and dark deeds that typify the espionage genre, and desperate to remain so. Rather than a repentant spy, ashamed of himself and his work in an unseen and murderous underworld, the story called for an honourable character, used to fighting his battles in more open territory; unwilling to be corrupted by the seedy world he has been thrust into, but slowly being overpowered by it nonetheless.
One of the questions I was often asked after my first book was how much of ‘me’ was there in the main character, and the truth is a sometimes disappointing ‘bits and pieces.’ Peter Lowe certainly shares my tastes in sixties music and fashion, and I can certainly give in to the occasional foul mood and desire for the odd tipple, but the character wasn’t intended as some sort of literary reflection. Besides which, I’m not sure a thriller about a balding writer with an ever expanding waistline, would make for good reading… If I’m honest, I’m guilty of peppering several characters with a few more ‘bits and pieces’ of myself and that’s true as well of The Prague Ultimatum’s chief protagonist, Captain Lincoln Stone, though I hope not in a self-serving or obtrusive way.
Though the story is fictional, it draws heavily on the political realities of today’s world, with the tensions and crises that occupy it very much present, whether in the form of international terrorism, populism or political instability. As must we all, Stone has little choice but to adapt to these tensions if he is to survive and move on, and he does so by falling back on his military training and experience. But as precarious as the international situation fast becomes, nothing is as important to Stone as the personal crisis he daily struggles with, having been unfairly scapegoated by his government and desperate to prove his honour to the world, and more importantly, to his son.
Putting together a new cast of characters is always a challenge; trying to keep them fresh and engaging enough to hold the reader’s interest and carry the story often feels a somewhat gargantuan task. The rewards though, when reading a kind review or listening to people’s reactions to characters, speak for themselves, and hard though it sometimes it, it’s a challenge I hope I never tire of.
And while Captain Stone fast becomes an essential cog in the mix, I hope his reactions and motivations reflect those of a good many readers in coming to terms with the issues of the day.
‘The Prague Ultimatum’ can be pre-ordered from:-
Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/the-prague-ultimatum/
‘Escape to Perdition’ is available to buy from:-
Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/escape-to-perdition/
Twitter – @JamesSilvester