Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tom Cain on Carver, MI6, and Nukes

AUDIOBOOKS TODAY:  What about your background led to your writing The Accident Man, No Survivors, Assassin, Dictator, and Carver?
TOM CAIN: Leaving aside the question of my protagonist Carver’s character, the single biggest influence was my journalistic background, just because of all the places I’d been to, the stories I’d covered, the people I’d met and the experience I had in researching information. It also gave me the discipline of being economical in my writing, getting to the point and moving on. Helps me cut my words, too, when it’s time to edit! I’m also influenced by the fact that my father was a diplomat with strong intelligence links (though he was not in MI6 itself). He was posted to Moscow, Washington DC and Havana. He spent several years working on the Joint Intelligence Committee, which is essentially the clearing-house for intelligence and analysis within the British government. So that was literally in my blood.
Q: Interesting. Now, you postulate that there is quite a potential arsenal of missing Russian nuclear material out there, as does Alex Berenson in “The Silent Man.” What research have you done which makes this postulation plausible, and also terrifying?
A: Well, this gets us to the whole issue of where research and reality end, and fiction and imagination begin. The simple, true fact is that a Russian general Alexander Lebed, the former National Security Adviser to Russias President Yeltsin, gave an interview to the 60 Minutes TV show which aired in September 1997. In this interview he stated, unambiguously, that the Russian had lost track of around 100 small-scale nuclear devices. This was at a time when vast amounts of former Soviet arms and materiel were being sold off by Russian military personnel and the possibility of nukes falling into terrorist hands was very real. Both the US and Russian governments promptly denied Lebeds claims and there have been no official reports of any such nukes being sold on the black market, or uncovered by any security forces anywhere. So if I were reporting Lebeds claims as a journalist, I would be properly skeptical. But as a thriller-writer, my immediate reaction is, well, what if Lebed were right? I’m interested in exploring possibilities, following trains of thought and information to a conclusion I determine. This is exactly analogous to my feelings about Princess Diana’s death. I don’t know what really happened, though I have reason to doubt whether the official UK inquest was an entirely unbiased process. But since Diana thought she was going to be killed, and millions of people believed she had been, I was interested in exploring that possibility. As important as research is, I think it’s very important for fiction writers not to be hidebound by it. In the words of John Grisham, It’s just fiction, folks.
Q: Thank God. Of course many recent novels have exploited the fact that radical Islamic extremists hope to nuke the West. “The Silent Man” falls into this category. What I like about your take on it is the offbeat nature of involving radical Christian elements in the plot, although, of course, most radical preachers in the States are more interested in separating their fleeced flock from their wallets. What hubris your messianic wacko shows in wanting to complete “God’s work” for Him! Just like the Islamic terrorists, too, isn’t he? And funny too.
A: I’m glad you see the (sick, dark) humor in Waylon McCabe, the fundamentalist lunatic who wanted to kick-start Armageddon. In my original concept for the book, he was going to be a US President and Carver was going to assassinate him. But then an American publisher–not my current one, I should add–said, “You can’t have your hero killing the president of the United States!” (A British princess, fine: an American president, not so much.) So then he became a man facing his own mortality and wanting to take the rest of the world with him. Hes also a man whom Carver has failed to kill a few years earlier, so Carver is in a sense responsible for his subsequent crimes. One of the other subjects of the book is the extraordinary reluctance of the US establishment (UK too) to confront the seriousness of the terrorist threat before 9/11: as late as 2001 the US Commission on National Security made no mention of al-Qaeda in its reports on the security issues facing the nation. But it seemed too obvious to have nukes falling into Islamic hands. And since there was a genuine concern on the part of the FBI in the run up to the Millennium that radical Christian groups might try to bring about the Rapture to coincide with the year 2000, I thought I’d flip expectations and give the nuke to a Christian. I should state, however, that the reason McCabe wants to destroy the world is not because he’s a Christian, but because he’s a maniac. His religious beliefs merely provide a context within which his madness can run wild.
Q: Right. Benny Hinn has no nukes. Yet. Again, thank God. Now, Carver has some spectacular falls in NO SURVIVORS. Do you have a fear of falling yourself?
A: Funny you should mention that! I do have a problem with heights, as it happens, and I trace it back to an extraordinary incident in my youth. Apparently, when I was about two years old, I told my parents that I could fly and, before they could stop me, threw myself from a second-story window in our Moscow apartment block. I landed head-first on the concrete below but luckily, due to my very thick skull and the rubbery softness of infant bones, no harm was done. Still, I’ve hated anything like diving, skiing, climbing, let alone parachute-jumping ever since. Though, that said, I wasn’t consciously thinking of that when I hurled Carver from a burning plane!
Q: Who would you choose to play Carver in a movie version, giving the chance?
A: True story: when I first started work on The Accident Man, in 2004, the image I had in mind of Carver was taken from an actor I’d seen in the first Lara Croft Tomb raider movie. His name was Daniel Craig. And as a private joke I named my hero Daniel Carver. But then Craig got cast as James Bond (the first of many bizarre coincidences between Accident Man and the film of Casino Royale, incidentally), so I had to get a new look. So then I thought of him as being a bit like Christian Bale–who promptly became Batman, and more recently John Connor in a Terminator movie. If I had to pick a star now, I guess it would be Hugh Jackman, but only if he found a way to make himself a little less damn handsome. Sorry, ladies, but Samuel Carver ain’t quite that pretty!
Q: John Lee is both appropriate and believable as your character’s narrator. Any communication between you two, and do you listen to many audiobooks yourself?
A: I haven’t had any contact with John Lee, though I think he does a fine job. In fact, I know he does because I recently got a message from a major American literary agent saying how much she’d enjoyed The Accident Man CDs, though shed been forced to turn off the torture scenes when driving into Manhattan because they made it impossible concentrate on the road! As for listening to audiobooks myself, I have to confess that the ones I’ve listened to most have been those that my children have grown up with, notably Stephen Fry’s amazing readings of the Harry Potter series, Alan Bennett reading the Wind in the Willows and Martin Fry reading the Just William stories (these are all very English, I’m afraid). For my own part, I have a professional, technical interest in how an author constructs their work, word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence, page-by-page, so I like to be able to see that in front of me. But for anyone who wants to be entertained by a book, the flexibility of audiobooks–the fact that you can be doing something else as well as listening–is fantastic and a great blessing to authors who now have another medium for their work.



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