Tell us about The Kill List
It is the story of a dangerous Al-Qaeda man who preaches sermons on the internet to convert and influence young Muslims to kill for Allah. The Americans decide he is a terrorist and a Marine officer is sent to track him down. His name is on the Kill List.
Is there such a thing as a Kill List?
There is. It is a list of names the Americans believe are terrorists; people who are condemned to death.
Where did you hear about it?
My curiosity was piqued by the increase in drone attacks that were killing top Al-Qaeda people in the Middle East, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. I began to question how the Americans found these people. The answers I received pointed to the large network of counter-terrorism, involving money paid to informers. Then during the course of my research someone asked me if I knew about the Kill List. I started interviewing more people, who put me on to others with information. I didn’t receive official confirmation that the Kill List exists but I know it does. I learnt this unofficially.
You must have friends in really high places?
I actually prefer saying I have friends in low places. I call these people part of my ‘secret world’. In fact they function like terrorists — their services are all underground, they are always invisible but they do exist.
How much research do you put into your books?
I do at least six months of research on every book, during which time I travel the world and have in-depth interviews with people. For The Kill List, I visited Washington, Virginia and Somalia (Mogadishu). All the passages concerning Mogadishu are real. I had read two books about Somalia. I didn’t believe what was written so decided to go there and check it out myself. There’s a lot about Pakistan in the book but I didn’t go there. I had visited the country earlier during research for another book so I had my notes. Besides, I spoke to a friend who knows a lot about Pakistan and his inputs were helpful.
How important is research today?
It is necessary for thriller writers to be as accurate as possible when writing. Readers know so much and can corroborate facts very easily. If they read something and realise it is inaccurate, they lose faith in the writer. A lot of authors these days pretend to write about places they have never visited. 50 years back you could do this and get away with it. You can’t do that now. I used to be quite extreme in my research when I started out. Now I am too old for it.
While researching my third book, The Dogs Of War, I had gone to Hamburg posing as a South African interested in buying weapons. This was just after the translation of The Day Of The Jackal had released in German. At a traffic light, one of the dealers happened to glance into a bookstore where one of my books displayed there, had fallen over. The back cover of the book had a picture of the South African he had been dealing with...my picture. Luckily for me, a British spy, also an undercover agent, called and tipped me off that my cover was blown. He told me to leave immediately. I did. There have been similar occasions but I have managed to get around them. Those days it was harder to get information from people like him, but now it is easier. Now, I get my information from the other side, the law abiding side.
Is it difficult getting information, particularly classified information, from your sources?
Broadly speaking, most people in law enforcement like talking about their jobs. They feel under-appreciated. They don’t officially share classified information, often I have to deduce it. Whatever I learn unofficially, I put it in my words, like I am saying ‘this is true’ and ‘this exists’. If I have written something that could be dangerous, I take those pages to my friends in the secret world. If they have a problem with what I have written, I change it.
Have you ever receive death threats…from people who recognised themselves in the book?
I’m sure most people recognised themselves. They grumble. They don’t like what they read. The only death threats I’ve received were handwritten and I figured if you were a professional who wanted to kill me, you wouldn’t write a letter.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
Keep the day job. The difference between the numbers of people who try and those who succeed is very large. If you’re writing for money, quit your regular job only if you have been successful over a period of time If you are writing to make money, only if you are a success over a period of time.
Do you write for money?
Yes. I make no bones about it. I have no message to give to the human race. I write for a living.
The Kill List will be released in September.
Tell us about The Kill List
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