Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Search Is Free Today

Search is free on Kindle today. Hard to beat that as an offer.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Search Is Published

For the last few months, I have been working on something a bit different from the 'Death Force' series. Search is a techo-thriller, much close in spirit to the early thrillers I wrote, but bang up-to-date. It is a story about a guy called Luke Turner, who suddenly inherits £20 million from a half-brother he never met. The plot revolves around his determination to find out where the money came from. I will be blogging about it a lot more in the next few weeks, but for today just wanted to mention that it is out - and you can ever buy a copy.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

An Olympic Thriller….

The Olympics will be the biggest event in London in most of our lifetimes. Thousands of athletes, tens of thousands of spectators, and most of the world’s leaders, all gathering in the same place. But it will be something else as well - probably the greatest single terrorist target in the UK in recent history. We’ve already seen lots of stuff in the papers about the planning by the security forces. Missile bases on roof tops across East London. Speed boats on the Thames. Hundreds of extra police and soldiers flooding the area. And that is just the stuff they are telling us about. No doubt there is a lot more going on behind the scenes. So it seemed to me a natural subject for a thriller. What if there was a terror plot to destroy the opening ceremony? And what if there was a sleeper within the security forces themselves? A man who had stayed hidden for years, who would strike when the moment was right. That was the starting point for my new e-book ‘Black Ops: Olympics’. The great thing about the new brand of e-novella like this one is that you can rip them straight from the headlines, and get them out to people while an issue is still topical. It worked for Black Ops: Libya. And I’m sure it will work for this book as well.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Location, Location, Location

In the estate agency business, they always say location, location, and location are the three most important factors when choosing a house. I’m starting to think the same thing may apply to writing a thriller as well.

I’ve just published the second in Black Ops series of e-novellas – Black Ops: El Dorado, the follow-up to Black Ops: Libya. Thriller locations, and indeed plots, have a tendency to be all the same. The Middle East. Russian gangsters. Al-Queda terrorists. Plots to blow up the White House. To be honest, we’ve read most of them already.

But a few months ago, I read a story in the New York Times about how the drugs cartels in Columbia had switched from cultivating cocaine to illegal gold mining – because the gold price was now so high it was more profitable for them.

Gold? Drugs cartels? Illegal mining?

What more could a thriller writer ask for?

All of a sudden I had a really original location for a short action-adventure story.

And one that hadn’t been done to death already.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Real Cold War

I did a blog for The Spectator last week about setting Ice Force in the Arctic, but for anyone who missed it, here it is again.

The Cold War produced some of the great classics of British spy fiction. From the gadgets and babes with exotic Eastern European accents of the James Bond books, to the non-stop action of Alistair MacLean or the dark treachery of John Le Carre and the intricate office politics of Len Deighton, it served as the perfect vehicle for just about every type of story a writer could imagine. More scenes were set in the few yards around Checkpoint Charlie than anyone could keep track of.
But now there is a new type of cold war – one that is more literal than metaphorical. The Arctic is perhaps the most compelling region in the world to set a thriller in 2012 – which is why I chose to set my new novel ‘Ice Force’ in the frozen wastelands around the North Pole.
What makes a great location for a thriller? Well, there needs to be intrigue, of course. And conflict as well. The Arctic has plenty of both. The world’s last great untapped reserves of oil lie under the Arctic Ocean – about 25% of the world’s remaining fossil fuels, according to the latest estimates. But who owns it? For the last few hundred years, no one cared very much. There was nothing out there, apart from a few polar bears. Now everyone wants a share. The Russians claim that much of the Arctic is their territory, and have been provocatively planting flags wherever they can. The Americans – via Alaska – claim a chunk. So do the Canadians. And so do the Danes (via Greenland).
And oil, of course, is power in today’s world. Russia is already the largest oil producer in the world, pumping 10.5 million barrels a day. Add together its existing domestic production with all the oil potentially in the Arctic, and the Kremlin would effectively control the world’s energy supply. Nor would it be afraid to use it. Vladimir Putin has already shown he regards oil as just another weapon in big power politics. It is no great surprise then that the race for the Arctic oil has been described as ‘the new great game’.
Next, some hardship helps. The more rugged the terrain the greater the test you are setting for your characters – and the more peril you can put them in. Nowhere in the world is rougher than the Arctic. The temperatures drop to fifty or sixty below zero. Ice forms inside your sleeping bag as you sleep. Water freezes inside its bottles, and engines have to be re-heated bolt by bolt with blow torches before they will start. The ice breaks up, creating ravines where you can fall into the freezing water. It is the most brutal, inhospitable place on earth.
Finally, your setting needs to be different. What readers really want is to be transported somewhere different. To go somewhere they’ve never been before, and may indeed never get to. To be taken to a different world. Easyjet can fly us most places for a few pounds. Not to the North Pole. It really is a completely different place, and one of the pleasures of reading a thriller set there is that you get to learn about the terrain, and how to survive it.
It ticked all the right boxes. The research was fascinating, and an education in itself. The weather is more likely to kill you than your enemy. Nothing works. You need a specially adapted gun, for example. Wearing thick gloves your finger won’t fit into the trigger, but if you touch metal with your bare fingers they will drop off. So you need the right sort of gun (the Swedish Army specialises in them, in case you were wondering). Or else you need to saw off the underside of the trigger. Even then, you need an array of special oils to keep your weapons working. You need to wear night-vision goggles through the long Arctic winter. For half the year, there is practically no light. And you need to watch out for the animals. Polar bears have a great sense of smell, and they are always hungry. They will creep up on you – and their hides are so well insulated, only a few traces of their breath will be visible on your night-vision equipment. If you do get into a scrap with one, though, thump them from the right – polar bears are left-handed, so that is their weaker side.
There North Pole might never become as familiar to thriller readers as Checkpoint Charlie was. But in the next few years it might well become a small genre of its own – and rather like Robert Peary, it is nice to have got there first.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

What People Actually Read

If you look at the Kindle chart and the traditional charts, you’ll notice something quite interesting. They aren’t at all similar. The UK Kindle chart today is topped by Phil Rickman, who is hardly a household name, followed by Damon Galgut and Kerry Wilkinson. The physical chart is led by the latest Wimpy Kid, followed by Jamie Oliver, Lee Evans and Michael Connolly.

Why is that, I wonder? After all, these are all books. Of course you can probably discount Wimpy Kid and Jamie Oliver. Most kids don’t have e-readers yet and cookbooks aren’t a natural for the Kindle. Even so, if you look at the Kindle charts, the ‘big authors’ don’t do so well. PD James and Kathryn Stockett are in the Top 10 and Patricia Cornwell in the Top 20. But heavily hyped writers like James Paterson don’t really do that well. In my own corner of the market, military adventure, I don’t sell as well as Chris Ryan and Andy McNab in the bookshops, but on Kindle I am regularly out-selling them.

One reason might be that the Kindle audience is slightly different from the mainstream audience. It is probably slightly more male – hence the number of thrillers in the chart – and a bit more techie. It may also be more adventurous in its taste.

But the real reason, I suspect, is because it is a much more level playing field. Some books get more push than others online of course. But going into the Kindle store is nothing like going into a bookshop, and nothing at all like the books section of a supermarket. The choice is vast, there are no in-your-face promotions, and word-of-mouth (in the form of reader reviews) is everywhere.

So what we see on the Kindle chart may well be a far better guide to what people actually want to read. I’m not sure the publishers have quite realised that yet though.

Monday, 28 November 2011

How Many Kindles Are Out There?

At the moment, I’m spending a lot of time setting up my new digital publishing venture, Endeavour Press. One of the things that interests me is, how many Kindles are out there. Amazon reported today that over the holiday weekend in the US it had sold four times as many Kindles as it did last year. But, rather irritatingly, it doesn’t actually say how many.

Figures are surprisingly hard to come by. For 2010, the estimates from the analysts are that five to eight million Kindles were sold. Let’s take a median figure, and called it 6.5 million. If Amazon has quadrupled those sales this time around – and based on anecdotal evidence, that sounds realistic – then it should sell around 26 million this year.

Add in the 2010 sales, and, after Xmas there could be 32 million Kindles out there globally. That’s about half the population of the UK. More significantly, I bet nearly all of those people are keener than average readers. After all, there isn’t much point in getting one if you only read on James Patterson book a year. You need to be a 5-10 books a year minimum reader to make the investment worthwhile.

So what proportion of heavy book readers will have a Kindle by 2012? I’d estimate about 40%. That’s what makes this market so fascinating.