ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Matthew Dunn is a former member of the British Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6, as a field operative. His role required him to recruit and run agents, coordinate and participate in special operations, and to operate in deep-cover roles throughout the world in order to collect secret intelligence to support the West’s ongoing fight against hostile and unpredictable regimes, state-sponsored terrorism, and the proliferation.
He is also the author of the Spycatcher series, and lives in England
Find Matthew on Facebook.
Of all the book genres, thrillers are the hardest to write.
The reason why is because we have to do what it says on the tin and thrill. And we have to do so for people we’ve never met. That’s not to denigrate other genres and the emotional responses they need to elicit. Mysteries need to engage our curiosity; crime our deductive reasoning; romance our heart; literary novels our landscape of upbringing and awareness. And on it goes.
But thrillers are brutal in their ambition. They require one monumental thing and one thing only - to make the heart pump faster. Get it right and they are the best stories out there. Get it wrong and the reader will throw the book to one side in disgust.
I’m lauded as a former elite spy who knows the subject matter of his writing craft. That’s true, but there is perhaps a misconception about what that means. Spies are not monosyllabic action heroes who are sent on missions and come back home without a care in the world. We’re always spies, wherever we are; at home as well as overseas. We’re a different breed of animal. Often, that is a huge burden.
Spies inhabit a world of their imagination about how things could be. Perhaps we’re dictatorial in our mind set. More than that - fantasists, brave hearts, angels, devils, Machiavellian wanderers, adventurers, and ultimately people our governments hire but never trust.
But for the most part we’re good people who are recruited because we are contrarian. It has to be that way. Spies work alone and do things that would make most special forces soldiers blanch with envy. We have to be independent types. We must view the world with wonder while in danger of capture and execution.
The process of becoming a spy starts in childhood.
When I was a kid I scoured second hand book stores for out of print volumes about adventurers who travelled to far flung parts of the globe and impacted that place, good or bad. I wanted to see the world through the prism of possibilities - canoe along the upper reaches of the Congo and make a difference; parachute into St. Petersburg and enact freedom of thought; berth in Beijing to steal exotic secrets.
So, spies are not dictators; we are missionaries. Clever ones at that, though never think we are your ally or enemy.
All authors start in childhood with wild imaginations. Couple that with being a spy in adulthood and readers have a difficult task to discern what’s going on. Is everything coming out of her mouth true? Has he written this to nudge my thinking in a different direction? Ultimately, what is she or he trying to do to us?
I knew early on that I didn’t like what I saw around me. That may sound arrogant but it’s not. The definition of arrogance pulls in the sense that one looks down on the weak. I’ve never done that. My track record has proven that I’ve always protected the weak against nasty people. And I’ve done so despite severe to absurd jeopardy to my life. I’m also a single parent of a girl and boy. They keep me grounded and I protect and care for them day and night. I know service and duty better than most. But I hate mundanity. That mind set took me into the secret world. My DNA was always constructed differently and I’m an observer and a buccaneer. The allure of the secret world was too great to avoid moving between self-aggrandizing playboys and girls with a pistol in my pocket and an agenda they knew nothing about.
Writing and spying are entwined. When I was a spy I was required to write a report every time I met a foreign asset. Those reports were not anodyne statements of facts. They were flowery, evocative, and I spent time to describe the asset and the surroundings of our meeting.
The lobby of the Hilton in Berlin was abuzz with gorgeous women attending a fashion show, their svelte bodies draped in haute couture garments. My asset walked in, winking at me as he passed three platinum blondes, his white teeth gleaming, jet black hair coiffured, almost everything about him suggesting he was a wealthy sugar daddy to one of the girls. But I’d no idea why he’d decided to ruin the image by wearing garish yellow socks.
For spies, the world is our blank canvas and we paint it as we see it. No doubt we are precise on the minutiae that matters. But the whimsical and curious traits in us can’t help characterizing our work with more flesh on the bone.
We’re raconteurs. It’s ingrained in us.
There’s a deadly serious component to the dark world of espionage and I show that in my books. Many of the horrific things you’ll read in my novels have happened, though I’ve changed the locations. Writing my novels can be a dark wrench on my soul and its memories. But the process is also fun. After all, if I’m not thrilled by my writing, you won’t be.
I’m still at heart the little boy who opened dusty books to read with amazement about unexplored parts of the world. And now, I explore my mind. It’s one hell of an odyssey.
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