The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Adam Hamdy

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Adam Hamdy

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Summary: Battalion is an action-packed adventure set some twenty yeas into the future. It's a thriller in the true sense of the word and we'd only just caught our breaths after finishing the book when author Adam Hamdy popped in to see us.
Date: 23 October 2012
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Battalion is an action-packed adventure set some twenty yeas into the future. It's a thriller in the true sense of the word and we'd only just caught our breaths after finishing the book when author Adam Hamdy popped in to see us.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Adam Hamdy: I thought Battalion was going to be popular with young men who like intelligent action, but have been surprised to find the book has much broader appeal. Men and women of all ages really enjoy it. I think the main character, Scott Pierce, is someone people can connect to. He's flawed and damaged, but is still trying to do the right thing – like most of us. Unlike most of us, Pierce is possessed of some exceptional skills. I think readers are also engaged by the near future setting – it's a scary vision of what may come and seems to stimulate a lot of thought and discussion.

  • BB: What was the inspiration behind Battalion?

AH: Battalion was a reaction to the direction of contemporary spy books and films. Growing up, I loved Fleming's Bond, Le Carre's Smiley, Clancy's Ryan, and Harris's Kabakov. Those characters were always up against incredible odds and were taking on villains who were bent on changing the world with an ambitious grand plan. Nowadays, the prevailing wisdom is that the grand plan is dead. Most publishers or movie studios believe that villains who are set upon changing the world are too 'arch' or caricatured, which is why many espionage novels and films deal with smaller, more contained, or personal stories. I believe the problem isn't that readers and audiences won't buy a grand plan. I think that the grand plans they've been presented with have absolutely no bearing on people's lives. If one thinks about the truly great spy novels, most of them dealt with the prevailing politics of the era – The Cold War. Rather than shy away from world events, writers used them as a source of inspiration for great fiction.

It's become almost taboo to explore terrorism in the same way authors used to write about the Cold War. Many writers I know now say the same thing – if you want freedom to experiment and tackle seemingly risky subjects, write for television. The success of shows such as 24 and Homeland show that if handled correctly fictional stories about terrorism can be extremely popular. The collision of various forms of extremism is the biggest international political issue we face, and it seems absurd to ignore it or shy away from it in fiction. Maybe because political extremism has become tied to religious extremism people are scared of offending faith – but that in itself is a development that is surely worthy of comment. The growing link between politics and religion is disturbing and I wanted to tackle it by looking at how our world might change if we make a few poor decisions in the next few years. That's a long-winded way of saying that I wanted to create a villain and a plot that were extrapolations of the world we live in. Once I'd had that idea, I set about creating a protagonist worthy of living at the heart of the story – and I think Scott Pierce is up to the job.

I set the book in the near future for a few reasons. I wanted to give myself more latitude to make the world even more extreme than ours, and to spark readers' imaginations and encourage them think about just how close we are to the world of Battalion. Another reason for the near-future setting was to indulge my inner teenager. One of the best things about a Bond film used to be the gadgets. The trouble is that in the contemporary world, we're all James Bonds. We can all get access to GPS, smartphones, and laser watches. Well, maybe not the laser watches, but my point is still valid – we've become almost impossible to impress because technology is ubiquitous. By setting the book in the near future I gave myself the freedom to invent new kinds of technology and bring back some of the marvel and magic of the espionage novel.

  • BB: I read a lot of books where I'm aware that the author has done a great deal of research before starting to write. But there are some books where the author knows a great deal and hasn't felt the need to shoehorn in every bit of research - 'Battalion' is very firmly in the latter category. How much research did you do - and how much came from your own background?

AH: I did a lot of research on most aspects of the book, but don't believe in having to show how thorough I've been. In my opinion, the writer's job is to draw the reader into the world and give him or her a firm enough footing to feel comfortable navigating it. On the page, excessive research can become tedious and can break the flow of the narrative. The best books are immersive experiences – they draw you in to such an extent that no matter how tired or busy you are, you find yourself saying, Just one more page.

Even though the Federal Security Agency is a fictional creation, I researched the FBI and CIA thoroughly to understand what would happen if those agencies merged. It's something that has been mooted on Capitol Hill on a number of occasions. All the technology and weapons are extrapolations of existing theoretical or lab technology. As for the characters, throughout my career I've been lucky enough to meet some very interesting people, including ex-Special Forces personnel, who were invaluable for some of the operational aspects of the book. In terms of the Middle-East connection, I spent some of my childhood in Cairo, which I think has helped give the book a sense of authenticity.

  • BB: How come you know New York quite so well and how much difficulty did you have is visualising how it would be in twenty years' time?

AH: I've spent a lot of time in Manhattan, and what I couldn't remember I was able to revisit with the help of Google Earth. Visualizing the city involved trying to understand the micro-level impacts of the world I'd created – a global energy shortage, the ever-present threat of violence, and an over-stretched military.

  • BB: As I read I kept thinking 'this would make a BRILLIANT movie'. Do you have any plans in that direction?

AH: I'd love to see a movie version. If enough people feel the same way, it will probably happen. It's an intelligent action story with a great central character – one that an actor could really sink his teeth into.

  • BB: Where did you learn to write like that? And how long did it take you to write 'Battalion'?

AH: I've been writing creatively since I was a child, and have been screenwriting for the best part of a decade. I've always wanted to take a crack at a novel but have been daunted by the process of writing a book. I finally faced up to my fears and Battalion was the result.

Questions about time are always difficult. It took me over a year to get the detailed story outline worked out, but once that was done, it took me exactly 30 days to write the book. I set myself a target of 3,000 words per day and stuck to it diligently. So take your pick – over a year, or 30 days.

  • BB: Where and how do you write? With or without music?

AH: Always with music. Battalion was written to Hospital Mix 7, which is a Drum & Bass album mixed by Danny Byrd. The 140 beats per minute might explain why the pace of the book never lets up.

  • BB: How important are books to you? Which ones have influenced you most and what are you reading at the moment?

AH: Books are extremely important to me. I used to consume novels and as a teenager would often read a book a day. I would stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning to finish the latest Stephen King, or Tom Clancy, or spend the whole weekend reading Conan Doyle. I was the clichéd teenager who would bring a book to the dinner table. My habit is a little less extreme now, although I am in the middle of a binge on Hollywood biographies.

My biggest influences are John Wyndham, Alexander Dumas, Stephen King, Michael Crichton, Ian Fleming, David Eddings, Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, David Mitchell, Hunter S Thompson, John Le Carre, James Herbert, Iceberg Slim, and Tom Clancy. It's a long and eclectic list, but all those writers have had a real impact on my life. The book that has influenced me most is probably the Count of Monte Cristo.

I'm currently reading a new and as yet unpublished novella by a friend of mine, Adam Sydney. It's called Something's Wrong and it's his third book. His first two books, My Heart is a Drummer, and Yolanda Polanksi and the Bus to Sheboygan are unique, heart-warming experiences, so I have high hopes for this one.

  • BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?

AH: If I tell you, it won't come true.

  • BB: What's next for Adam Hamdy?

AH: I also write and direct films, and my first feature, Pulp, will be released in early 2013. I'm currently working on a couple of very exciting feature film projects that I'm hoping to shoot in 2013 and 2014. I've got the next Scott Pierce novel prepped and planned in detail, so now it's just a question of finding time to write it.

What's immediately next is for me is to say thanks to all the Bookbag readers who've taken the time to read this interview, and thanks to Bookbag for having me on the site

  • BB: The pleasure has been all ours, Adam and good luck with all those exciting projects.

You can read more about Adam Hamdy here.

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