10 Questions with Brian Freemantle
1. Mr. Freemantle, thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for my blog. Your new spy thriller, RED STAR FALLING, came out today. Tell us a bit more about this book.
RED STAR RISING is the third in the Red Star trilogy. Each book is a self-contained and seemingly complete novel connected by the death-if-discovered secret marriage of Charlie Muffin, a maverick agent in Britain’s M15 counterintelligence service, to Natalia Fedova, a general in what was Russia’s KGB, now its renamed FSB intelligence agency. In the first, RED STAR RISING, a KGB plot initiated 20 years earlier virtually to install a Russian president in the American Oval Office runs parallel with Charlie’s desperate efforts to get Natalia and their daughter, Sasha, out of Russian. In the second, RED STAR BURNING, Charlie is set up by M16, the UK’s external intelligence agency, to be the diversion for the FSB deputy chairman’s defection from Mosow. Charlie escapes intended assassination by his own side but surrenders himself as a diversionary sacrifice to the FSB in RED STAR FALLING to enable Natalia and Sasha to escape to England.Chalie possesses 30 years of Western intelligence secrets, which makes him far too valuable to kill. He begins to work out another infiltration plot under bizarre FSB psychological interrogation. But he doesn’t know that his and Natalaia’s positions are reversed and that now Natalia is working to get him out of Russian. Or what his final discovery will be, if she succeeds.
2. Who is Charlie Muffin and how did you go about creating his character?
Charlie Muffinn is the sort of man that crowds are made of, the perfect spy. The baggy suits are store-bought and he always wears spread-apart Hush Puppies to ease the discomfort of awkwardly flat feed that throb warningly in moments of stress. He doesn’t conform to rules or authority and he’s despised by his public school colleagues, which is fine by Charlie because he doesn’t resent condescension: he uses it to his advantage. And to survive.
3. What kind of research did you do for RED STAR FALLING? How much of what you write about spy agents is fiction and how much is fact?
I have over many years been given considerable professional intelligence tradecraft guidance. One such professional was James Jesus Angleton, the legendary CIA counterintelligence officer. Another was the KGB’s general Kalenin who admitted devising assassination plots. During research for a non-fiction book THE FIX I went undercover in Colombia on conditions of agency anonymity to identify every major cocaine baron. One, Jose O’Campo, took out a murder contract upon me – offering one kilo of pure cocaine for a successful hit – when I went throughout America on a publicity tour. Before becoming a full time author I was the Foreign Editor of the London Daily Mail and during the Cold War I was approached to be a spy – an agent of influence – by the then KGB controlled intelligence services of Poland and Hungary. I refused.
4. Have you gotten any reaction to your novels from the MI5 and/or other intelligence services?
I have been congratulated by officials of both M15 and M16.The only available advanced copy of my non-fiction book KGB was stolen by the KGB at the Frankfurt book fair. As a journalist I managed to get into the then Czechoslovakia soon after the 1967 invasions of the country to expose the suppression of the Prague Spring and for several years afterwards I was banned from the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries.
5. Why do you write? Why spy thrillers?
It’s my job, the way I earn my living, as journalism was my job before I changed careers. I write spy thrillers because I like the genre, know a lot about espionage and can use that knowledge to make my books authentic.
6. A word of advice for new writers?
Never, ever, give up if you want badly enough to be a writer. Before I published my first novel, GOODBYE TO AN OLD FRIEND, in 1973 I wrote 16 full length books, each of which was rejected by a total of 15 British publishers. GOODBYE TO AN OLD FRIEND was my 17th book and I would have continued trying if that hadn’t been successful.
7. How does a prolific writer like you keep track of all the plots and storylines, so that you do not end up repeating them?
RED STAR FALLING will be my 87th book. Sometimes I have found myself repeating phrases that have appealed to me but never a complete plot line.One of the attractions of spy writing is that the plot potentials are so diverse. I do a great deal of reworking and re-reading when I’m wriring. I begin every day by re-reading what I’ve written the previous day. And I usually stop a quarter way through to re-read and revise, halfway through to re-read and revise, three quarters of the way through and so on. And then, of course, I re-read the whole manuscript when the first draft is completed. It would be difficult not to remember if I’d written something like it before. So far it hasn’t happened, anyway.
8. What do you enjoy the most about writing?
Having an idea that doesn’t immediately mean anything but then molding it into something that works. Let me give you an example. I read an article a few years back about global warming causing previously solid permanent to melt. I had this imagery of something sticking up from ground that had remained rock hard for years. At first the person who sees it thinks it’s an exposed branch of a tree until he looks closer and sees it’s a man’s arm. The arm is dressed in a British uniform. What’s it mean? How did it get there? Who is he? I kicked it around in my head and eventually that sticking up arm became the genesis of DEAD MEN LIVING and ICE AGE.
9. What are your favorite pastimes?
Reading other people’s books, particularly archeological ones. Archeological articles, too. Theatre and movies. Travelling, particularly to France.
10. What other book(s) are you working on?
I’m some way into a book provisionally entitled CYBER SHEPHERD about intelligence agency use of social networks. I’ve also got a fourth book in mind that would turn the RED STAR trilogy into a quartet. It doesn’t yet have a title.