1. Mr. Grimsdale, thank you for this opportunity to have you on my blog. Your newest thriller, Battlefield 4: Countdown to War, came out on December 1. What is it like writing a book based on a world renowned video game series like Battlefield?
Quite daunting as the game’s own canvas is so huge. The book has to feel like it matches up to the ambition of the game. My approach was to get an early look at the game script and select a key character from it to build a novel around. The Shanghai-based CIA agent Lazlo Kovic had wonderful potential so I went for him. Also, his role in an early stage of the game meant that I was able to develop an entire backstory for him and the game narrative so the book would complement the game without replicating it.
Even more challenging, I only had a four month window between being shown the game script and characters and the date of publication. So I had to get moving!
Fortunately, DICE the designers and EA who publish the Battlefield games have given me a great deal of creative room to come up with the story and characters of my own. So I really feel like I am writing my own book with some characters and a few events that I’ve borrowed.
2. How have the fans of the videogame reacted to Battlefield 4?
So far so good. As it’s a prequel to the game I was keen for a couple of gamer friends who were into the Battlefield franchise to get an early look at it before they got their hands on the actual game. They were pretty blown away – but maybe they were being polite.
But like Battlefield 3 – The Russian, the previous game book that I did with Andy McNab, it is designed to work as a standalone novel you can enjoy without ever going near the game. Several people who liked my previous books, Perfect Night and Just Watch Me found these just as satisfying.
3. A word of advice for new writers?
Don’t lose heart – keep going, get to the end. Don’t be afraid of showing your work to others as you go and be open to criticism – providing it’s of the constructive kind. Don’t work in isolation. Read it out loud – especially the dialogue, then you’ll know if it sounds believable. Plunder your own life experiences. In any scene you write where there’s some kind of crisis or conflict ask yourself – what would I do, and then what would my father/sister/brother etc do?
Avoid a setting that is going to need enormous amounts of research. My first book was inspired by a diary of a filming trip I did and I set the book in a working environment I knew well.
Don’t spend too long reading books about how to write. Spend time reading and re reading opening chapters of favourite books until you’ve really understood how they are laid out, how character and action are intervoven, how useful dialogue is for setting the scene and revealing character.
Don’t start out imagining you are going to make actual money even if you get published. I have another life as a TV producer which is a more regular income. Very few writers I know do it for the money and those that try to make it their primary source of income have a very hard time. Of course if you break through all that can change. And the wonderful thing about the world of the novel is no one knows what’s going to make that breakthrough next.
My first novel Perfect Night – I didn’t know what I was doing, I just kept writing until it started to become clear (with the help of two or three kind people who read what I was going). Only once I was 10k words in did I realize I was writing a thriller and that imposed certain conditions – like I couldn’t have thirty page flashbacks and the plot had to absolutely stack up, that there had to be a really surprising dénouement that rewarded the readers’ commitment.
The first draft is like undercoat, so don’t obsess about getting it right. Press on and come back when you’ve gotten further down the track and are clearer about your characters and your story.
Desire to write is more important that learning. I’ve come across some really smart people with amazing education who are terrible writers!
4. What are your thoughts on the latest publishing industry developments, mainly the rise of the self-publishing?
Good luck to all. I think there will be a of publishing giants and self publishers will coexist. The most useful thing publishers can offer is editing, so if they don’t have talented editors there’s not much point being with them. Self publishing is great if you are prepared to do all the extra work that entails. It may come to be that more books appear first as self-published and then get picked up if they fly. I like being with a great publisher (Orion) as their editors are wonderful all they do by way of production and distribution leaves me free to concentrate on the writing.
5. What have you learned during the writing process of crafting a novel?
I’m still learning! Each one is an experiment and I’m on my fifth now. Write the book you really want to write. Don’t use any words that aren’t in common currency. Elmore Leonard said ‘no one skips dialogue’; it must sound authentic. You can only allow yourself one coincidence and that must be pretty near the start. Plot is the servant of character. The Mr Big bad guy in Battlefield 4 has to have a something in his personality that compels him to take the world into global war.
6. How do you interact with your fans? What is something significant you have learned from them?
I wish I did more interaction. The best experience was attending a couple of book clubs where they had read one of my novels. As I write thrillers I was very struck by someone saying a good thriller was like a puzzle you had to solve. It’s always good to know that people have even read to the end. Its also useful if painful to hear what they didn’t like. The learning never stops.
7. What are your writing habits?
Terrible! I don’t have a routine. I look for all kinds of work avoidance like roaming the internet, catching up on news headlines. And then I start to panic and get down to it.
8. What are your favorite pastimes?
Talking to my wife and kids, watching movies and box sets with them.
9. What is your next book going to be about?
There are two on the go. One is about a single dad who is also an assassin. The other is about a woman who killed her brother when she was a child.