defender

Meeting Chris Allen

On Monday night, we held our first online TBYL Event, where we had a chance to chat with author Chris Allen. It was entertaining and informative, a fabulous insight into writing, reading and living an adventurous life.

Here’s how it happened…

TBYL: To start with… the links between yourself, your career and your writing absolutely fascinate me. Could you tell us a little more about how you came to writing, and the relationship that your work has with the stories that you tell?

Chris Allen Typing

Chris: Great question. It’s one of those chicken/egg scenarios I think. I’ve wanted to write from about the age of 14 or 15. I loved action movies and TV shows, obviously the Bond films became my favourites but back then you had to wait for them to be on TV rather than just going out and hiring the (dare I say it) video! So, the only real option for me was to find the books to read in between waiting for Bond movies to appear on TV. As soon as I read Ian Fleming’s ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ – it was in the school library – I was hooked. Then it was a matter of wanting to lead a life that would enable me to write my own stories and one thing led to another…

TBYL: Do you think you would have been able to write the stories that you have without the real-life experiences that you’ve had?

Chris: There are many great authors – past & present – who have not actually led the lives of their protagonists yet they still manage to write fantastic stories. The crux of the issue is that people want to be entertained by the story. The ability to achieve that, the process of conveying the story is different for every writer. In my case, I was eager to get out and see the world and have some adventures of my own with the intent to write about it all at some point. In my case, as an errant teenager, anything I tried to write back then was just drivel. So, I think it was best that I waited for a while. As it turned out, I ended up getting my first book published when I was about the same age that Ian Fleming was when he had Casino Royale published.

TBYL: Did you ever find yourself in the middle of a place, event, adventure and thinking ‘wow, this’ll be a good story’?

Chris: Occasionally I did found myself saying ‘If I live through this I may just write about it!’

TBYL: Your characters are very likeable or loathsome, well developed and stay with you once you’ve finished reading the books. How do you go about building such a believable cast?

Chris: Thanks so much. I’m thrilled to hear that reaction. There are two sides to this. Firstly, I base my principal characters i.e. Alex Morgan and his compadres, on people I actually know very well. For the most part, these are people with whom I’m still very closely connected. So, its easy for me to describe them as they are – as you say, likeable and real. In terms of the loathsome creatures who from time to time inhabit my pages, I’ve also based some of them on people I have personal experience of. Of course, the antagonists really need to be, in my opinion, larger than life. So, I tend to draw of characteristics, attitudes or behaviours I seen in others that I don’t like and then infuse them into the larger than life evil-types who Morgan has to deal with.

TBYL: What do your friends think about being committed to page (the good guys I mean)?

Chris: I think the guys secretly love it, although they do like to chastise me a bit for taking liberties. That said, they’re always keen to tell anyone who’ll listen that they’re the inspiration for this character or that one. It’s funny.

TBYL: How you do set yourself apart from other action and adventure writers?

Chris: Phew! How do I answer that one? I guess, in a contemporary sense, what I’m trying to do with my Intrepid series is write stories that are (I hope) reminiscent of the stories I grew up on while giving them a new edge. Someone recently described my books ‘like an old friend with new stories’ and that really captured it for me. While I want to keep the books as real as possible, I don’t want to be writing training manuals. So, it’s important for me to also maintain the escapism.For example, there are plenty of books out there about the CIA, the FBI, Secret Service, Mossad etc etc but I want readers to be excited about something completely new… a truly international agency that serves the world community, not just one country. That’s why I cam up with Intrepid.

TBYL: I assume that’s why your take your reader to a new location almost every new chapter?

Chris Allen ClovellyChris: Yeah, I like to keep the reader on their toes! It’s important to not only keep the pages moving but, wherever possible, I like to catapult the reader through the chapters. Taking people around the world while they’re sitting on a bus or train immediately gives them that sense of escape. That’s what I enjoy so much about my favourite books. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve missed their train stop on the way to and from work. I love that!

TBYL: Personally, I really like the fact that although your stories are rich with detail, they’re not heavy with ‘specs’. Is this choice to avoid micro-detailed descriptions of weaponry/strategy/etc deliberate?

Chris: You’re spot on about the specs and weaponry. I believe in giving the reader just enough to enable them to make sense of those things so that they can continue to enjoy the story rather than leaving them qualified to actually operate the gear!

TBYL: At about the time of Hunter’s publication, you struck up a new friendship with Momentum Books. Can you tell us a little about this? How are you finding the digital publishing industry?

Chris: I’ve been really fortunate to have found a great publisher to work with on Defender and Hunter. Joel Naoum is the publisher who runs Momentum and it was clear to me right from the outset that he got where I was coming from – the whole ‘old-school meets new-school’ approach I’m taking with the books. So, it made complete sense for me to partner with Momentum under Joel’s stewardship. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Digital publishing is absolutely the future. That said, there are still huge sections of the reading community around the world who prefer to read from the printed/paper page and in my view, as an author you have to address that if you want your work to be read by as many people as possible. After all, if you’re a rock band and you know that half of your potential market still listens to music on vinyl, you’re not going to limit your latest album just to CD or digital. You’re going to get vinyl LPs pressed too! That’s certainly my approach anyway!

TBYL: So what about you? Do you have a preference when you’re reading?

Chris: I fall right in the middle – I love my kindle and it’s full of my old and new favourites, but I still like to pick up a paper book and settle in for a read! The stories are everything. I have all of Conan Doyle’s stories in paperback and eBook. Can’t get enough. In fact it’s much easier to read the full Sherlock Holmes compendium on my kindle than carting around a paperback the size and weight of an average house brick!

TBYL: Do you have plans for Intrepid 3 yet? What can you tell us?

Chris: Ah ha! THE question  Well, I am currently writing the third Alex Morgan adventure which, those of you who’ve read HUNTER will know, is called AVENGER. I don’t want to spoil it by letting on too much but I can assure you that I will be delving much more into Alex Morgan. A lot of readers have told me that they want to know more about him, so I’m really enjoying bringing Alex to life, exploring him as a man not just a secret agent.

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I must extend a huge thank-you to Chris, Sarah and Momentum Books for helping make Intrepid Month happen. I had a fantastic time, and I hope you’ve all been adequately tempted to pick up one of Chris’ books! You wont be disappointed…

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Intrepid Month and the Ten Elements of a Cracking Thriller

As you know, I’m incredibly excited about Intrepid Month being held at TBYL during June. It’s a great chance for us to enjoy some real action-packed reading, from the exciting Chris Allen and his Intrepid series. You can find out more here… but essentially, you’re invited to read either one or both of Chris’ novels Defender, or Hunter and discuss them with us on Facebook, in the last week of June.

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There will also be a chance to chat with Chris on Monday, 24 June 2013, again on Facebook. You’ll find details of the event here… it’s free, online, and promises to be great fun!

As part of Intrepid month, I thought it might be interesting to find out what the man himself thinks goes into the making of a great action/adventure novel, and so today, from the desk of Chris Allen I bring you the Ten Elements of a Cracking Thriller…

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I’ve got to tell you how particularly chuffed I am that it’s Intrepid Month right now at That Book You Like.

The act of writing stories can be less than glamorous – it’s more endless cups of tea and crumbs piling up on the keyboard in a darkened room (aka my writing mancave) than back-to-back launches and book signings with pen poised and a glass of red by my side. So, an entire month that celebrates the fruits of my humble artistic toils through a group Book Club read and Facebook chat is very welcome indeed!

Those days when I am holed up in the mancave, churning out chapters of the latest Alex Morgan espionage adventure as fast as my clumsy two-finger typing skills can manage, I’m not consciously thinking about what makes a cracking thriller. It’s creating my own mix of preferred reading and viewing tastes, past experiences, a reasonable dash of instinct, and an intense need to extract the story from my head and get it onto the page. Then, of course everything is honed during the editing process with my publisher.

Once the books are put out into the world, there does seem – on reflection – to be some shared elements I recognise between my work and those of the other thriller writers I have grown up enjoying.

So, here’s ten elements of a cracking thriller that are important to me when crafting or getting into a new action & adventure yarn. I wonder if you enjoy these or different tactics when you’re getting into a story?

1. A plot that keeps you guessing
The plot has to keep you going at a micro and macro level. I like to write and read stories that keep the narrative moving ahead quickly. Before you know it, you’re well and truly committed to the story because the author has you hooked from the outset.

chris allen new2. Action that compels you to keep reading
You’ve got to need to keep the pages turning. When I hear that someone has missed their train stop or their bus because too busy reading what Alex Morgan is up to, then my job is done. I love to read books that can achieve that for me, too! The idea is to keep the forward movement of the action as relentless as possible. The reader should be almost out of breath at the end of a major action sequence.

3. Characters that you care about
This is something that I am exploring as I immerse myself into the Alex Morgan series. I’d like to let my readers know more about Morgan and other principle characters. There are many writers who are great at this in the action/adventure arena – including my favourites – Fleming, Conan Doyle, Maclean, Higgins, Cussler. Of course, including a little beguiling love interest in each story doesn’t harm the reading experience either.

4. Enough realism to make you wonder, enough escapism to help you forget  
I like stories that make you think, ‘maybe this has really happened’.  For instance, when I created the fictional agency Intrepid, I wanted to give it a sense of real world gravitas but setting it within Interpol, while adding the connection to other major international agencies such as the UN Security Council. In truth the two are not connected but it’s not a stretch to believe that they are, and it also adds a sense of scale to the grand narrative I’m constructing across the series.

5. Enjoyable the second time around
The proof is in the pudding when it comes to great books. You know, the ones that are your favourites because you keep going back to re-read them time and again? I have my favourite stories that I return to and in years to come, I hope to provide that experience for my own readers. Ideally, the aim is to have people enjoy it enough to put a copy on their bookshelf – which is an achievement in an age of eReaders.

6. Classic but contemporary
In my view, the more that an action writer can make something that’s been made a thousand times over seem new and fresh, then the closer you are to achieving that balance between classic and contemporary. Provide the reader with a familiar setting but give them completely new characters and stories to enjoy.

7. Not so much about mass carnage
One thing I’m learning – and it’s a significant lesson – is that readers need more from their characters than their plots. Movies can easily deal with carnage and death on a mass scale, but finding innovative ways for both protagonist and antagonist to outwit each other on the page – in the classic good vs evil struggle – is a complex process. Readers need to be stimulated to be engaged, otherwise they’ll just skipping over the pages until they find a bit that draws them back in. And, if that takes too long, you’ll lose them.

8. An ass-kicking pace
You’ve probably guessed by now, I love action stories. I grew up on them, I’ve read hundreds of them and now I write them. To me, the ultimate adventure is fast paced and furious from beginning to end, but that doesn’t have to just be about the action. The narrative overall must be the literary equivalent pushing a large boulder over the crest of a steep hill. Nothing is going to stop it as it gathers speed and momentum every inch of the way until it comes crashing to a stop at the base of the hill, leaving nothing but anticipation of more to come.

Hunter9. The power to take you places
As a boy my favourite writers transported me from Rossmoyne, our sleepy little corner of Perth, and with the flick of a page landed me on foreign shores in the midst of incredible adventures. I’ve always loved that about books because our imagination drives our experience of the story. It’s up to the author to provide you with the prompts and triggers to enhance that experience.

10. Flawed characters
We can’t all be perfect, and especially not our heroes. There needs to be some level of mystery and uncertainty about our protagonist. We expect the villains to be flawed but writers can focus too much on the baddies while keeping the hero on a pedestal.  I’ve become conscious of this as a writer. Heroes must be at their core, human beings and their lives, attitudes and actions need depth and context. If I can be as objective as possible, sometimes Alex Morgan is so firmly established in my mind’s eye, I have a tendency to allow the baddies live more on the page.  That’s all about to change in Avenger…

What are your thoughts? What’s important when you’re reading a story? I’ll be taking your questions in a live Facebook Chat on Monday 24 June from 7.30pm AEST so would love to get your feedback then. Or leave a comment below and we might reference and discuss it on the night!

Interested to get reading? Here’s how you can also get involved in the Book Club read, Defender & Hunter, for Intrepid month.

About the author:
While penning his Alex Morgan espionage series, Chris saw the world from under a parachute; made a difference in East Timor; protected Sydney’s iconic sails post 9/11; and most recently, held one of the most historic offices in Australia as Sheriff of NSW. Since self-publishing and being signed by Pan Macmillan Australia’s digital imprint Momentum for a two-book deal, Defender and Hunter have wowed readers worldwide, with Avenger due out soon and a film/TV franchise underway.

You can say g’day to Chris at www.facebook.com/intrepidallen or www.twitter.com/intrepidallen, and Chris blogs about all things thriller as well as indulging his love of cult TV shows and movies at www.intrepidallen.com/blog.

Buy Defender eBook on Amazon: http://buff.ly/16PjHQr 
Buy Hunter eBook on Amazon: http://buff.ly/185ZENL 

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TBYL Book Club, so much on!

The May TBYL Book Club kicks off today and I’d love to hear what you think on our theme for the month.

Of course, normally we read and discuss a single book, but this month I thought in keeping with the month of Mothers’ Day that we could have a conversation about Mums and Books. About our favourite storybook mums and about books that remind us of our mum, or other significant women in our lives.

20130527-094434.jpgI’m going to post our first conversation-starter on Facebook NOW! Pop on over, like us, and join in the conversation. You’ll be able to recognise the book club conversations, as they’ll be proceeded with {TBYL Book Club}.

I’ll keep asking questions until Wednesday evening, and hopefully the conversations will grow from there. Please feel free to contribute your answers and questions as you’d like.

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Also, I’m thrilled to be able to announce details about our June TBYL Book Club!

June at That Book You Like… will be Intrepid Month, during which we’ll enjoy the first two instalments in Chris Allen’s Intrepid Series, Defender and Hunter.

Who’s up for some action?!

At the beginning of 2012 I was lucky enough to read Defender, the first in the Intrepid series by author, Chris Allen. I was immediately drawn into the world of Intrepid agent, Alex Morgan, hard-hitting and action packed, I enjoyed every page. It was followed up by Hunter (Momentum), a new Alex Morgan story which was fantastically international, intricate in its detail and cast with a range of beautifully developed characters, all with their own missions and methods of achieving them.

HunterAlex Morgan – policeman, soldier and spy for Intrepid, the black ops division of Interpol – is on the hunt for Serbian war criminals. But these guys were never going to let it be that simple. An assassination attempt is made on the presiding judge of the international tribunal. Days later, the judge’s daughter, the famous and beautiful classical pianist Charlotte Rose, vanishes in mysterious circumstances.

The girl is not just a pretty face and the daughter of a judge, however. She’s also the goddaughter of Intrepid’s veteran commander, General Davenport. It’s up to Morgan and the Intrepid team to track the kidnappers and the missing woman before the very fabric of international justice is picked apart at its fraying edges.

Part James Bond and part Jason Bourne, Alex Morgan must walk the line between doing the right thing and getting the job done. And this time he’s got permission to make it personal.

I’m very excited to announce that this month’s book club will discuss both Defender and Hunter. You’re invited to read one or both, and join in the conversation in the week starting 24 June 2013.

To purchase copies of the books, you can click here for Defender (an ebook) or shop here at the TBYL Store for Hunter. Don’t miss out on this incredible adventure.

To make Intrepid Month even more immersive, I’m excited to be able to holding our next TBYL Event online. “Meet Chris and Alex” will be an online chat with Intrepid author, Chris Allen. Chris will be chatting on the TBYL Facebook page on the evening of Monday, 24 June 2013. Join us at 7:30pm to ask Chris questions, and get involved in what’s bound to be a fascinating discussion.

It’s free, online and a great opportunity to find out a little more about Chris, about his character Alex Morgan, and maybe even a few secrets about what’s next for the Intrepid series. You don’t have to book, but if you’d like to RSVP please do so here…

I hope you’ll join us!

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