Author of ‘The Last Exile’ (2008) and ‘The Mephisto Threat’ (2009), featuring off-the-book MI5 spook, Paul Tallis, E.V. Seymour once more hurls him back undercover in ‘Land of Ghosts’ (March 2010). SHOTS decided to put on its cloak and unsheath its dagger to find out more about the shadowy world of Paul Tallis - and his real handler.
Okay, let’s get this question out of the way first. How and why does a sophisticated lady such as you decide on writing spy thrillers and having a bloke as a central character? (Not that there’s anything remotely wrong with it…)
I’ll start by answering the last bit of the question first! Truth is, I feel more comfortable inhabiting male characters. I don’t have to work hard at it. It’s all pretty instinctive. I genuinely like men. And, no, I don’t sit down at my computer with a fag in one hand and a pint of best bitter in the other as was suggested to me by a radio presenter! Seriously, I’m no psychiatrist, but writing as a bloke is possibly connected to my upbringing. I lost my mum when I was eight. Home was my father and two older brothers. On a different note, in female-led fiction, even in the thriller genre, I believe there’s a requirement for a certain degree of angst and interior thought. With a bloke, you can be forgiven for cutting to the action and having more fun. (That’s not to say that I think the male of the species is an insensitive and thoughtless brute!)
Spies, well, what’s not to like? Initially, for pragmatic reasons, I chose to go down the spy route because I thought it would give me more latitude. The crime market was dominated by detective fiction so a bit of me was thinking try something a little different. Now I’m into it, I’m fascinated by anything connected to espionage, the more dangerous and dirty the better.
We’ve got twenty seconds before this helicopter lands, so for those who haven’t yet plugged into the world of Paul Tallis, give us a quick intro to his latest adventure.
Tallis is tasked with finding old school friend, Graham Darke. Darke has been working deep undercover for the Secret Intelligence Service in the mountains of Chechnya, his mission to keep a watching brief on a savage warlord with suspected links to Muslim fundamentalists. However, it’s feared Graham has become sympathetic to the Chechen cause and turned rogue agent. Worse, he’s been linked to a number of high profile murders of former military men in Moscow. If true, Anglo-Russian relations are set to take a nose-dive. It’s, therefore, imperative Tallis tracks down Darke and brings him in. Of course, things don’t go according to plan!
Is there a single film or book which started you on the spy thriller road?
I illicitly munched through Ian Fleming’s Bond series after I finished my “O levels”!
Give us a back-of-a-matchbox description of Paul Tallis, your maverick freelance spook, and how you formed his character.
Cool under pressure with a sense of humour. He also hurts and bleeds – this was really important to me. I didn’t want him to be a one-dimensional action man. He’s a cause merchant, prepared to bend the rules, and very much his own person.
It’s fair to say that Tallis was born in December 2005 after a visit to ‘a place’ where firearms officers train. (Not supposed to name it for security reasons). My interest was ignited following the Stockwell shooting. Contrary to some media coverage at the time, firearms officers are trained to very high levels. Given the enormous pressures on them, it’s not a job I’d fancy, but I thought it would provide a perfect career for Tallis to make his debut.
You’ve chosen as the background for Land of Ghost, Chechnya and a potential 3rd Cold War threat. Anything you know that we don’t?
I don’t have a crystal ball!
You’ve said that during your research you inhabit some fairly dark places. Assuming this doesn’t mean you morph into a psychotic vampire that eats its young, can you elaborate a little?
Oh, blimey, you’re asking me to bare my soul! All right, I was totally affected by the research. The sheer epic cruelty carried out by all sides made me depressed and miserable. What appears in the novel is lightweight by comparison to events I’ve actually read about.
You include female characters in your books, but appear on the surface to have slightly less sympathy for them than for Tallis. Do you feel more at home writing about men?
Got it in one!
What delights your creative muscles most - heroes or villains?
Bad guys every time.
Do you have specific audience in mind when you write?
I should do, but not really. I just want to engage and thrill as many people as possible.
Pen or PC, music or silence?
Pen for research. Mac for writing. Silence when I can grab it, not easy when you have a budding rock muso across the landing!
You’ve got a power chair, haven’t you (I’ve seen it in the video). Is that a prerequisite for a good day’s writing?
It’s a prerequisite for my shoulder not seizing up.
Did your background in PR prepare you in any way as a thriller writer?
Of course, all those long lunches and schmoozing!
You say you read a lot in preparing Land of Ghost. Does this mean you’re a planner or a freewheeling kind of writer?
I’d love to be a freewheeler. I am lost in admiration and praise for those who can pull it off. I’m too much of a scaredy-cat to give it a go. Having said that, I’ll happily go off piste if it feels right, but I tend to work from a thirty-page treatment divided up into scenes and acts.
There’s a fair bit of chopper flying in the book. Can you pat your head and tummy at the same time?
Absolutely! I did actually take the controls for all of about thirty seconds. I thought I was going to die of fright and pleaded to relinquish them.
Where do most of your ideas occur – walking, reading or out of nowhere?
Snippets of information from newspapers, those elusive pieces on the inside pages.
Who do you read for pleasure and what, if any, are your influences?
I have catholic tastes. Just some: Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, Robert Crais, Gerald Seymour, Michael Connelly, Tom Rob Smith, Stephen Leather, Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, Nicci French, Frederick Forsyth, Tom Cain. Influences: hard to say. I did read Dostoyevsky to get into the whole Russian thing prior to writing Land of Ghost, but I’m not sure I was influenced.
A hint about where Paul Tallis will crop up next?
Tallis returns to his Croatian routes so it’s back to the Balkans – more darkness, I’m afraid.
Thank you, E.V. Seymour, for your time – it’s been a pleasure.
You can read – and hear – more about E.V. Seymour (and see her power chair) by going to her website at: www.evseymour.co.uk
Published: 18/06/2010 Publisher: Mira Books Paperback RRP £6.99