Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Why I wrote 37 Hours

Why did I write 37 Hours? Well first, of course, it’s a sequel. At the end of 66 Metres Nadia has succeeded, but the Client is still out there. In fact the first scene in Chapter One of 37 Hours was originally the epilogue to 66 Metres, but the editor and I decided to leave Nadia languishing in prison.  And so the readers demanded a sequel... 

But there were five other reasons.
  • Jack Reacher
  •  Diving a nuclear sub
  • Shark-attacks
  •  Chernobyl
  •  London

1. Jack Reacher

The title 37 Hours is a tribute to Lee Child’s book titled 61 Hours. This was the very first Jack Reacher book I read, and got me hooked and back into thrillers. I love the relentless pace and minimalist style, and how Jack is uncompromising. Of course Nadia isn’t Jack, but another character, Vladimir, is close, and the book starts with him in the Prologue. I’ve already had a number of readers tell me the book starts just like a Reacher novel. Couldn’t ask for more! Here’s the opening of 37 Hours:

Vladimir was cuffed and hooded, but his guards had made a fatal mistake. His hands were behind him, but not attached to the inner structure of the military van, a standard Russian UAZ 452 – he’d know those rickety creaks and the pungent blend of oil and diesel anywhere. The vehicle trundled towards some unknown destination where he would be interrogated, beaten some more, then shot in the back of the head.
Three of the four men chattered as they picked up speed down a straighter road. Their second mistake. Clearly they weren’t Special Forces – Spetsnaz – like he’d been until recently. They were regular army. He’d only seen the two heavies who’d snatched him from breakfast with his daughter. Now he knew there were four – one other had engaged in the banter, another had remained silent but was referred to as the butt of several bawdy jokes. The hierarchy of the men was also clear. The leader was in the front passenger seat, the silent one the driver, leaving the two musclemen in the back with him. He waited. They’d been driving for an hour or so, initially dirt tracks, now a highway, which meant they were on the E119 to Vostok. If they turned right, he had a chance, as they would have to cross the Volga River. Then he would make his move.
If they turned left, he was a dead man.
Vladimir wasn’t one for options, or for hedging his bets. Not a question of making the right choice, but of making the choice right. In all his missions he’d never cared much for a Plan B. Leave too many options open, and events control you. You invite failure.
            The van would turn right.

2.  Diving a submarine

66 Metres covered a lot of diving aspects, but there were two I hadn’t touched. The first is diving a submarine. The first time I did this was the M2, a submarine wreck off the Dorset coast near Weymouth. There is something stunning about coming across a submarine underwater, like a giant metallic whale. I tried to capture the way I felt in chapter three, when Nadia comes across a hijacked Russian nuclear submarine:

They hit thirty-five metres and levelled off. Still she saw nothing, but the sleds both slowed, and then she saw why. The forward light picked up the huge black tail-fin of the Borei Class nuclear sub, like the fin of a shark, which happened to be the nickname for this class of sub. Sergei’s sled circled behind, his forward beam illuminating the massive propeller. She tried to gauge how long each blade was. Maybe three metres.
           Sergei took point again, and fired a flare that fizzed forward like a lazy yellow firework. The sub was one hundred and seventy metres long, only slightly shorter than its predecessor, the Typhoon. But seeing it, positioned at one end while the flare swept forward over its dark beauty, was something else. The flare continued its arc over the conning tower, all the way to the prow, her destination. The light faded and plunged them back into darkness save for the sled’s lights. But the after-image was etched onto her retinas. Russian subs didn’t really go in for names, they were usually referred to as Projects and given a number, but Sergei had told her this one was the Yuri Gagarin. He’d have been proud. 

3. Shark attacks

There were no sharks in 66 Metres, so I wanted to include them in the sequel. In the second part of the book, Nadia and Jake dive in the South China Sea off the coast of Borneo, on a remote island called Anspida, which is an anagram of one of my top 3 diving destinations in the world, and a place where you can encounter large man-eaters, as well as hammerheads. Some of the dive instructors there used to play a game (the diving equivalent of Russian Roulette), where you swim away from the reef, out into the blue, and wait for the sharks to find you. Here’s where Nadia gives it a try…

  She glanced back several times, the reef just in sight, somewhere between fifteen and twenty metres away. Jake kept them at the same distance, two divers in perfect orbit around the island, two thousand feet of ocean beneath them. She stared straight ahead, into the blue. The sun’s rays lasered through the water, playing tricks on her brain. Several times she thought she saw something, and her heart skipped a beat, but it was nothing.
And then it came for real. A shadow at first, morphing into a blue nose, the curved line of its mouth, its eyes, and its pectoral fins, outlining an ellipse just like in Jake’s drawing. If it opened its mouth she would fit inside. Fifteen metres away, closing. Not on a swing-by. Coming straight at her. Ten metres. It was massive, she could now see the dorsal fin and her brain extrapolated the rest; it was easily five metres long. Its pectoral fins dropped, its mouth opened a little, revealing racks of backward-sloping teeth...

The actual shark attack scene which comes a little later, was hard to write. Mostly sharks leave people alone. But if you’re bleeding in waters like these, you’re in serious trouble. As a diver, even now when I read the scene in 37 Hours where two lives are claimed in a feeding frenzy, my blood still runs cold.

4. Chernobyl

I used to work in the nuclear industry, trying to make it safer. Chernobyl was such a shock to the world at the time, but I was also impressed by the heroism of the soldiers and others who worked manically to contain the radiation leak after the initial explosion, many of whom died shortly after from radiation poisoning, or later from cancers. There was also the lesser known story of heroism concerning shutting off an underwater valve to prevent a secondary explosion which would have re-opened the wound and irradiated half of Europe. This story was part-truth, part myth, and I included it as a story-within-a-story. It was the motivation behind the original title of the book, which was to be ‘One-Way Dive.’ And so the third part of the book takes place in Chernobyl, in Reactor 4. I was really pleased when the publisher decided to put Chernobyl on the cover.

5. London

I live in Paris, which is a great city, but I still miss London where I used to live. When writing a thriller, you have to put what the hero/heroine values most on the line. Nadia is Russian. London isn’t her city. But, to an extent, it’s mine, and I care about it. London is where 66 Metres started, and it’s where 37 Hours ends. In the final chapter, when the 37 Hours has almost run out, there’s a short scene where London is almost a character, one that Nadia wants desperately to see one last time. I think that scene, only a couple of paragraphs, is one of the most powerful I’ve ever written, and as an ex-Londoner it chokes me up every time I read it.

That’s it. I wrote 37 Hours in six months. For me that’s very fast (I have a day job!). It poured out of me, demanding to be written. If you do read it, I really hope you get some of the same satisfaction I got out of writing it!

You can get 37 Hours from Amazon here, and it's also available in other digital formats. You can get 66 Metres here

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