Will Jordan’s debut novel Redemption, is a full throttle thriller that provides a high-octane ride. Will was kind enough to speak to me about his past experiences and fiction’s newest hero, Ryan Drake.
1. You’ve previously worked as television and film extra, what was that like?
In a word, boring! You arrive at six in the morning, still half asleep, and get quickly ushered to the waiting area where you’ll spend the rest of the day sitting around, waiting to be called on set. Pretty soon you learn that a good book is a must! You’re also made very aware that you’re bottom of the pecking order – even for simple things like queuing for lunch. Basically, when you’re an extra, everyone’s more important than you.
The one bonus is all the people you get to meet. You always meet a few characters, and that was something I certainly enjoyed about it.
2. For one role, you were cast as a World War Two soldier, how did that experience contribute to the creation of your first novel?
It was my first real experience of that kind of thing. Even if it was only make-believe for a few days, it was interesting to get an insight into what life was like back then. Even little things like how the uniform would chafe the skin around your neck, how people would struggle to get their webbing on straight or buckle up their belt kit. That really brought home the human aspect of it for me; far more so than any history book or documentary. It was that feeling of the past colliding with the present that became a major theme in Redemption.
3. How long did it take you to write the first draft of Redemption?
About four months from start to finish, with another few weeks of editing after that. When I start a book, I always work fast and intense. It’s very important for me to keep the momentum going, otherwise my focus starts to suffer, and so does the book.
4. What do you think makes Ryan Drake interesting?
I think nowadays there’s a temptation to make protagonists outlandish, larger than life or almost superhuman to get them to stand out, but for me that kind of goes against what thrillers are supposed to be about. If the protagonist is in trouble and fighting for their life, I want to believe they might not make it out, I want to feel tension and suspense that will keep me turning the pages. If they’re too competent or always have a backup plan, that tension evaporates.
With Drake, I tried to do something different. He’s tough and resourceful, but he’s also human and fallible. He doesn’t always have the answers, he can be misled, he can make mistakes, he can feel fear and anger, and he can be hurt. By making him more of a normal guy thrust into a situation he can’t control, I think that makes him easier for readers to relate to and empathise with, because they’re going on that journey with him. He’s also not one of those characters who has his reset button pressed between each book. He’ll grow and change over the course of the series, and his experiences will mark him both physically and mentally.
5. When Redemption begins, Ryan is in a bad way suffering from a bullet wound, and you paint the picture of his distress quite well. Was that a conscious effort to hook the reader straight away?
More than anything, it was just an interesting way to kick start the story, essentially beginning at the end. I like the inevitability of it – no matter what else is happening, we know Drake is going to end up in this situation before the story is over and we’re wondering how it’s going to come about.
6. Where did you get the inspiration from to create Anya, a key female character?
There were two things that inspired me to create Anya. The first was that I wanted a character who could tie together the past and the present, someone who had been around before Drake and his peers. She’s kind of a carry-over from a different era thrust into the present day, seen almost as a relic of a different time, but she soon proves more than a match for anything today’s world can throw at her.
I also wanted to explore the nature of survival in the harshest of conditions, and the effect that has on a person. When we first meet her, Anya is completely closed off and shut down; she’s been reduced to the very basics of survival by what she’s endured. But over the course of the book, she gradually begins to recover her humanity.
This creates an interesting and changing dynamic between her and Drake. To begin with, he’s very much the driving force behind what they do and where they go, but as time passes Anya starts to assert herself and draw on her own skills and resources. I think Redemption is as much her story as Drake’s, and we’ll learn more about her in future books.
7. What sort of research did you undertake for the book?
When I was throwing around some initial ideas, I spent a few weeks researching the main elements of the story (how Predator drones work, how the CIA is structured and operated, whether my overall storyline more or less ties in with reality) to get the rough building blocks in place. I was also lucky enough to visit a couple of rifle ranges in the States and the Czech Republic to get a feel for the weapons the characters use in Redemption.
The rest of my research is done as and when I need it. For example, if I want to know how high altitude parachute jumps are performed, what kind of equipment is required etc, I’ll look it up online when I get to that part of the book. I don’t like to get too bogged down with research before the story has even begun.
8. What prompted you to use specific locations such as Iraq and North America?
For me, books like this are all about escapism, and I don’t want to escape to somewhere I already am. I want to take my characters, and by extension my readers, to exotic, unusual or dangerous locations where most people will likely never go. Most of us will (hopefully!) never see the inside of a Siberian prison, but we can experience a little of it through this book.
Putting Drake, as a Brit, in America was another way of highlighting the isolation of his character. Straight away he’s marked out as different from the others, and not always welcome. Also, Iraq is one of those countries which really defined the time this book is set in. There are, and probably always will be, a lot of unanswered questions around why we went in there, and that provides a lot of scope for speculation.
9. How would you describe Redemption, is it a book targeted mainly towards male readers?
I think what most readers want, male or female, is an interesting story that keeps them hooked and compelling characters they can really get behind. That’s certainly what I look for in a good book, and I hope that’s what Redemption delivers.
This book is really about power and corruption, revenge and betrayal, trust and sacrifice, and of course, redemption. Those are things which I hope anyone would find worth reading.
10. How many books are planned in the series?
Five in total.
I’ve got them pretty well mapped out in my head, so I know where I’m going to take the story and my characters. I’m also hoping to do a prequel trilogy that will shed more light on Anya’s back story, since there are a lot of unanswered questions there.
11. From the books that you’ve read, which ones have been the most memorable so far and why?
Three stick out for me.
The first is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini; a book which pretty much had me gripped from beginning to end. Because the characters are so compelling, even a mundane scene of two people trying to bluff their way onto a bus becomes more tense and dramatic than a hundred lazy fist fights or stand-offs in other books.
The second is one called Conrad’s War by Andrew Davies. Probably the first book I remember reading, it’s about a frustrated and misunderstood kid who escapes his dull family life with fantasies about the Second World War that become increasingly real. Fun, exciting and at times surprisingly poignant and moving, it was one that really fired my imagination and stayed with me.
The last is The Road by Cormack McCarthy. Bleak and harrowing but powerful and uplifting, it tells the story of a father and son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The father’s increasingly futile attempts to protect his son from the horrors around him really struck a chord with me, particularly since I became a father myself, and the ending brings a lump to my throat every time.
12. Finally, what do you like most about the writing process?
I love the freedom of it. If you’re a film director you’re limited by budget or time or technology. If you’re a musician you’re constrained by the instruments and equipment at your disposal. But with writing you can create the most incredible worlds, characters and stories, make people laugh and cry, fire their imaginations and inspire them. All you need is a word processor and your imagination.