John Righten - Riveting Historical Thriller

John Righten - Riveting Historical Thriller

John has delivered medical aid to orphanages and hospitals across the globe, including Romania during the revolution, South America, Bosnia during the war, and now the Ukraine. His Rogues novels are based on the characters he encountered during his many dangerous aid missions, when he enlisted unlikely support from those he calls "benevolent rogues". These men and women used their wit and guile to deliver medical aid and save countless lives. He has worked in over forty occupations, ranging from gravedigger, cocktail barman, and a tree-surgeon to a professional poker player, and he is currently employed as a government Transactor. His adventures continue and he's ridden a motorbike across India in aid of UNICEF and worked in a mental health facility a few blocks from Manhattan's Times Square.

Please give us a short introduction to what Heartbreak is about.

An unworldly, but smart young Irish teacher, Lenka Brett, volunteers to join a medical aid convoy, where she meets its assortment of war weary drivers known as the Rogues. Cool-headed under pressure, her guile and resilience in the face of tragedy, means that soon she becomes the leader of the convoy. During her many perilous missions, Lenka falls in love, but when the Rogues become the target of mercenaries, tragedy follows, and she discovers her lover is not who he appeared to be.

What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?

Since the 1990s I have driven medical aid trucks around the world: to orphanages in Romania, to hospitals in war-torn Bosnia, and later across South America. I was inspired to write about the larger-than-life characters – the good and the bad – I met on those missions. I wrote Heartbreak because the fall of the Iron Curtain and how Europe once again found itself torn apart by war is a time rarely written about. It gave me the perfect backdrop for Lenka’s epic story.

Why did you pick a war zone as the backdrop for your story?

It’s a story I lived, and I always wanted to write a thriller based on the aid convoys I drove into war zones.

You have driven aid trucks across the globe. How has this influenced your worldview and your writing?

Many of the novels I’ve read about the wars fought in the last thirty years dwell on the battles and the heroic deeds of those who fought them. My novels take a different, even a unique, perspective and tell the stories of the volunteers who entered the most dangerous hotspots in the world to deliver life-saving medical aid. Has it influenced me? Of course. But in a good way. Readers of the Rogues’ novels are often surprised that after all I’ve witnessed my message, and that of my novels, is one of hope. This is because I have met people who risk everything to help others, without seeking fame or fortune. Their selfless bravery is why I have faith in humanity, and despite the odds, good can prevail.

Why did you title this story "Heartbreak"?

Lenka experiences the tragic loss of a loved one, and it nearly breaks her, hence the title. Several of my Rogues’ novels have twists in the title and Heartbreak is no exception, as the title also refers to Lenka’s weak heart. The theme continues in the sequels, as I believe it requires resilience to survive and recover from loss, and after that a period of reflection, for though life goes on, the memories of lost loved ones always remain with you.

You chose to set the story in the 1990s. Why?

It was a time of tremendous upheaval. The Soviet Union collapsed, along with its grip on its satellite states, and Europe was again thrown into turmoil as once subservient states fought for their independence. Today, we see that fight is still ongoing in Ukraine: a country having to fight to free itself from its former Communist rulers.

How much of your own experiences have you written into the book?

Much of it is based on what I experienced, or have heard of from other convoy drivers.

What was your greatest challenge when writing this story?

The greatest challenge was writing with a woman as the central character. I could easily have rehashed my autobiography, ‘The Benevolence of Rogues’, but instead I focused on the women who drove aid trucks into war zones, as they, in my experience, had a different approach to men. How so? Too often I made mistakes during my convoy days. When faced with force I let ego and testosterone rule my actions, whereas the women I knew on the convoys never lost their focus on the objective – get the aid through, and get the women and children to safety.

Interesting cover. Please tell us more about how it came to be.

My friend, Viki, is a designer of the covers of several bestsellers, so I gave her the concepts and asked if she would be interested in designing the covers of the Lenka Trilogy. To my delight, she said yes. I regard the covers she produced for ‘Heartbreak’, ‘Resilience’ and ‘Reflection’ as works of art, with each opening a window to a stage of Lenka’s story.

Readers say some of the descriptions of the atrocities of war were quite disturbing. Did you find it hard to write?

I made a conscious decision not to go into the gory details of what I saw, but rather create real characters that readers would empathise with. I remember a reader telling me of a scene in my first Rogues novel, ‘Churchill’s Rogue’, that was so vivid and disturbing that she would never forget it. However, I did not write the scene she described. Instead, I placed two of my characters at the mercy of the villain and left it to the readers’ imagination to conjure up what happened next.

When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?

I ask myself, is this a story worth telling and if so, can I do it justice?

Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?

I write every night between 2am and 4am, so I don’t disturb my family.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve just finished ‘The Englander’, a stand-alone Rogues novel based on one of the wildest characters from the Lenka Trilogy. As with all the Rogues novels, it was terrific fun to write but with ‘The Englander’ I’ve mischievously introduced several political figures in their youth that many readers will know today.

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

I have a Rogues website, the Rogues Facebook page, as well as X (formally twitter) #rightensrogues and Instagram @rightensrogues1, where I take questions and share thoughts. I also did an interview on my war convoys for Disaster podcast whose audience are US paramedics, doctors, nurses, firefighters and emergency personnel who are deployed in wars and disasters around the world. The interview offers an insight into my experiences, and stories of the incredibly brave and wonderful people I’ve been fortunate to know.…

John Righten

A young woman risks everything to protect the children in her care, but crossing into a war-zone she discovers her lover's dark secret.