Rob Sinclair - Author Who Writes Can't-Put-It-Down Thrillers
Rob Sinclair promised his wife that he could pen a “can’t-put-it-down thriller” and, three books later, he is still doing it. Today he talks to us about keeping his books fresh in a genre known for its tropes, the key to writing good action scenes and which actor could best fill the shoes of Carl Logan.
Tell us about Rise of the Enemy. What is the book about?
Rise of the Enemy is the second book in the Enemy series of thrillers following enigmatic agent Carl Logan. In the book Logan is still coming to terms with the betrayal he suffered in the first book, Dance with the Enemy (which I won’t give much away about!), only to find his world turned upside down once more when he’s captured on an undercover intelligence mission in Russia.
The book is a first person narrative initially told through two switching time periods: The first being Logan during his captivity in Russia at the hands of a deviant and sadistic FSB agent, Lena Belenov - who claims Logan was set-up by his own agency - and the second being the events following Logan’s subsequent escape as he travels across a frozen Siberia seeking the truth, while coming to terms with what may be the biggest betrayal of his life.
How did you land on the subject matter for this book?
It’s hard to remember exactly! The three books in the Enemy series follow Logan’s struggles as he attempts to bring his life back on track following him having been previously captured and tortured. In Dance with the Enemy he was suffering PTSD and was really quite a mess, but he came some way to recovery during the course of that book.
In Rise of the Enemy I wanted to give Logan a new challenge as he carried on his journey, and that manifested as throwing Logan into a situation where he’s brought to question everything he thought he knew about his life working for the secretive Joint Intelligence Agency. It’s a story of the lengths a desperate man will go to in order to seek out the truth behind his own demise, and how someone like Logan would react to being betrayed by those closest to him; quite simply when you poke a caged animal, you’d better be prepared for the consequences. And that’s how I see Logan in this book - he’s a caged animal both in the sense that he’s literally locked up, but also in that there’s a real battle for him to keep control of the beast inside him too.
What is your process for character development? Do you write down biographies for them? Or just keep a mental list of who they are?
My process is quite organic really. I develop the characters as I’m writing about them. I haven’t gone to the lengths of writing out separate biographies for them or anything like that, it’s all in my head somewhere. I’m sure as I write more books I may come to need to make some more detailed notes on the characters as I’m sure it will become more difficult to remember what I wrote about them years ago! For now though I feel close enough to all of the characters that I can just have them living in my head.
How has Rise of the Enemy changed you as a person in general or as a writer or both?
I’m not sure it’s changed me in any radical way, though certainly I’ve felt more competent and comfortable as a writer with each book that I’ve drafted (I’ve now drafted five books). Rise of the Enemy is the first book I wrote in the first person. That was important to me for this story as it’s a much more personal experience both writing and reading in the first person, and given the situation that Logan is thrown into I just thought it made sense. Writing first person certainly posed some challenges though as it’s quite different constructing a story when you can only tell it from one person’s point of view - it limits what you can do with the other characters to some extent, and also the level to which you can add complexities to the plot. I’m really pleased with the end result though, and I really enjoyed getting into Logan’s head so much for this book.
What made you decide to use flashback chapters for telling parts of the story?
I think to some extent it came about because of writing in the first person - I needed a good way of adding intrigue and complexity to the plot and using the two inter-linking timelines was a great way of doing that. For me personally I think it makes it a more thrilling read because it adds depth to the confusion that Logan feels in both timelines, and the fact the two timelines slowly converge to a big blowout scene where Logan comes face to face with his long-term mentor and boss I think adds a lot of excitement.
Your descriptions of the violence and torture are quite vivid, how hard is it to write these types of scenes and what kind of research does it require?
I don’t know what this says about me, but I actually enjoy writing those scenes, and all of the action scenes in general. Perhaps not everyone will like the violence - though I don’t think the scenes are gratuitous - but for me any scene where the stakes are raised to such a high level, I think that’s what makes a thriller of this nature work. You want the readers on the edge of their seats, biting their nails as to what’s going to happen next, and sometimes - when used in a manner which fits with the plot and the characters - torture and violence can achieve that, and I think it is in keeping with the world of the story.
As for research, much of what I write comes straight out of my head - it’s influenced by all the books I’ve read and all the TV and films I’ve watched. Every now and then I’ll need to do some research when I’m stuck on a particular element which I’ll generally overcome through simple internet searches. So I’m sure my internet search history is probably quite disturbing to someone who doesn’t know I’m a thriller writer...!
What was your wife’s reaction when you made good on your promise to pen a “can’t put it down thriller” like you told her?
She’s been incredibly supportive of me since I first came up with the crazy idea that I could write a book. It came out of the blue really, being a writer wasn’t something I had grown up wanting to do. But once I’d committed to writing a book, I had to see it through one way or another - I’m a very competitive person, even with myself! And once I’d written the book, I had to get it published. Then once it was published I had to get it to sell somehow. It’s been a long process that’s taken a lot of hard work and there’ve been a lot of ups and downs, but my wife has supported me throughout even when it meant me taking time off from my then full time job to finish writing and publishing the first book. I like to think that’s because she always believed the book was good enough, but maybe she would have supported me still even if it was the biggest dud ever! Either way I’m delighted with where I am now, three books down and 150,000 copies sold - a couple of years ago, before the first book was released I would have been thrilled at that prospect.
Who would you like to see play Carl Logan if there is ever a film adaptation of The Enemy Series?
I’ve actually been working on a screenplay of Dance with the Enemy for a few months now, as I always had in the back of my mind that the books would work well on screen. As to who would play Logan? There are so many actors who I think could do a good job, but it needs to be someone who is not just a tough guy, but brooding too, and who is comfortable playing someone who is damaged goods - almost an antihero. Some top names would be Tom Hardy, Hugh Jackman, Idris Elba. I could well imagine any of them being Logan on screen.
Are there any films or books which have influenced your writing - either the story or writing style?
I can’t point to any one source, but the books really are influenced by every book I’ve ever read, and every TV show and film I’ve watched. To give you an idea I love books by Lee Child, David Baldacci, Vince Flynn, I love films like the Bourne series, James Bond, and much of Martin Scorsese’s work to name just a few.
The spy/thriller genre is filled with tropes, did you have to make a conscious effort to avoid them?
Yes it was a very conscious effort to make the books seem fresh. One of the reasons I began writing in the first place was because I was reading so many books which seemed similar and formulaic, I wanted to try to create something different and exciting - something that I’d like to read myself. I hope I’ve achieved that, though I’m sure some will say I haven’t! It’s one of the reasons Logan is as he is - yes he’s a tough guy who you know will always give the bad guys a run for their money, but he also makes mistakes and he has a very clear vulnerable side to him. Logan is human, which I think makes him more believable and likeable than some of the infallible and completely indestructible characters we see in this genre.
Do you have a workflow for writing? Also do you need complete silence to write or do you listen to music?
I always have a workflow now because a book takes so long from concept to publication! I generally draft a book in something like four to eight weeks once I’ve committed to it and started (I aim for 4,000 words a day). When I finish a draft I put it to the side for a few weeks, then do at least a couple rounds of editing before it goes to my editor for development. Once it comes back from her I do another two passes (leaving some time in between the passes), then it goes for copy editing. I do one more pass when that comes back then it goes for proofreading, then I do one final pass. It’s a long process so I’ve invariably got two or three projects on the go at any time, in various stages of completion!
I always work in silence. I completely zone out from the world around me when I’m busy with my writing so having music or TV or anything else on really wouldn’t be of any use as I’d just be ignoring it anyway!
Do you ever experience writers block, and if so, what is the best way to get the creative flow moving again?
Not really. I have moments when I’m stuck on a particular plot element or even just a particular scene or conversation, but I’ve always found it comes eventually. In the meantime, I might skip ahead so I’m at least still writing, or I may just take a break - a few hours, maybe a couple of days - and just think things through. Once or twice I’ve gotten quite frustrated when I couldn’t figure an answer out, but it’s always come to me eventually and it’s definitely best not to try to force it out.
The spy/thriller genre is known for memorable bad guys, who is your favorite villain and why?
I’m always intrigued by bad guys. Some are just pure evil and have no redeeming factors, but the most memorable ones for me are where the villains are complex and layered. I’m not sure I have an absolute favourite as it depends what day of the week you ask me, but two real standout villains would be Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery (both in book and on screen) and Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in the Dark Knight movie.
Your book is very action-based, what is your process for writing action scenes?
I have a very clear mental image in my head about what’s happening in an action scene and then it’s simply about explaining that as best I can with words!! I think the key to action scenes is to make them detailed without letting them drag out. You have to slow the scene down to show everything’s that’s happening but at the same time keep the pace of the writing peaked by using lots of short and snappy language.
What can readers expect from you next?
I have two other drafts completed right now. One is a standalone psychological thriller that’s a slight change in direction for me - there are no secret agents or guns or bombs or anything like that in it. It’s about a normal working guy who gets himself drawn into a deadly situation. There’s still plenty of action in it and lot’s of suspense and thrills, and a quite dark undertone running through the whole story.
I’m also working on what will be the first in a new series to follow on from the Enemy trilogy. It’s Carl Logan, but not as you know him, and that’s all I’ll say about it for now!
Where can we find more of your books and stay up to date on new releases?
You can find out more at robsinclairauthor.com, where you can also sign up to my no spam email newsletter giving details of promotions, giveaways and new releases.