Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Interview with Terry Hayes, author of I Am Pilgrim, plus Giveaway - May 27, 2014

Please welcome Terry Hayes to The Qwillery. Terry is the author of the fabulous I Am Pilgrim which is out today from Atria/Emily Bestler Books. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Terry a Happy Publication Day.

You may read my review of I Am Pilgrim here.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Terry:  I really can't remember a time when I wasn't going to be a writer, although it took a few years for me to start putting pencil to paper. Certainly by the age of nine or ten I was writing - or at least trying to write - short stories, poems and articles about current events. I still have those old workbooks somewhere, though I think it would take more courage than I could muster to open them up and start reading what they contain? Why did I take it up? Those things are always hard to determine but I have some thoughts. I was born in England and when I was five my parents brought my older brother and myself to live in Australia. We had very little money, knew virtually nobody in the new country and had no realistic way of returning to England. It was a disturbing and somewhat confronting experience for a five year old, made even worse by the fact that my mother was very homesick and desperately unhappy. All of this coincided with the time when I was learning to read and I don't suppose it took me long to realize that fiction and storytelling were a welcome relief to the everyday world. I was a voracious reader - hugely encouraged by my father - and it was a small step for a child to go from reading to imagining that he could create and write his own stories. That's one of the great things about childhood, I guess - anything seems possible.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Terry:  A plotter. Which is not to say that I don't try to keep myself continually open during the actual writing process to new and better ideas, but I definitely have to have a clear idea of the primary character(s), the major movements of the plot, the nature of the primary conflict and - most of all - the ending. I figure that launching a rocket isn't that difficult; bringing it home safely is an entirely different thing. The hallmark of a successful mission, if you will.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Terry:  Overcoming self-doubt! I don't want to just make a living; I don't want to merely enjoy the process or achievement; I would like to be good at it. One of the unheralded difficulties, especially with novels, is that you're not just competing - or being measured - against your contemporaries. There is a huge repository of outstanding novels behind us. I continually ask myself - why would somebody want to read my story and not Jane Austen or F. Scott, or Hemingway or, when it comes to spy thrillers, The Day of the Jackal or The Spy Who Came in From the Cold? That can be pretty intimidating and, in my experience, once you start going down that track it can often end in a sort of paralysis. To be honest, I'm getting nervous even thinking about it now.

TQ:  Tell us something about I Am Pilgrim that is not in the book description.

Terry:  It is really the classic hero story - a very ordinary man, born in unusual circumstances, goes on an extraordinary adventure, finds attributes he did not even know he had, and achieves something of great benefit to the world. This is an ages-old story: it is the story of Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, Jesus, Moses, countless others and - in a small way, also of Mad Max. Though the same core story has worn many different guises, I Am Pilgrim is - to my knowledge - the first time it has been told as a spy thriller. That was part of the architectural underpinning to the story - but I can quite see why it wasn't included in the book description!

TQ:  What inspired you to write I Am Pilgrim? Why did you choose to write a thriller? Are there any other genres or sub-genres in which you'd like to write?

Terry:  I don't really know what inspired me - beyond the fact that I thought it was a rattling good story. And once you start thinking that, you keep turning it over in your head and asking yourself 'what if' Pilgrim did such and such; what about something or another, would so and so make a great action sequence? Before long, it starts to take over a lot of your waking thoughts and if you find you're falling in love with it, if the level of excitement doesn't wane, if you start to think you know the characters as well as yourself, if you are convinced that every relationship has some sort of conflict, if you think every page, every sentence, every word is going to be worth the effort - then you end up with no real choice except to write it. As far as why did I choose a thriller? Well, good espionage thrillers have always been my drug of choice. I love the moral ambiguities, the loneliness of the lone agent far from home and help, the sense of entering a hidden world. They also seemed to offer the opportunity to deal with interesting political and geo-political situations and, having been a foreign correspondent and political journalist myself, I had a natural inclination towards that. It's hard to say I wouldn't work in other genres, but Pilgrim has actually been conceived as a trilogy and the other two books which will intercede between those volumes are both thrillers - so, fate and the book-buying public willing - my next few years are going to be spent in that genre. I guess it's just as well I like it.

TQ:  Have you found that writing (and producing) movies influenced how you wrote I Am Pilgrim?

Terry:  Yes, the essential element of writing or producing movies is to be the best story-teller you can be. The one thing, however, that working in movies does teach you - and which I found indispensable - is an appreciation of pace. Given the cost now, and the difficulty, of making movies every moment, every scene, has to really ear it's place in the story. My friend, the director George Miller, who has been nominated for several Oscars and won one, says that movie scripts are 'completely Darwinian' - only the very best and most essential elements of the story survive through to the final version of the movie. I think having worked in the movies for so long, gives you an understanding of that. It doesn't mean that things have to be brief; it means that all the information has to make a significant contribution to the story. Pilgrim is a long book, no doubt of it, but I hope that it is not only epic, but never boring or meandering. That was my aim - of course, other people's mileage may vary.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for I Am Pilgrim?

Terry:  Lots and lots of reading, quite a bit of talking to experts and an enormous amount of time spent on the internet trying to find out things as disparate as the nature of tides in the Mediterranean Sea to why intelligence agents always remove the batteries from their cell phones. I am fortunate that I have a natural curiosity so the enormous amount of research I had to undertake never felt like a burden. I also have a pretty good memory so I managed to draw on facts and events I had come across years ago. The hardest thing was getting an understanding of how to synthesize a biological weapon using only materials that are readily available. It meant learning an enormous amount about 'just over the horizon' science and many times I wished that I hadn't decided to go down that particular story- telling route.

TQ:  In I Am Pilgrim who was the easiest character for you to write and why? The hardest and why?

Terry:  Pilgrim was the easiest because, as I mentioned earlier, he fits the mould of the classic hero so I had a good understanding of what the major points of his life, and his adventure, were. He was also a loner so that gave me a helpful angle on his character and how he would interact with other people. There's a deep sadness about him, I think, and so I often felt very sympathetic towards him. The hardest was his adversary, known only as The Saracen. The primary reason was that he came from a totally different culture and belief system so - terrified that I was going to make a mistake - I researched, researched some more, and then did even more research about life in Saudi Arabia, the Islamic faith, and a host of other topics ranging from the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan to life in the increasingly large Muslim communities in Europe.

TQ:  What's next?

Terry:  As I said earlier, it's all thrillers. The next one - not a Pilgrim story - has a working title of The Year of the Locust and also deals with leading edge science. Thankfully, it is also about a family so I get to spend time with a group of people - and the sacrifices they make for each other - rather than the journey of a solitary man.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Terry:  Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity.

I Am Pilgrim
Atria/Emily Bestler Books, May 27, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 624 pages

This astonishing debut espionage thriller depicts the collision course between two geniuses, one a tortured hero and one a determined terrorist, in a breakneck story reminiscent of John le Carré and Robert Ludlum at their finest.

PILGRIM is the code name for a world class and legendary secret agent. His adversary is a man known only to the reader as the Saracen. As a young boy, the Saracen barely sees his dissident father beheaded in a Saudi Arabian public square. But the event marks him for life and creates a burning desire to destroy the special relationship between the US and the Kingdom. Everything in the Saracen’s life from this moment forward will be in service to jihad.

At the novel’s opening, we find ourselves in a seedy hotel near Ground Zero. A woman lies face down in a pool of acid, features melted off her face, teeth missing, fingerprints gone. The room has been sprayed down with DNA-eradicating antiseptic spray. All the techniques are pulled directly from Pilgrim's book, a cult classic of forensic science written under a pen name.

In offering the NYPD some casual assistance with the case, Pilgrim gets pulled back into the intelligence underground. What follows is a thriller that jockeys between astonishingly detailed character study and breakneck globetrotting. The author shifts effortlessly from Pilgrim’s hidden life of leisure in Paris to the Saracen’s squalid warrior life in Afghanistan, from the hallways of an exclusive Swiss bank to the laboratories of a nefarious biotech facility in Syria.

The inevitable encounter between Pilgrim and the Saracen will come in Turkey, around the murder of a wealthy American, in a thrilling, twisting, beautifully orchestrated finale. 

About Terry

Photo (c) Kristen Hayes
Terry Hayes is the award-winning writer and producer of numerous movies, including Payback, Road Warrior, and Bangkok Hilton (featuring Nicole Kidman). He lives in Switzerland with his wife, Kristen, and their four children.

I Am Pilgrim Facebook Page 

The Giveaway

What:  One entrant will win a copy of I Am Pilgrim (print or digital - winner's choice) from Atria/Emily Bestler Books. US/CANADA  ONLY

How:  Log into and follow the directions in the Rafflecopter below.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a US or Canadian mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on June 6, 2014. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I love the books as my favorite form of thrillers.

  2. Ooh, thrillers... Brenda Novak has a bunch, especially the Last Stand and Stillwater series. I loved the Die Hard movies and for tv.... um.... does anybody remember MacGyver?