JD Fennell's Sleeper: The Red Storm is shortlisted for the 2019 Best Published Novel award. The Red Storm is the second part of a spy adventure trilogy set during the second world war in Europe. The series follows the correct historical timeline yet in this world mysticism, the supernatural and sophisticated period technology exist on the fringes of reality. 

Protagonists Will Starling and Anna Wilder are Mi5 agents tasked with infiltrating VIPER, a wealthy criminal organisation, to prevent the development of a super-weapon. Will is the last remaining member of his family, who were brutally slaughtered by VIPER. He is also out for revenge; however, things don’t quite go to plan.

About the author: 

JD ‘Davy’ Fennell was born in Belfast during the Troubles. He grew up in Springfield Park, the last religiously mixed area of west Belfast. Reading was his escape from Northern Ireland’s smothering political unrest. With youthful dreams of a new life, he left Belfast for London in 1985 with £50 in one pocket and a dog-eared copy of Stephen King’s The Stand in the other. He worked in bars and restaurants and later started working as a writer in the software industry. JD has played rugby for Brighton and was awarded the 2009 Player of the Year for the veteran’s team. He loves to cook and is currently learning to box. He lives in Brighton with his partner and their two dogs.

WNSF: What does adventure writing mean to you? Would you have considered yourself an adventure writer before being shortlisted for the Prize?

Adventure reading is where it all began for me. As a boy, I got lost in the colourful adventures of Hergè’s Tintin, which I still adore today. I went on to read grittier stories of perilous journeys to other parts of the world and other worlds too. Also, because I wanted to write from an early age, naturally the urge was always there to write adventure. For these reasons I am without doubt an adventurer writer.

WNSF: Are there any particular books or authors which have made a lasting impact on you? 

As young man the books of Hergè, John Buchan, Ian Fleming and JRR Tolkien were – and still are - standout. I also love Stephen King and Sarah Waters. Pierce Brown’s Red Risingspace opera trilogy is page turningly brilliant! One book that I really loved recently is Ian McGuire’s The North Water, a dark and gripping adventure set during a 19th-century Arctic whaling expedition.

WNSF: Can you tell us about any adventurous experiences in your life? Have they influenced you as a writer or your writing?

I don’t know if I would call them adventurous, but growing up during political unrest in Northern Ireland in the seventies and eighties influenced my writing. I had been caught in army and paramilitary crossfire several times before reaching teenage years. I saw men being shot and the community around me almost ripped from existence. Writing and reading became an escape. In the Sleeper books, there is a sense of a lost childhood for my hero, Will. Although he had it much tougher than me, I wanted to capture a feeling of despair at a past that could never be forgotten, or forgiven. 

WNSF: A strong sense of place is vital to any great adventure story. What role does research play in your writing? How did you make your setting feel realistic? 

Research is essential for all writers. I spend a lot time researching places and history, however, I am wary about over doing it. Story and character are key and they remain the priority. That said, I love to get away and experience the places I write about. For authenticity, it is important not only to see them but also smell, taste and hear them too. Before writing The Red Storm, I visited and revisited several locations in Rome over one long weekend. I took notes, photographs and videos. I don’t often have this opportunity, but when I do I grab it by the horns.

WNSF: Sleeper: The Red Storm is set in the 1940s, why did you choose to write about this time? It also takes us to quite a few destinations around the world, did you choose these particular places, in this time?

First up I love books set in that period and was intrigued to write something different with sophisticated period technology and mysticism. Also, without giving away any spoilers I wanted  The Red Storm to climax in Rome, when the allies bombed the city. As the mystery unravels and the chase is on, the city crumbles around our heroes. This was all just too irresistible to not write. 

Q: We find that adventure often crosses into other genres, including crime and historical fiction. What kind of books do you like to read? 

The Red Storm deliberately crosses three genres: crime, historical and fantasy. I read all three and wanted to write a fast-paced thriller set during a familiar historical period, yet in this world, mysticism, the supernatural and sophisticated period technology exist on the fringes of reality. 

Q: What would you consider the upsides, and the downsides, are of being an author?

It is a privilege to be able to spend your time writing and creating stories and worlds that people love to read about. That is an incredible upside. The downside is that writing does not pay the bills and most authors need another job to do so.

The winner of this year's Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize will be revealed at a special ceremony in London on 12th September 2019.