Nucleus by Rory Clements is one of six novels shortlisted for 2018 Best Published Novel. Rory is a newspaper journalist turned author who believes writing thrillers is in his blood. With Nucleus in mind, we asked Rory to share his views on adventure writing in the second of our Meet the Author series:
WNSF: What does adventure writing mean to you? Would you have considered yourself an adventure writer before being shortlisted for the Prize?
Rory: Adventure stories are deep in the human psyche. I’m sure our prehistoric ancestors sat around the campfire thrilling each other with tales of treks across wild terrain, battles with the elements, man against beast, warring tribes. And so it comes down through the ages. I have always considered myself an adventure writer at heart - using political intrigue, perilous historical events, crime and espionage as my canvas.
WNSF: Nucleus is based in Cambridge, at the onset of the Second World War and with threats still looming from the IRA. Is there a reason you chose to write in this period of history?
Rory: I think the best thrillers are set at times of crisis - and the summer of 1939 was exceptionally tense. In Britain, the IRA had launched a campaign of terror and was receiving arms from the Nazis; on the Continent Hitler had invaded Czechoslovakia and was threatening Poland; In Germany, persecuted Jews were desperate to get their families to safety. Stir in the discovery of nuclear fission and you have a highly explosive mixture.
WNSF: Are there particular books or writers that have influenced your work?
Rory: As a small boy I was entranced by The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford, the story of three animals’ struggle for survival in Canada. I found it unbearably exciting and moving - particularly as one of the animals was a Labrador, and I had one myself, name of Simba.
I also loved the Famous Five and moved seamlessly on to The Lord Of The Flies by William Golding, John Buchan, Geoffrey Household and Ian Fleming. Next came Freddie Forsyth, Ken Follett and Robert Harris (all of whom I consider great adventure writers). I could easily name a dozen others.
WNSF: Your characters feel both genuine and modern but perfectly in place in 1939. How do you make sure your characters sit comfortably within the historical context?
Rory: My trick is to read diaries. They reveal the times without the distorting lens of hindsight. Technology and events move on, but character and emotion don’t change from one generation to the next.
WNSF: What would you say is the hardest thing about writing? And the easiest?
Rory: When I write a novel, I create a world which is complex and multi-layered. That’s the hardest thing. The easiest? It’s always easy to lose the plot - but to be avoided, of course.
The winner of this year's Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize will be revealed at a special ceremony in London on 20th September 2018.