Chris Hadfield's The Apollo Murders is shortlisted for the 2022 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize. 

1973: a final, top-secret mission to the Moon. Three astronauts in a tiny module, a quarter of a million miles from home. A quarter of a million miles from help.

Right: Chris Hadfield © Courtesy of MasterClass

As Russian and American crews sprint for a secret bounty hidden away on the lunar surface, old rivalries blossom and the political stakes are stretched to breaking point back on Earth. Houston flight controller Kazimieras 'Kaz' Zemeckis must do all he can to keep the NASA crew together, while staying one step ahead of his Soviet rivals. But not everyone on board Apollo 18 is quite who they appear to be.

About the Author: 

Colonel Chris Hadfield is one of the most seasoned and accomplished astronauts in the world. A multiple New York Times bestselling author, his books An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth, You Are Here and The Darkest Dark have sold over a million copies worldwide.

He was the top test pilot in both the US Air Force and the US Navy, and a Cold War fighter pilot intercepting armed Soviet bombers in North American airspace. A veteran of three spaceflights, he crewed the US Space Shuttle twice, piloted the Russian Soyuz, helped build space station Mir, conducted two space walks, and served as Commander of the International Space Station. He was also NASA's Director of Operations in Russia.

Chris is the co-creator and host of the BBC series Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes? and helped create and host, along with actor Will Smith, the National Geographic series One Strange Rock. His zero-gravity version of David Bowie's 'Space Oddity' has received more than 50 million views, and his TED talk on fear over 10 million.

He advises SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and other space companies, chairs the board of the Open Lunar Foundation, leads the CDL-Space international tech incubator, and teaches a MasterClass on space exploration.

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

Chris: Adventure writing is the purest form of storytelling, and my lifelong favourite type of book. It transports the reader to another place and time, allowing experiences and escapades beyond the norms of daily life, creating a vivid extended reality in the mind. Writing The Apollo Murders was my first attempt as an adventure writer, and I still don’t feel qualified to consider myself one!

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

Chris: Many books and authors have greatly influenced me, with the list evolving naturally through the years. I loved The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne, The Black Stallion, the science fiction adventures of Asimov and Clarke, Michener’s sweeping sagas (starting with Hawaii), Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, John D MacDonald’s Travis McGee, Dick Francis and his sweetly intricate characters, Jonathan Kellerman’s Delaware and Sturgis, The Eye of the Needle by Follett, the stories of Frederick Forsyth and Robert Ludlum, Andy Weir’s interplanetary adventures, and the foundational When The Lion Feeds.

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

Chris: I’ve been lucky. My father was an airline pilot, so I travelled extensively growing up, directly experiencing the adventure of new places, including hitchhiking throughout Europe for 6 months when I was 17/18.

Chris and Geoff in East Berlin, 1977

I served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a combat fighter pilot flying CF-18s vs Soviet bombers in the Cold War, and was an exchange test pilot with both the US Air Force and the US Navy.

Chris Hadfield, October 1986

I served 21 years as an astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency and NASA, and helped pilot 3 rocketships, helped build 2 space stations, did 2 spacewalks, and commanded the International Space Station. All of those varied experiences helped shape my understanding of the world, and thus informed and influenced my writing.

Chris Hadfield, Courtesy of MasterClass

WNSF: Your novel is set in the 70s, why did you choose to write about this time?

Chris: I love alternative history fiction, and wanted sometime recent enough that many readers remember or have a feel for it, but far enough back that it’s not competing with current events. I felt that 1972/73 was extremely rich, with the implosion of Nixon’s presidency, the end of the Vietnam War, women’s rights with Title IX and Roe v. Wade, the Cold War, and the end of NASA’s Apollo Program. There were many untold stories of the world’s space programmes in that era that were helpful in creating The Apollo Murders’ plot.

WNSF: How do you make sure your characters, their voice and actions, sit comfortably within the historical context?

Chris: Writing The Apollo Murders was an adventure voyage unto itself. I laid out the general arc of the plot, but then every sentence required research and verification, especially since the majority of the characters in the book are real people. I dug as deeply as I possibly could, reading contemporary accounts and writings, watching and listening to period videos, looking at adverts and listening to the top music of the time. I was committed to making the book as real and factually credible as possible, and enlisted the help of several specific experts to check what I had written. Every word that my characters said I repeatedly spoke out loud, picturing the cultural filters of the early 70s. I did my best to make the book true to the time, but relevant today.

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

Chris: I count myself hugely fortunate to be an author. The upside is like a guilty pleasure: I get to sit in a quiet room with a window view of a forest, let my mind wander, and perform the simple job of writing down my mental imaginings, day after day. The reason I feel lucky is that my family (especially my wife Helene) shoulders the downside, taking care of life’s needed work and complications, freeing me to placidly think and focus. Dedicating the books to Helene, my children and my parents, as I’ve done, seems hardly fair recompense.

WNSF: What would you say is the hardest thing about writing? And the easiest?

Chris: The hardest thing about writing, for me, is getting to productive physical and mental circumstances. I am in awe of authors who can write on a bus or amongst daily events. I need to clear myself of each day’s necessities, somehow sneak away from the onslaught of email must-dos, and deliberately free my mind to calm imagining. Once I get there, then the actual writing is the easiest part; like fitting together a fun, complex jigsaw puzzle, where I’m the only one who can discover what the final result will be.