7 Questions: Paratrooper turned thriller action author Chris Allen

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Former soldier Chris Allen is the author of three action thriller novels, Defender, Hunter and Avenger, all published through Momentum Books, the digital only imprint of Pan Macmillan Australia. His books are described as “escapist action thrillers for realists” and he brings his 20 years experience serving in conflict zones around the world to his writing.

Chris began his career in the military and eventually went on to qualify as a paratrooper and spent time in the British Parachute Regiment. When he left the military due to injuries he began working in humanitarian aid, working for CARE International during the East Timor crisis in 1999. He has also held the position of Sheriff of New South Wales and oversaw a security upgrade at the Sydney Opera House.

Chris’s first novel, Defender, was self-published. It was then picked up by Momentum Books and re-released. The second book in the Intrepid series, Hunter, has just been published, and the third book, Avenger, is due to be released in 2014.

 

1. Tell us about your latest book.
My latest book is called Avenger and it’s the third in my series featuring Alex Morgan and INTREPID. When researching possible material for my stories I like to focus my attention towards human issues as the foundation of Alex Morgan’s missions in the hope that I can encourage awareness of things that I feel strongly about.  When I began thinking about a suitable backdrop for this third instalment my thoughts turned to human trafficking, which is obviously topical at the moment and has been for some time. I discovered to my absolute horror that global profits made from the exploitation of human beings in forced labour situations is estimated to be in the order of thirty billion dollars US annually.  This statistic alone prompted me to look at the issue further and in pretty short order the story emerged. Therefore, Avenger is all about the hunt for a global human trafficking cartel which has expansionist notions. I’ve drawn heavily from reality to set the scene and establish some of the main players and then I’ve allowed the characters to tell their own stories within that setting.

2. This is the third book in a series. Did you set out to write a series? How do you keep ideas flowing for these books?
Yes, I always had a series in mind. I grew up on the books of Ian Fleming and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and loved them – I still do.  So, I’ve just naturally been compelled to follow in their footsteps by creating larger than life but still believable and interesting characters operating within what are essentially real situations. I plan to continue the series hopefully to about nine or ten stories in total, but I’ll remain flexible on that! In terms of the ideas, I’m fortunate in that I can draw on my own life experiences to some extent and also on the experiences of some of my closest friends. Those real life elements tend to provide me with the basis of an idea or a character or a reaction and so on. Beyond that, like most authors, I research critical elements of the story to ensure as much authenticity as possible. That said, I also enjoy providing a liberal dose of escapism in the stories so that they are at their core fast paced adventures with a message.  I like to think of them as escapist action thrillers for realists.

3. You were a soldier for many years before becoming a writer. What made you decide to write full time? Did you always want to be a writer?
I always wanted to write but as a youngster I was hopeless. My first attempts at writing fiction while I was still at school were woeful and my English teachers weren’t at all backward in coming forward on that score. So, rather than be completely put off by their dissuasion I decided that I would follow a slightly different path while still looking (in the eyes of an idealistic young man anyway) to emulate the formative years of my writing heroes – I commenced my military service.

It’s been really interesting for me to discover over the years that almost all of the authors I have enjoyed reading the most had at some point in their lives served in the military. With regard to my two favourites, Fleming served as a Naval Intelligence Officer which inevitably became the basis of the James Bond character, and Conan Doyle was an army doctor which, of course, was the foundation of Dr John Watson. So, as the years passed and my career in the military advanced, I became a paratrooper and eventually retired as a Major.

It should come as no surprise then that when I did eventually decide it was time to revisit my original career choice, my principal protagonist, Alex Morgan, emerged as a former Major who served in the Parachute Regiment. I began to write in earnest in about 2000 when I returned from East Timor. I’d been working there as a security adviser for an international aid agency during the emergency which resulted in Australia’s deployment of INTERFET. I guess it was all about just feeling ready. I was well into my thirties and I needed to get the ideas that had been floating around for many years down on ‘paper’.

4. You self-published your first book – why did you decide to take that path?
The path to self-publishing was really interesting. Over about ten years I’d produced a number of variations of the story that would eventually result in ‘Defender of the Faith’, which was the introduction of Alex Morgan on his first solo mission for INTREPID, a covert agency of INTERPOL, set against the backdrop of civil war, gun running and corrupt officials. I had submitted the various manuscripts to a number of major publishing house here in Australia and in most cases came very close to be signed. In essence I kept hearing that I wrote incredible action but it just wasn’t ‘what we’re looking for right now’ – a familiar response I’m sure for many aspiring authors out there. And, if you hear it enough then you’d be forgiven for questioning your choice of career.

However, aspiring authors, myself included, are not that easily dissuaded and so, with the amazing assistance, encouragement and support of my wife, Sarah, we decided to take the bull by the horns, publish the book ourselves and let the market tell us if it was worthy of being read or not. I’m glad to say that I received a very encouraging start to my publishing journey as we eventually sold around two and a half thousand books ourselves via Amazon over the space of about three months – on the back of a very targeted social media campaign which Sarah ran. Short version is that this approach got me noticed.

5. Now you have a publishing deal with Momentum, how has the publishing process changed?
Being published by Momentum was a very natural extension of the approach we had taken ourselves, i.e. focusing our attention on what was considered then (just two years ago now) to be the beginning of a digital publishing revolution. I have enjoyed the process immensely and the support of having a great publisher and team in your corner is extremely important for writers who have their sights set on a long and (hopefully) successful career as a published author. In my view, our careers are an evolution rather than being set in stone from the outset.

So, my focus is to see my books available in every type of format – digital, print, audio etc – and in as many languages as possible, because one thing is clear and that is that the world is still coming to terms with digital and many readers have, or will eventually determine, their preferred format in which to experience a story. I don’t wish to be limited just to one format and certainly I have been asked many times ‘where can I find your book?’ Therefore, the current focus is to expand the availability of my books to ensure that people can enjoy them whatever their format of choice.

6. What’s your daily writing life like – do you have a routine you stick to?
Sarah and I have two little boys – Morgan is 4 and Rhett almost 18 months. So, in terms of a routine I have to say that I try and fit as much writing as I can into whichever parts of the day the boys make available to me. They are our absolute priority so it’s not always that easy to just set a fixed time and stick to it. As much as possible we try to plan time for me to write and when I’m on deadline, Sarah inevitably takes on the Lion’s share of caring for the little monsters while I get buried in the story. This tends to happen when I’m building towards the crescendo of the story, when I have to be very much in the moment, absolutely immersed in the world of INTREPID. So, I’d love to say that I have a routine but the reality here at home is that I get it down whenever I can!

7. What’s your advice to budding authors, and anyone considering self-publishing?
By all means self-publish but be prepared for a long, lonely and grueling process of being writer – plus marketer, PR consultant, manager, accountant… If you don’t feel you can do that then persevere and try to find a good agent who will champion your cause as if it’s their own. Let them fight your battles for you and let them hunt for the best publishing deal possible. You must always have faith in your work, if you don’t no-one else will, and stay the course you have imagined for yourself. GOOD LUCK!

 

If you’re interested in writing action thrillers check out our Thriller Writing course with L.A. Larkin. 

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