Al Senter, who was in the Chair, first asked BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner what made him decide to try writing a thriller? Gardner confessed that he had no high expectations for his book which he had called, 'Crisis' - particularly when his daughter asked him, "Daddy, what are you going to do if this is all a complete failure?" He, himself, knew that normally news journalists do not make good writers! He said that he had taken two years to complete this book and then sent it off to his literary agent and then waited. And waited, until he had almost given up hope when a letter arrived together with some seventy two pages of suggestions and proposed changes. This meant that his planned weekend had to be abandoned and he set about getting things right with the script.
Al Senter asked him what inspired him and if he had any models that he used to form his characters in the book?
Gardner replied that he was greatly inspired by television. He talked about series such as 'Breaking Bad' and others of this ilk. As a seasoned interviewer, he is used to the many sided impressions that people could create. He returned to this point to stress that with television that if you watch actors closely the camera angle changes and the whole scene may be affected by the way this is done. Gardiner suggested that the audience should watch East Enders or Coronation Street where the cameras were used very cleverly used.
Asked what he had done before journalism Gardner said he had tried investment banking, but he felt very much a square peg in a round hole. Going back to his own book he said that he had pared back on the dialogue considerably as this has the tendency to make a book much longer. He then gave a reading from the book and this went down very well - it allowed him to illustrate the form of writing with the reduced dialogue.
The reading was from one page of the book and described Columbia with the various gangsters and the men in the cartel dealing in the cocaine trade. Al Senter asked if the author had been out to Columbia? Yes, he said he had - in earlier days with a back pack and then more recently in a wheelchair. Although it is a much safer place now than it was he took care not to take risks or to let people know who he was.
Going back to the characters in the book he suggested that people out of character often do more than is alleged then the SAS, however, he maintained that all the characters in the book were of his own making. Although there is one person, a friend, who has a background of service in the Royal Marines and the SAS who holds the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross and is completely convinced that the lead character, Luke Carlton, is actually based on him! But, he said, you have to understand the mentality of war, of just ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Al Senter asked about the plot and whether the author had to plan the whole thing? Gardner responded that he had given the plot to some experts who had been involved with this sort of thing and got them to vet the concept. Generally they had said it was fine with a little fine tuning and the move of one or two elements taking part in operations.
Asked whether he had sent it to MI5 or MI6 to be checked out, he said quite categorically that he was keen to keep this all impartial and his own work. So he had added a bit at the end which said that there had been no input offered or solicited from any Government department or agency.
In the question period he was told that he seemed a lot more humorous than expected - was this because books allowed him to relax more?
Gardner said that actually there were very few laughs in the day job so writing allowed him that element of freedom.
He was also asked for his views on Donald Trump and he said that in his view someone who lost his cool over a tweet should not be allowed near the nuclear button.
Finally, he wanted to stress that there was absolutely no agenda with this book. As far as he was concerned it is really pure entertainment - there is no subtle message that readers should be searching for!
This was an excellent session and Frank Gardner was first class.
Crisis(June 2016) by Frank Gardner is published by Bantam Press.