The book shown on the left is by Matthew Dunn. Click on the cover to order.
This interview was conducted by Nancy Eaton on August 5, 2011.
Today I am interviewing the talented author Matthew Dunn. His debut book, Spycatcher, is an exciting espionage thriller.
Nancy Eaton: Your professional career has been very intriguing. Please tell the readers about your life.
Matthew Dunn: I grew up in a semi-rural and peaceful part of England, within a loving family environment. But as a child, I craved escape and adventure and used reading to fuel the fire in my belly. I would spend hours in second hand bookstores browsing and sometimes buying obscure novels about 18th and 19th century seafaring adventures and tales about early 20th century spies chasing bomb-carrying anarchists through the backstreets of Europe. Towards the end of my time at University I was given the opportunity to do a PhD at Cambridge University and to thereafter become an academic. Simultaneously the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) tapped me on the shoulder. The latter option was irresistible and, after a series of grueling tests, interviews, and training programs, I was accepted into the secret world.
I spent five years as an MI6 field operative, travelling the world and combating the highest echelons of rogue states. For most of that time, I worked alone. My missions required me to obtain intelligence and to engage in direct actions. It was very intense, ruthless, dangerous, and complex work. I now look back at that time and pause for thought about the work that I and others like me did. But in those days, I never paused once. I existed on adrenalin, conducted over 70 very tough missions, and was constantly in the frontline of a relentless espionage war.
I left MI6 to start a family, initially working in the City of London before being transferred to the Middle East where I set up various consultancies before ultimately becoming one of the youngest expatriate CEOís in the region. After divorce, I returned to England with my two young children and decided to pursue my lifelong ambition to write novels.
Nancy Eaton: Will Cochrane is a very interesting and complex character. Please tell the readers about Will. Do you see any of Willís qualities in yourself and if so what are some of them?
Matthew Dunn: Will Cochrane is MI6ís most deadly and effective operative. He carries the codename Spartan which means he has successfully completed the Serviceís brutal 12-month Spartan Program. Only one operative is allowed to carry that codename at any one time. Will had a traumatic childhood which is in large part responsible for the way he sees the world. He is vicious when he confronts evil, yet utterly compassionate to innocents in need of help. But the nature of his work requires him to put up a barrier between him and other people, even those who like him and in certain cases those who could come to love him. He has an inner conflict, because he desires love but is fearful that if he lets people get too close to him, they will die.
My background prior to MI6 is different to that of Will Cochrane. But he is inspired by the person I used to be when I was an operative. I joined MI6 for adventure, believing that I could live out the stories that I had read about when I was a boy. But during my time in MI6, the nature of the work and incredible responsibility on my shoulders made me into a very hard man who ultimately felt detached from humanity. My life in MI6 was not an ďadventureĒ. It was lonely, combative, and intensely risky.
Like Will, I share a largely black and white view of the world. And his emotional strengths and frailties are not dissimilar to mine. But, it amuses me to think how Will Cochrane would cope being a single father of two children. Perhaps thatís where we really differ, though Ė like me Ė maybe he would just get on with it.
Nancy Eaton: At what point in time did you decide to write a book about spies?
Matthew Dunn: I wrote my first spy novella for a school project when I was eleven years old, so you could say the desire to write a spy novel has been in me for most of my life. As an adult, Iíve always had the ambition to write a novel, though did not feel the time was right to do so until recently. Iíve been out of MI6 for ten years. I now love writing about that world, but a few years ago it would have been tougher to do so. I needed a chunk of time to put distance between doing espionage work and writing about it.
Nancy Eaton: When you decided to write a book, did you find it difficult to make this transition?
Matthew Dunn: I found it easy. Iím a private man and writing gives me the solitude that I enjoy. Like spying, writing is a lonely and precarious occupation wherein youíre never quite sure if youíre doing the right thing. Iím used to this kind of life.
Nancy Eaton: What other authors do you enjoy reading?
Matthew Dunn: My life has been influenced by the kind of books I read as a child and young man. When I was ten years old I watched the movie of The Day of The Jackal, and then pestered my father to buy me the novel of Frederick Forsythís masterpiece. I also read John le Carrť and was obsessive about Arthur Conan Doyleís complete works of Sherlock Holmes. I put reading on hold when I was an MI6 officer and for some years after. The desire for escapism simply wasnít there because I had seen and done too much. But recently Iíve returned to reading and am delighted to see that there are a huge number of superb authors on both sides of the Atlantic. I was very flattered to receive positive reviews for Spycatcher from Jeffery Deaver and Lee Child, because I love their novels.
Nancy Eaton: Do you read reviews of your book? If so, how do you handle a negative review?
Matthew Dunn: Because Iím a debut author, I do read my reviews - not all of them, only those I think have been written constructively. Negative reviews come with the territory of being an author. If you pick your favorite author and then pick the novel that you think is without question the authorís best, check that novel on Amazon. Most likely youíll see dozens of ďman on the streetĒ one-star reviews against it, all of them written by self-loathing failures. But of course, if you get a damning review from a professional critic then that is another matter. So far, thatís not happened to me but of course it could at some point. Ultimately, I strongly believe that an author should listen to his or her publishers and agent because they know their business. All you can do as an author is write the best book you can, listen to the feedback from the team around you, respond accordingly, and then hope that upon publication the book finds the readership you wrote the novel for.
Nancy Eaton: What do you feel is your greatest strength as a writer?
Matthew Dunn: For understandable reasons, many people will believe that my background helps me craft my stories. While I know thatís true in terms of explaining the technicalities of espionage, ultimately my background in MI6 simply gives me a steady writing hand because I know exactly what itís like to be in the field. More importantly, like every other thriller writer, I have to draw upon my imagination and creativity to try to produce a tightly plotted and dynamic novel. Whether Iíve succeeded or not is for others to judge.
Nancy Eaton: Could you let our readers know more about your future plans and if you're working on something currently? If you do plan on writing more books, will they be in the same genre?
Matthew Dunn: I will be writing a full series of stand-alone Will Cochrane novels. Iíve finished my second novel. It takes Will to eastern Europe and Russia where he attempts to prevent war between the United States and Russia. Iím halfway through writing my third novel. So, the stories are underway and I intend my readers to have one hell of a ride.
Nancy Eaton: Do you have anything specific you would like to say to the readers?
Matthew Dunn: I wrote Spycatcher so that my readers could understand what it is like to be an intelligence field operative Ė the loneliness, the requirement for rifle-shot decisions, the mistakes that can be made, the often relentless pace in a mission, the danger, the casualties. There is a constant microscopic focus on Will Cochrane Ė there are no ďcut scenesĒ to others points of view Ė meaning the reader and Will have exactly the same amount of information. You are not completely in his head, I wrote the novel in the third rather than the first person, but you are constantly by his side.
Nancy Eaton: Thank you for graciously agreeing to do this interview with me!
Read Our Review of Spycatcher by Matthew Dunn