Andrew Raymond’s superb action-thriller series, Official Secrets, exploded into my awareness and onto my reading list last year. Described as Line Of Duty (a very favourite tv drama of mine) meets I Am Pilgrim (oh! My! Word! What a book!!) I immediately knew resistance was futile. I can hand-on-heart say, this was a trilogy that totally lived up to the hype. So you can imagine my joy when I heard he’s written us a new book! Kill Day is the start of something new for Andrew; a spy thriller with a fresh, work-in-progress protagonist.
I’m extremely chuffed that Andrew agreed to let me share an exclusive advance preview on my blog. As well as a sneaky peak at an action-packed early chapter, I’ve got an exclusive author interview, and an early reveal of the cover artwork!
Without further ado, let’s get stuck in …
Thank you for letting me share this preview extract from Kill Day. I’m really looking forward to reading this book – does it have a confirmed publish date
Yes! It will be available to buy from Amazon on Wednesday 7th April.
Where were you when the idea for Kill Day came to you?
Sitting at my desk three years ago, writing one of the final chapters of Official Secrets
In your facebook feed you mentioned how significantly the plot of Kill Day evolved as you progressed with it. How does the finished book differ from your initial ideas?
The core of it has always been the same: Duncan Grant at the centre of something explosive. What changed the most was where we meet Grant in his career. Originally, the first book was going to be Grant having already established himself as this MI6 legendary figure, but for various reasons had gone into hiding. The story would then be his journey back into the fray.
I wrote three versions of the opening chapters and none of them felt right. The key question for me with Grant was never what will he do next? It was, why is he the way he is? What made him this way? That was when I realised I hadn’t been writing my protagonist … I had been writing my antagonist.
I had to send Grant right back to the start of his career. That was the key. The moment I started writing it that way, the book just exploded onto the page. It also became much bigger in terms of scale. I had always wanted to do a Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now kind of book, and that sort of shape seemed to fit the premise of Kill Day – rookie hunts legend – nicely.
what the blurb says
The epic journey starts here.
Duncan Grant is MI6’s most talented rookie, with a reputation for maverick brilliance. When a routine operation ends in murder, Grant is tasked with capturing the assassin: rogue MI6 officer Henry Marlow.
But as Grant leads the hunt, Marlow’s renegade mission escalates, targeting anyone who could expose his secrets. If Grant wants to stop him, he must uncover a shadowy plot that links a Saudi prince, a corrupt Interpol detective, and an infamous black ops programme.
With the very future of MI6 at stake, Grant must confront Marlow in a terrifying endgame – after which nothing will be the same again.
PUBLISHED: 7th April 2021 SHELF: Spy | Thriller | Suspense FORMAT: Kindle
What can you tell us about the book’s main character, Duncan Grant?
Duncan Grant is a Scottish MI6 field officer with a lot of talent, but lacks the guidance and direction to be truly great. That’s where his handler and mentor Leo Winston comes into things.
Writing the book with Grant as a rookie, he couldn’t be Jack Reacher or Jason Bourne. He’s very capable and talented, but he does make some mistakes. Writing him as anything other than that wouldn’t have been believable. I’m quite bored of reading about indestructible heroes. There are no stakes. No tension. Action scenes just describe things happening, rather than a character making something happen. I wanted to write a corrective to that. I want you to feel what Duncan Grant feels.
So I decided to lean right into that, and have Grant’s adversary be a sort of legendary figure like a Reacher or Bourne-type. Someone that on paper was far stronger and smarter and more experienced than Grant. Because that’s where great drama happens: if the obstacle is easy, there’s no tension, no sense of discovery.
I’ve always been fascinated by minor characters like the Professor in The Bourne Identity – these guys who are sent after the ‘hero’. Those stories generally don’t get told, and I thought that that was an interesting perspective to take in a genre that we all know inside out.
We always experience these stories from the perspective of the legendary guy, the Jason Bournes of fiction. I wanted to do this story from the perspective of a guy who isn’t really sure if who he’s hunting is good or bad. Sane or insane.
Which parts of Kill Day were your favourite to write and why?
My favourite to write were the chapters set in the Congo. That’s where the story really gets bigger in terms of story, and when the reader realises, okay, there’s also something much heavier going on here in terms of character and theme. I love writing sections like that because it’s a chance to take the reader somewhere they’re maybe not familiar with. I try to do that in all my books.
And if you had to pick a theme song for Kill Day?
It simply has to be I’m Not Here by The Twilight Sad. An amazing Scottish band, and this song really speaks to who Duncan Grant is. I listened to it throughout the writing process.
Are you able to disclose the exciting news about the narrator for the Kill Day audio book that you teased us with on your facebook page?
As an exclusive, I can reveal that the narrator for Kill Day will be Joshua Manning, narrator of James Deegan’s Once a Pilgrim, and Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party. The second I heard his voice, I knew he was perfect for Duncan Grant. It simply had to be a Scottish narrator.
What’s your writing process like? Do you have a disciplined routine, a preferred place to write, a cocoon of silence or a soundtrack for atmosphere?
I have a very disciplined writing schedule now that I write full-time. I was previously a marketing manager for Waterstones, and would just write whenever I could.
Now I treat it like a job as far as schedule goes. I’m up at 6.30am … bring a coffee to my desk for about 7am … check any overnight messages/emails/emergencies that should be dealt with straight away.
I now ALWAYS outline the full story of my books. I learned that the hard way with Official Secrets, where I blundered down many a plotting cul-de-sac. So in the morning, I’ll do a deeper outline of the chapter I’m about to write. 200-300 words. Off of that, I’ll try to do anything from 2000-5000 words in the day, depending on what stage of the book I’m at.
I take a short break at lunchtime, then keep going until 6pm. It’s a proper full day, and I love it.
When I’m editing and revising, I’ll regularly work 14+ hour days.
Where do your best ideas come to you?
There’s a great bit in Mad Men, where Don Draper is telling Peggy how to come up with an idea: think about it really hard for a while, then forget about it. I swear, it works. So I’ve had some of my best ideas come to me when I’m out on my bike, or lifting weights, or watching a movie. That’s when bigger ideas, like what a whole book or series will be about, come to me.
For smaller chapter-to-chapter problems, I’m a believer in working things out on the page. I don’t sit around waiting on inspiration. It’s a bit like the difference between motivation and discipline. If you sit around waiting to feel motivated, how will you get things done if you’re not at your best? This is my life, my work, my job. I can’t afford to sit around waiting to be inspired. So I’m disciplined. I study my craft endlessly. I read for pleasure, but I also read to learn. What can I do better? What works, what doesn’t? What’s new?
The smaller ideas within books are very much worked out with pen and paper, figuring out what characters want and why, and what’s standing in their way. If I follow that maxim, I always get there in the end. If something has gone wrong, if you follow the fundamentals, you’ll always be able to work out why a chapter isn’t working, or the plot is wrong.
You’ve self published your books. What inspired you to do this and how did you go about it? How did you find the process?
I was inspired to self-publish when I came across a Guardian story detailing successes people were having with books that publishers didn’t want. It struck me that publishers are not necessarily giving readers the stories people want to read.
I tried, and failed, to get Official Secrets represented by an agent. One of the big London ones told me that my genre was dying, and people weren’t interested. So going it alone on Official Secrets was a risk, but it’s paid off. Nearly a dozen agents turned that down. It’s now sold about 50k copies, and I’ve had (last I checked) about 8 million pages read in the Kindle Unlimited programme. Those are not big numbers to a lot of my fellow indie authors. Far from it. But it’s a damn sight better than me sitting at a home with an unpublished Word document on my computer.
I would never say never to a traditional publisher, but the terms would need to be examined carefully. I have so much sales data at this point, I know the exact value of my first book, because I know how many copies of my other books readers go on to buy. The percentages are quite easy to break down. So I know that the value of my first book is much greater than the RRP of the ebook, paperback, or audiobook.
For example, I’m selling more copies of Official Secrets today than the first year of sales. How many publishers can afford to push books that are three years old? They can’t. If a book doesn’t take off in the first three months, it’s dead. Pure and simple. And you see the impact on mid-list traditionally-published book sales when the typical marketing tools of the trade – signings, readings – aren’t available during a pandemic lockdown. It’s very difficult for them, because they don’t have access to a lot of the tools that indies use every single day.
In the modern world, there’s nothing they can access that I can’t also source. The cover for Kill Day was designed by the same guy who does Ian Rankin and Michael Connelly’s covers, for example. I’m hiring Joshua Manning to do the audiobook. I know my trade, and I’m confident of what will work. There are no certainties, but I have a lot of experience in the industry – enough that I was confident that I could make it work going alone. I’ve built my audience through word of mouth. Through reader recommendation (and a healthy dose of online advertising, too).
In many ways, I see far more innovation taking place in indie publishing than I do in the traditional sphere. Indie publishing is incredibly hard if you want to make a success of it. I made plenty of mistakes along the way. I still do! But so do publishers.
You’re given ten minutes notice that you’ve going to be put into isolation – what do you grab to take with you?
A notebook and pen. If I can ever be writing, I will.
What’s the first thing you’ll be doing when lockdown ends?
When lockdown ends, I’m going to be hugging friends and family.
Congratulations on the success of your Official Secrets trilogy – all those well-deserved accolades and Amazon rankings! You must be really proud. Did I hear a little whisper that we’ve not heard the last from Stella and Novak?
You have definitely not heard the last of Tom Novak and Stella Mitchell. The fourth book will be coming out towards the summer. I have so many stories with them that I want to tell. Having spent many months with Duncan Grant, it’s going to be great to get back to two characters I love so much. And readers seem to love too.
So, even more to look forward to then! Any parting words for my blog visitors today?
If you’re a fan of an author, write them a wee message or email. Writers are nothing without readers, and knowing that you’re out there really keeps us going. I’ve genuinely got to know lots of my readers on Facebook, and it’s the nicest thing. For a guy with over 100 rejection letters from literary agents, hearing from readers makes it all worth it.
And now for the big reveal! Andrew has exclusively released the following Kill Day excerpt …
Kill Day extract
THREE YEARS AGO
Selection for the U.K. Special Forces was widely regarded as one of the most demanding processes in all military training. With a typical pass rate of under ten per cent, it was a test of almost unimaginable endurance, grit, and strength that covered a period of six months that began in the Welsh Brecon Beacons and Elan Valley, and ended in the jungles of Belize.
Selection took place twice a year without exception: no quarter was given for even the most extreme weather conditions. You either met the criteria or you didn’t. You were tough enough or you weren’t.
When Duncan Grant was confirmed for summer selection, it appeared to be preferable over winter. But summer was still no easy ride: recruits had died on marches in heatwaves. Grant’s experience also told him that you can warm yourself up on an exercise, but cooling yourself down can be almost impossible at a certain level of exertion.
When the summer recruits reached the Elan Valley to find the most freakish weather the area had seen in nearly a century of weather recording, Grant was the only one unperturbed. Temperatures had plummeted to barely five degrees Celsius, and with a wind chill. The rain had been incessant for a fortnight, turning the normally parched and brittle fields at the foot of the monstrous mountain climb of Pen Y Fan into a marshy swamp.
The attrition rate was abnormally high in the opening weeks. Many couldn’t cope with the conditions, which would have been rough-going for winter blocks, but quite a few dropped out because they had shown up with a set of expectations for the weather, and faced something entirely different. It messed with their heads and they couldn’t adjust. The recruits had been soaked through since an hour into day one. They simply couldn’t get dry.
Soon, what had started as forty became twenty-two. The ‘High Walk’ had seen to that – the most infamous and feared test in selection. Commonly referred to as the ‘Fan Dance’, it was a gruelling beast of a march over Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in south Wales.
The Dance took place on Pen Y Fan’s west slope, along a well-worn ridge that led across its peak, then descended the far side, commonly referred to as Jacob’s Ladder. The rest followed the old Roman road, a broken and dangerously steep brick path, which turned back on itself for the return leg.
Recruits had just four hours and ten minutes to complete the trek: fifteen miles with a twenty-seven-kilo Bergen – a camo rucksack that was so heavy it required a stiffened aluminium spine.
Not satisfied with wiping out nearly half the recruits in one day, the DS (Directing Staff) had set up a new challenge on Jacob’s Ladder: the cruellest, biggest lung-buster section of the Fan Dance. The recruits were to carry their Bergens up the steep slope, then meet one of the DS at the summit before going back down.
Provided the recruits hadn’t broken their necks on the descent, when they reached the bottom they were sent straight back up the hill by another DS. The foot of the climb brought little respite. The uneven brick road wound its way through open marshland that was battered by driving rain and brutal crosswinds.
Ninety minutes into the exercise, three recruits had already quit. There was no drive back to a nice warm cottage somewhere for a hot bath and a bowl of soup. They had to sit in a cold Range Rover, waiting for the others to give up too, or for the DS to bring the madness to a halt – whichever came first.
The recruits were strung out all over the hillside. Each in a different world of pain. The words of encouragement from the stronger ones to the broken had long since ceased. It was a matter of survival now. There was no time to think about the weak.
As Duncan Grant began his third ascent of the Ladder – comfortably ahead of the next-fastest recruit – he started to think about agony.
To say that a man is in agony is easy. What the recruits were experiencing was so much worse than that. Grant could see that in their faces. He felt it too, but he was burying it better than they were. He thought about how he might describe the pain to a civilian once the hell of it was all over. He thought about telling someone to think about the earliest they had ever got out of bed. Then imagine getting up an hour earlier than that. But you don’t get to stumble to the kitchen in warm pyjamas to make a coffee. Instead, you have to pack up a sleeping bag in the pouring rain, shine your shoes (still in the rain), put on a bag that’s heavier than most dumbbells, then walk with it for six hours. When you return to base you get to sit and listen to an hour-long lecture (still in the rain), then do one hundred push ups, followed by fifty pull ups. Not doing them is not an option. You have to do them because your DS has told you to do them.
You do them, or you quit.
Most people can’t do ten push ups without a lot of discomfort and shaking arms. If their lives depended on it – literally with a gun to their head – they couldn’t reach thirty. Even if given an hour to do it.
To Duncan Grant, being that person who couldn’t do the thirty, that’s what agony really was.
As he stomped back up the Ladder he heard the recruits still on their second ascent complaining to each other. Hoping to find some solace in someone else feeling as rotten as them. Knowing they weren’t alone would make it easier somehow. No one voiced it, but it occurred to some that it might be a good idea to sprain their ankle, or experience some other painful injury. At least that way they would have an excuse to quit, rather than knowing they had simply given in. That their wills had broken.
Grant knew what their problem was. Unlike the Fan Dance, they didn’t know when it would be over. The Dance was over when they had gone from point A to point B. Going in an open-ended loop created a whole new level of torture. A level that many couldn’t get their heads around.
There was no end. The pain would never stop.
Grant was in the process of lapping two other recruits, Smitty and Barnes.
Smitty was the only one of the pair capable of speech. He muttered to himself, ‘What is the point of this shit?’
Breathing heavily, Grant replied, ‘The same reason they give us random punishments. Tying then retying your laces. Take off your Bergen and empty it, then pack it up again and put it on. The point is to not question orders.’
Smitty complained, ‘Dunc… Why are you going so fast?’
‘Albert Camus,’ he replied.
Smitty paused. ‘I literally… don’t know… what you just said.’
Grant repeated it, then spelled it for them. ‘He was a French philosopher. He wrote a book called The Myth of Sisyphus.’
Smitty looked at Barnes, who shrugged.
Grant explained, ‘In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was forever condemned to push a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back down again.’
Smitty wheezed, ‘That sounds about… as meaningless… as what we’re doing.’
‘That’s the point,’ Grant replied. ‘Camus said that we live our lives on the promise of tomorrow. Doing things we don’t want to do, all in the hope that tomorrow, or years later, things will be better. The irony is that we spend most of our lives waiting for that time to come, during which death only gets closer and closer. It’s absurd.’
Smitty asked, ‘Did Camus have a solution to all this?’
‘The same as Sisyphus: to find meaning in the absurdity of life. Like the seemingly meaningless task of pushing a boulder up a mountain.’
‘Or walking up one… with a Bergen.’
‘Though I suspect the DS are just looking to maximise pain and suffering, rather than guide us to a deeper understanding of the meaning of life.’
Barnes finally summoned adequate breath to speak. ‘I don’t know… how you can smile right now, Grant.’
Grant gestured at their bleak, cloud-blanketed surroundings. ‘Because this is what life’s all about. It’s about how much you can take.’
‘Torturing yourself? Like some kind of sadist?’
Smitty asked, ‘Is that why you want to be in the SAS?’
Grant thought about it for a moment. ‘I’m not interested in living a life based on what tomorrow might bring. Because to do that means sacrificing today: it’s like telling yourself, “I can’t live today. Not yet. I’m not ready”.’ He shook his head. ‘I want to do something valuable today. Every day. Maybe that means stopping some bad guys from doing bad things. Or keeping a country safe.’
There was a long pause.
Smitty said, ‘Has anyone ever told you… you’re quite intense?’
He replied, ‘It’s been said.’ Then he picked up the pace and marched ahead.
By the time the DS were done, Grant had made a full two ascents more than any other recruit.
In that time, ten more recruits had quit.
Including Barnes and Smitty.
The exercise had been hard as hell on them.
More than anything, Duncan Grant had taken part of their souls.
Back at base in the Directing Staff log cabin, chief DS Forrester was sitting with Leo Winston. Forrester had on an insulated down jacket. Winston: a grey suit and black overcoat.
Two cups of coffee sat steaming on the table in front of them, an array of recruit headshots scattered around.
In front of them was a whiteboard, with three headshots attached to it.
‘So that’s all the possibles?’ said Winston, sitting back to appraise the candidates. ‘Bit of a lean year, Mikey.’
Forrester ran a huge hand through his thick beard which was flecked with grey. ‘You know me, Leo,’ he said in his Geordie accent. ‘I don’t bother with the timewasters. I only give you the ones that have a real chance of working.’
In a career with many candidates, Forrester was by far the toughest, hardest man that Winston had ever encountered. Over the course of three months many moons ago, Winston had experienced Forrester’s toughness first-hand during his own selection block.
As Winston was now doing, someone had plucked him out of the process, having won Forrester over. In a time when being a black recruit was still problematic for some, Forrester had treated Leo Winston, the skinny lad from East London, the same as everyone else. In selection, recruits were all equally worthless until respect was earned.
Winston had earned Forrester’s, and then some.
He took a sip of coffee, walking to the board. He tapped a knuckle under the recruit headshot marked ‘24’.
‘What about him?’ asked Winston.
A grin betrayed Forrester’s true thoughts, unable to hide his enthusiasm. ‘He’s an interesting one.’
Winston knew that for Forrester, that was high praise.
Forrester slid Grant’s file down the table to him.
Winston skimmed the basics. ‘Alcoholic dad… Loner. I’ve heard that before…’ He looked up. ‘He’s a bit sheltered, isn’t he? Not much world experience. London will scare the shit out of him.’
There was a twinkle in Forrester’s eyes. ‘You might like the psych questions.’
Winston read aloud. ‘“Confuses impulsivity with bravery, and obsessiveness with dedication.”’
‘Remind you of anyone?’ said Forrester.
‘This is a new one: “Lies that the recruits believe about themselves.”’
‘We brought in a new psychologist,’ said Forrester. ‘She does sit-downs with some of the recruits we think have potential. Based on their conversation, she writes statements that she thinks sum up the recruit. Bear in mind that most of these guys aren’t even aware of what’s going on past the end of their nose. They’re tough as shit, but the doc’s observations are only as complex as the man sitting in front of her. It’s pretty predictable, like, “I will never be good enough”, “Money will make me happy”, and other broken home-type stuff. No one else had more than a few lines from the doc.’
‘There’s a full page here on Grant,’ said Winston, lifting it up.
‘“Typical lies that Grant believes about himself include: I could cope with having to kill people as part of my job. Extreme isolation and loneliness are necessary to protect others around me. Disconnecting from society will protect me and make me a better operative.”’
Forrester said, ‘We’ve done that test with three hundred and thirteen recruits now. Grant’s the first one where the doc ran out of time.’
‘She says that he couldn’t cope with killing people,’ said Winston. ‘Why is that good?’
‘The doc doesn’t think he’s ready, but Grant thinks he is. That’s what matters. Ability comes later. That comes with training. The doc says Grant is light years ahead of the rest as far as mental strength goes.’
Winston peered out of the cabin window. The recruits were in rows across a concrete quadrangle, dressed down in green t-shirts clinging to them in the rain, alternating between push ups and planks. Winston could feel their arms and abdominals burning just watching them. Grant was visibly straining, but he was by far the fastest, knocking out every rep with perfect form.
‘Have you ever seen Lawrence of Arabia?’ Winston asked.
Forrester joined him at the window, admiring Grant’s effort. ‘When he holds his hand over the candle?’
Winston nodded. ‘Grant gets it. It’s about not minding that it hurts.’
Forrester passed him Grant’s test scores. ‘His psychometric tests and physicals are off the charts. He sailed through his BFT…’
Battle Fitness Test.
‘…same with the Fan Dance.’ Forrester then played an audio recording from his laptop. ‘The exercise today wasn’t just to weed out the ones who thought they could relax when the Fan Dance was done. The new doc thought it could be valuable for the DS to take out parabolic microphones. You can learn a lot about a recruit from what they say during an exercise.’
He pressed the space bar to play the clip.
Through some wind interference, it was Grant talking to Barnes and Smitty.
“I want to do something valuable today. Every day. Maybe that means stopping some bad guys from doing bad things. Or keeping a country safe.”
Forrester stopped the clip. ‘He’s got Initial Continuation Training next. Four weeks of combat skills, weaponry, demolition and patrol tactics.’
‘But you don’t want to do that.’
‘He’s tough as nails, but he doesn’t know how to operate in a team. Not yet.’ Forrester said archly, ‘Remind you of anybody?’
Winston chuckled. ‘Yeah. A little bit.’
‘He can switch off the part of his brain that makes him question every order he’s given, because he wants to pass the course. He wants to do anything that’s required to get to the end. To win. With training, he’d get there as a team player. But I don’t think he’d like it. He’s a better fit for you. It’s early days, but I honestly think you might have a potential Albion operative here. If you don’t mind handing over Grant to Imogen Swann.’
‘Albion’s been suspended, apparently,’ said Winston. He had already made up his mind. ‘He could be a good fit for Section Seven, though. Pack him up. Let’s get him to London.’