This is something out of the normal for me. The other two books I’ve written and had published by Viking, Penguin were non-fiction, but I got it into my head to write a political thriller so a political thriller I have written. To Hell with small details like the fact I should have written a psychological thriller which the market is apparently crying out for. Hah – what does the market know. A political animal is what I was and a political animal is what I remain.
I’d have loved to have written a book like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn or Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins. I read psychological thrillers and enjoy the dark, twisty noir of the domestic, and maybe next time that’s what will come out when I sit down at my laptop. But it wasn’t there this time. Michael North was.
Perhaps that’s because I have a soft spot for a hero in a tight spot – like Ian Fleming’s James Bond and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne. And most of all for Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. I’ve read every book Lee Child has written because he’s a genius and I’m obsessive that way. (I’ve also read every book Patrick O’Brian wrote because I couldn’t get enough of Captain Jack Aubrey and doctor/spy Stephen Maturin. Plus, they teach you the layout of a schooner, how to tie knots, and naval history during the Napoleonic era.) Like Jack Reacher before him, North is big, has an army background, and can fight like stink. He is however younger, more reckless, British, and way more damaged physically and emotionally. Then there is the world in which North operates and for this complicated, messy, morally dubious setting, I have to acknowledge the influence of John Le Carré, Robert Harris and Michael Dobbs’ fantastic creation – House of Cards.
Killing State then, is the story of a man whose life was simple, who met a woman whose life was complicated, and what happened next. It’s also a story of friendship and how far one woman will go for her best friend. To the ends of the earth and beyond it turns out. And it’s a story about the world we live in. How it shifted to the right. How democracy is threatened and how each of us in our own way has to make our lives count. Stories, after all, are how we understand our world and who we are. And right this moment, with Brexit and Trump, with Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, we are living in an interesting world so to me it makes sense to write about that – or at least a variant of it.
My first and best-known book Wife in the North centred on my life but it was more than an account of my day to day dealings, it was also about what it is to be a wife and mother, the nature of loss and grieving, and the compromises required by marriage. My second book A Year of Doing Good explored goodness and why people do good deeds, and tried to reach an understanding of why the idea of good deeds translate across cultures and religions. Both were diaries. Both tried to look at big pictures a different kind of way.
Killing State is a work of fiction and there is a certain relief in that. In not having to write an account of yourself, of how you feel and think and what you do. It is however a very personal book. North wrestles with his own mortality and morality as we all do. Honor with loss and grief and loyalty. Both of them with the need to love and be loved. We all of us write the books we have to write. Whether they get read or not.