Chris Allen is the writer of the spy thrillers Defender and Hunter, book one and two in the Intrepid series, which have recently been optioned for film and television.
Chris began his career in the Australian army rising through the ranks and serving as captain with the Australian Intelligence Corps. Chris then went on to join the Drug Operations Division of the Australian Federal Police. He returned to the Army in 1991 serving with the 3rd Battalion (Parachute), The Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), and between 1994–95 was attached to British Airborne Forces, The Parachute Regiment (3PARA). He deployed to South East Asia, Africa and Central America. He was medically retired from the Army in 1996, having reached the rank of Major. Chris then worked for CARE International in East Timor leading security and logistics. Post 9/11 Chris provided counter terrorism advice for Australian government departments and agencies and diplomatic residences.
Allen’s expansive career, in a world we seldom see, is what gives his series an edge. I was fortunate to interview Chris and I hope you enjoy a more in-depth look into this new writer on the spy/ thriller scene.
Can you give the readers a synopsis of the Intrepid series?
I grew up watching spy shows during the cold war and all of that influenced me, so when I was looking at creating the series I wanted an international spy. I was looking for a vehicle where I could make up a new agency, but I like to ground every thing in reality, so I created a fictional agency within Interpol. The agency is called Intrepid, which stands for the Intelligence Recovery Protection Infiltration Division, a division of spies for Interpol. People like that it’s a spy agency that’s interests are international, not one single country like the CIA or Mossad. I say that there is: No name. No country. No borders. No limits.
When I was speaking about the films to the film producer who was interested in doing the books. He said he was ‘…already working with a Special Forces/airborne guy, like you…’, and he wanted to know if my stories were those kinds of stories. I said the characters personal histories are in the military and law enforcement, but the books aren’t soldiering stories. When I said they’re secret agents for Interpol he loved it!
The series was optioned last year?
Yes early 2013
Has it been green lighted?
At the moment he (The Producer) is doing all the pre-production ground work, getting funding together. I can’t say his name, as that’s part of the contract. He’s American, I met him in L.A and a number of people are getting behind it as a franchise, a number of films and a television series. He’s taking a long-term view of it. It’s a slow burn, we signed last year and it’ll be 3-5 years before anything gets to screen.
I’m excited about it.
Is there a certain actor you picture playing Alex Morgan?
The guy I always had in mind is the Australian actor Alex O’Loughlin (Hawaii 5-0), but by the time the series comes around I think he may be too old. Other than him I really like Sullivan Stapleton, but he may be too old as well, so maybe one of the Hemsworth’s. O’Loughlin was who I pictured when I was writing.
I see number three in the series is coming out soon?
Yes I’ve done it, it’s with my agent, who is overseas at the moment, and she is looking at various markets. I released the others through Momentum (Pan Macmillan’s digital imprint) in eBook and Print On Demand (POD) formats, and many readers have asked me where they can get a physical book without ordering online. So, what we are doing now is looking at how we can expand the availability of all the books. I have a long-term view for the series, so based on the reactions from readers so far I’m very encouraged. I’m starting work on the fourth book as we speak. It’s an exciting time.
Do you have a final number for the Intrepid series or are you thinking of a new series?
The ballpark number for the series is a dozen as I see the agency evolving, with new people, but Alex Morgan, my protagonist will always be there. I’ve invested so much of myself in Alex Morgan as the root character, but I have another idea that I’ve penned a significant amount of; it involves a new character and is more of a crime/ thriller, more gritty.
Where you influenced by any writers in the thriller genre?
Yes, the big one for me was Ian Fleming and the Bond books.
He came from a similar background
Yeah, he was a navy officer in the intelligence side of things and his brother, Peter, served with the Special Operations Executive. When I grew up it was pre-Swarznegger and, as far as action movies were concerned, the Bonds were it!, It was also pre-video, so when I first saw the Bond films on TV, you had to wait for them to be repeated by the TV stations. All I could do was try to find the books and back then they’d already had their run, so I found them in second hand stores like St Vincent De Paul. I still have all of them and I devoured them as a kid. I knew I wanted to write those kinds of stories.
So even back then you wanted to be a writer?
Yes I did, I tried a lot of things, I knew I wanted to go to the military; Fleming was a big influence and my family. Many members of my family have a military background, many had served in the Second World War. I had it all around me. Then I discovered Jack Higgins “The Eagle has Landed”, Fredrick Forsyth, Clive Cussler.
You have something in common with Clive Cussler; you both used your son’s names as your protagonist. How does your son feel about this?
He loves it. He is nearly five and quite a good reader, he can recognize his name, he would sit on my knee while I’d try to write and he’d spot his name. I told him I named the character after him. My new character in the next series is named after my other son.
In your books you were able to use your vast experience in special forces and law enforcement, but did you find you still needed to do some research?
If there is something I need to check up on, I’ll talk to my mates. When I was writing Hunter I was writing a scene, which included drones, and that technology has come in since I left the military. I have some mates still serving whom I called up. I was stuck on a scene, so I texted two friends -“lunch at our place, we are going to talk drones”. There is a military abbreviation for acknowledge, ACK. and that was all I got back – “ACK”. They came and we sat for a couple hours.
If I want to check something or I’m unsure, I’m lucky to have these friends who are specialist military instructors, so I just tap them on the shoulder. In terms of research, I researched human trafficking for my latest novel, Avenger, and stats for gun smuggling for Defender. So, I suppose I balance the research side of things with experience and calling on friends.
I saw that you studied a business degree; do you think that has helped you as a writer, once you’ve had a physical product ready to market?
Most of what I did post military was as a senior executive for government and a lot of my objectivity is very much on achieving an end result. So, I do balance the creativity with my experience. I have a clear goal in mind. I have a global vision, I’m getting great feed back, and I have a long-term plan.
What about marketing how have you approached that?
I’m really lucky my wife Sarah is my secret weapon; she is a marketing specialist and social media advisor. When we were kicking it off Sarah grabbed the bull by the horns and pushed it in the direction I wanted it to go. It’s action adventure, but grounded in a real approach. Sarah’s catch cry for the books in the early days was ‘the old school action thriller has come of age’. Originally like many aspiring authors I got knock back after knock back from publishers. I got despondent but I thought I’m not letting it go and so we self -published, it did well and then it got noticed!
What medium did you use for self- publishing, straight to Amazon or CreateSpace?
CreateSpace, this way I got an eBook and a physical book. Sarah and I started researching in 2010 and I was really conscious I didn’t want a book that looked like it came off a photocopier. It’s a trap for those who are trying to self publish. We contacted a number of self -publishing companies, asked all of them to send us a copy of something they had done, and we ended up with eight books. The best product was from CreateSpace, it looked and felt like a book you’d buy in a store. We went with them and they were exceptional. After that Momentum noticed and signed me for two books.I re-edited and re-released Defender and wrote Hunter. One of the things a lot of authors don’t realize is when they sign a deal they sign a lot of right for several years. So, you have to be very conscious of what rights you are signing away.
I saw that you use a variety of social media including Pinterest. How have you found that helpful?
Sarah said to give it a go. So I use it as an inspiration board to map out a story. I have one for each book. For Defender I put pictures of Africa, London, Sydney the places where the book is set, along with pictures of paratroopers and other things relevant to the stories. You end up with hundreds of pictures. It helps me map out. I’m a bit of a Pinterest nut now. Fans of the books follow me.
You use Twitter?
Yes, it’s great I love follow Friday and people reach out with private messages. It’s great to share your interests. Facebook is great too. I also got into LinkedIn, but it’s more professional. LinkedIn is good for verifying who you are.
You started a Thriller writers Association, are there many Thriller writers in Australia?
Yes lots, through social media I met up with Greg Barron, Luke Preston and Nathan Ferrugia. I thought there were all these groups evolving that were predominantly women, The Romance writers group, The Sisters in Crime group and the fellas were getting left out, so for just a bit of fun I put the group together. It’s called the Action Thriller Writers Association of Australia and what we want to be is non–gender specific, but from that group formed a sub group called Thriller Edge, which is our answer to Sisters in Crime. The eight of us are Tony Park, Greg Barron, Steve Worland, Scott Baker, Luke Preston, Nathan Ferrugia and Adrian d’Hage. Our object is to get people talking about Australian Writers and we want to go to schools to encourage young men to read.
Do you have any advice for any writers starting out?
The best advice I can give is if you really want to do it you have to dig in and be prepared to take disappointment and take it on the chin. You have to be serious about a long-term goal. Its a rare thing to be picked up straight away and its such a competitive market, but if you’re clever and you use self-publishing in a very targeted, very specific way, you can do really well. You need to get out there and promote.