Books

Frederick Forsyth on new hunt for an assassin

October 03, 2013

More than 40 years after the release of his international best-selling espionage novel The Day of the Jackal, British author Frederick Forsyth has published another thriller that also focuses on a manhunt for an assassin.

The Kill List draws upon Forsyth's research into some of the latest advances in counter-terrorism to track down a fictional Muslim terrorist called The Preacher, who somewhat resembles Anwar al-Awlaki, the real-life al Qaeda militant who died in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

Like The Day of the Jackal and three other Forsyth novels, the film rights for The Kill List have already been sold.

Forsyth, 75, said about the research behind the book and literary transformations to the big screen.

Q: The novel's plot unfolds in several cities, including Islamabad and Mogadishu. Can you describe how you put together such a detailed narrative?

A: For scenes that I have to describe at length, I like to visit to see first-hand. Of course, there are places where you cannot literally gain access. In those cases, I usually try to track down someone who had either been or worked there before.

In preparation for this book, I spent a fair amount of time around the Washington Beltway, which is a very intensive area for new consultancy and cyberspace corporations, and then Pakistan.

The toughest place of all was Mogadishu. I did not like many of the descriptions that I had read of the area since I did not think those authors had been there. If I wanted to get this really right, not just in terms of the geography but the smell and atmosphere of the place, I had to go there.

I flew down from Istanbul into Somalia and was accompanied by a bodyguard, who was a fellow Brit and ex-Special Forces. He was working out of Nairobi but had been down there two or three times before. He packed a gun under his left armpit and was on the tarmac waiting for me upon arrival.

We rented a jeep to venture outside what is called "the camp" for two days. In all, I spent about US$50,000 in research expenses for The Kill List.

Q: How long did it take you to complete the book given your thorough research?

A: My books typically take a year to complete. From the first niggle of an idea until undertaking the research, I would estimate that process spanning about three months. Then the direct research takes another six months. Finally, I try to write 10 pages a day, six days a week after which we wind up with a 350-page book.

Q: What still motivates you to keep writing more books?

A: For each of the last three books, I keep thinking this will be it. I am not a compulsive. I do not need to sit down and drive myself to exhaustion. Quite possibly, I find time goes by and I get an idea, and it bats around in my mind. I start doing some basic research to test whether the idea is feasible. Could something happen, technically or procedurally?

For The Kill List, I wonder how religious extremists operate in their part of the world with their own language while evading capture. How are they found and ultimately eliminated? Many of the most-wanted terrorists have either been captured or killed.

I am drawn to the attraction of coming up with a problem and then finding solutions. This problem-solving lays a potential foundation for a book.

Q: How much input will you have into filming The Kill List?

A: I ask for none because I know from previous experience that film-makers find it extremely tiresome being told what to do. The comparison is: if you are a full captain flying a jumbo jet, you do not need some guy from coach coming up to the flight deck telling you how to fly. They are polite about it but they don't really want the author coming onto the set.

My wife says, 'I would love to cast this.' But I tell her if you start to name names, that actor won't get the role. – Reuters, October 3, 2013.