In Conversation with Terry Hayes

As most of you know from reading my earlier blogs Terry Hayes is an accomplished journalist, motion picture screen writer and TV/film producer, with so many credits to his name it is simply amazing the levels of excellence he has achieved.

Terry Hayes began his career as a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald, when as foreign correspondent in the US he covered Watergate and President Nixon’s resignation, among many major international stories. He then went on to become a successful screenwriter, having written the screenplays for Mad Max 2, Dead Calm, Bangkok Hilton, Payback and From Hell among many others

Mad Max Beyond ThunderdomeFrom HellDead Calm (1989) Poster

I have been very fortunate to read and review an advanced reader’s copy of Terry’s exciting debut thriller I am Pilgrim and even more fortunate to have the unique experience of interviewing Terry Hayes for my blog. 🙂

I am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes

Reading, Writing and Riesling: Terry, welcome to my blog. Firstly I wish to congratulate you on the success of your debut book. It is a fantastic read! I am sure it will be an award winner and best seller it is so engaging and well written. 

Terry: Thanks so much! I saw your review on GoodReads and can’t thank you enough – to give such an interesting account of the plot, indeed the whole novel, without giving away any spoilers was a triumph! I had been following how you were going with the reading via your blog and I loved the fact that it kept you up to all hours of the night. Your dog must have thought you were crazy. It’s the prospect of that sort of reaction that keeps you going when you’re writing it – so, thank you again.

RWR: Can you tell me a bit about how the book came about, the inspiration for it?

Terry: We were living in Switzerland and two friends of mine – both Swiss – asked if I would like to accompany them on a trip to a little known concentration camp in the Vosges Mountains on the border between France and Germany. I am very interested in the dismal history of Europe through the 30s and 40s so we set off one beautiful summer’s day and, as I think it says in the book, “we walked into darkness”. It was there that I saw a black and white photograph of a solitary woman leading her three kids towards the gas chamber. That started a process of storytelling that led to a modern day story about a covert intelligence agent chasing a very smart terrorist! It’s easier to tell where things start than where they will end, that’s for sure. I’m pleased to say I managed to include the photo of the woman and I like to think that in some small way I have honoured her and her familys memory.

RWR: This scene in the book was very memorable and so moving.

RWR: Tell me more about your writing process, do you plan out all the important events, or just write and see where it takes you? Do you write a “Bible”, or something similar to what is commonly used in screenwriting for profiling and establishing the identity of your characters?

Terry: I don’t write a Bible but I definitely have a beginning and, more importantly, an end. I also work out clearly what the characters’ journeys will be and what wounds they are carrying or labouring under. I find you have to know where you are going but not be so rigid that you are not open to whole new ideas opening up as you get deeper into the terrain.

RWR: Can you tell me about how you researched the material for this book? Did you travel to all the countries featured? Your descriptions are so visual I could place myself in the scene, on the roads, in the cafes… Do you have contacts in the agencies /government departments mentioned in your book that provide you with specialist knowledge/advice?

Terry: My wife and I have been lucky enough to live [in] and visit a lot of different countries and before that, as a journalist and foreign correspondent, I travelled extensively for work. I have been to nearly all of the countries mentioned – not Saudi Arabia or Syria, primarily because I can’t say I like really autocratic regimes much. I have been to quite a number of other countries in the Arab world so I felt I had enough of a feel for the culture and the places to make it live on the page. I think having written and made movies gives me an appreciation for the visual aspects of various locations and perhaps I have been lucky enough to draw on that. As far as the research is concerned, I read voraciously and am a very good researcher – sort of dogged, I suppose (I was once an investigative reporter) – so I sort of keep digging. I didn’t have a deep throat in any intelligence agency but I certainly couldn’t have done it without the internet. If you can find the smallpox genome on it, you can certainly find a good indication of how covert agencies operate. I had also been a political correspondent so I have seen at firsthand how politicians think and work, how bureaucracies operate, so that gave me a good leg up. A good imagination and a belief in making things credible also helped!

RWR: Can you talk to me about the publishing process? Was it easier to get a publishers attention because of the success of your screen writing? How long did it take from inspiration to being published?

Terry: I don’t think it would have been possible to have it published – or it certainly would have been incredibly difficult – without the screenwriting. The success of those movies and having that career meant that I was represented in LA by one of the world’s two leading talent agencies.

When I told my motion picture agent that I had written the first 150 pages of a novel, it was just a phone call to the head of the agency’s department which represents books and authors. She asked to read it, called me up and said on the strength of it “you can have a career as an international author if you want it”. Of course, there was the small matter of writing another 550p pages making it all hang together and then honing and rewriting it until it was as good as I could make it! Even so, I was blessed and please don’t think for a moment I am not aware of it. With the agency behind it, it was able to be brought to the attention of publishers at a high level. Those 150 pages and an outline I wrote meant that it sold to the UK and Commonwealth, the USA, Holland and Germany immediately. That gave me enough encouragement to forge ahead and once it was finished it the rest of the foreign rights sold to virtually every other major territory. It is published in Italy as the major release for Christmas, in Holland early in the New Year, in springtime in Germany, in the USA for spring as Simon&Schuster’s major book, then in France, Japan, Czech Republic, Scandinavia, Turkey and on and on. From inspiration to publication took over five years but I did nothing but keep developing the story in my head for a long time and then I also had several really big movies I had to work on so it was hard to get a straight run at it. I think over a three year period it took me two years to write.

RWR: Is there anything else you would like to share with me about your writing habits, your process and finally what comes next?

Terry: My writing habits are pretty disciplined – though they may not always look like it. I lead a very quiet, family-oriented life. My wife and I have four quite young kids so we hardly ever go out which is fine – more time for reading, thinking and, finally, getting words on paper. I don’t set targets for pages or words – but I do set them for quality. Next is a book called “The Year of the Locust” – a REALLY intense thriller. Then I have the outlines for the next two Pilgrim books already done – I did them long before I finished this one so that I knew where I was going. That will complete his epic journey – a sort of Lord of the Rings of the espionage/ thriller genre! At least in its scope, if not in my abilities!

RWR: Terry thanks for giving me your time for this interview. It has been a  pleasure getting to  know a little about the man behind the book and your writing process. I really look forward to reading your next books…

Post Script: I am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes

The most sensationally well written, engaging, mystery/thriller of 2013!

I Am Pilgrim

Terry Hayes

Random House Australia Pty Ltd

Bantam Press

ISBN: 9780593064955



Pilgrim was the codename for a world class and legendary secret agent. The adopted son of a wealthy New York family, he was once head of a secret internal affairs force for US intelligence and held the title ‘Rider of the Blue’. He wrote the definitive book on forensic investigation before disappearing into an anonymous retirement, taking the secrets of the Rider of the Blue with him. A murder in New York: the body of a woman is found face down in a bath of acid, her features have been ripped from her face, her teeth are missing, her fingerprints gone. The rooms had been sprayed with DNA-eradicating spray. Someone has seemingly committed the perfect crime using the techniques outlined in Pilgrim’s book. A terrorist, known only as Saracen, was radicalised when, as a young boy, he witnessed the beheading of his father in a public square in Saudi Arabia. He has dedicated his life to destroying the special relationship between the Kingdom and the United States. He learnt his trade fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, and now from hiding in Germany plots a terrible act of mass murder. When NYPD detective Ben Bradley tracks down Pilgrim, neither man can imagine the terrifying journey they are about to begin, as what begins as an unusual and challenging murder investigation leads them into a direct collision course with the dark forces of jihadist terrorism.

Terry Hayes began his career as a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald, when as foreign correspondent in the US he covered Watergate and President Nixon’s resignation, among many major international stories. He then went on to become a successful screenwriter, having written the screenplays for Mad Max 2, Dead Calm, Bangkok Hilton, Payback and From Hell. He lives in Sydney with his wife and four children. This is his first novel.

My View:

Terry Hayes has redefined and claimed the genre of spy/ mystery/thriller as his own. He has written an exceptionally engaging, technically masterful and fast paced mystery debut novel – but given his credentials I am not surprised at the talent that is shining ever so brightly from under the cover of this compelling book. Simply stunning! Seven hundred pages were not enough to satisfy my intense involvement in this book! Even when I went to bed at night I could not get this story out of my mind, my brain forever thinking of what may happen next, how the terrorist plot would be enacted (there are no spoilers here), how the Pilgrim might be able to intercept and prevent this act of mass destruction.  I could not figure it out, but it didn’t stop me thinking about the possible scenarios as I tossed and turned in bed. By the time I finished reading this I was exhausted and emotional spent.

Never has a book had so much emotional influence on me. This was a roller coaster ride of intrigue, mystery and conspiracy theories. It was an eye opening account of how the machinery of anti terrorist activities operates and a grim but realistic account of how the rights of the individual are sacrificed for the welfare of the many. I think this book well open the eyes of many as to the state of the world we are currently living in – to the wealth of information about individuals that we unknowingly and  mostly without permission, offer up to the technical masterminds’ of the world.  Let’s just hope they are on our side. J

Not only do we have a splendid plot that engages and compels us to keep turning the pages, we have well developed and mostly likable main characters who act with a great deal of humanity and naturalness; I particularly liked the character Ben Bradley and of course the hero, code named Pilgrim.  Even the anti hero is treated with some empathy; we are able to understand his radicalisation but not able to forgive his actions.

Then we have the stunning visuals – the setting of time and place so realistic I was I could place myself in the scene; on the roads, in the cafes… in the desert of Afghanistan, in streets of New York, in Red Square, in Bahrain… and watch the world go by. This story has phenomenal visuals, a strong sense of place; realism that appears natural and not contrived; a testament to the monumental amount of research that must have been done to write this narrative.  The atrocities and the violence are just as real.

I am struggling to do justice to this outstanding read and this is a book I do not want to let down. When you read the hype about this book – believe it, it is all true! Get yourself a copy of this book, set aside a few days and just allow yourself to be completely immersed in this outstanding, break out story.

I can’t wait to see what Terry Hayes delivers us next.

Sneak Peak: I am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes

I am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes

I have been fortunate to be asked to participate in a  blog tour launched by Random House Books Australia for the above book.

It is being marketed as “the breakout thriller for 2013.” And guess what? It is! All the hype that comes with this book is true!!!

AT the moment I am 250 pages into the 703 pages of the book – and I only put it down to go to bed last night and even then I did not stop thinking of all the possibilities for what is coming next. I cant wait to start reading again today but know once I pick it up I will be totally involved in it again ( there goes the possibility of doing anything else today). 🙂

Please look out for this book – full review  and author interview to follow next week. 🙂