Unknown Unknowns by Adam Bromley (Piqwiq publishing)
After punching an American captain into a mound of profiteroles, Kat Foster’s future in the Foreign Office looks bleak.
She is given one last chance to redeem herself, thanks to her boss and a shady US intelligence agent. It involves travelling to Ozerkistan to debrief a prisoner, aka “The Chemist”. He has contacted a US embassy claiming to have valuable information about a former Russian weapons programme, codenamed Pandora , which he will trade in return for his freedom.
The only snag is that her destination, Ozerk City, does not appear on any printed maps and Ozerkistan does not appear to exist.
Nevertheless, faced with almost certain career ruin, Kat launches herself into the unknown, promising to contact no one, entirely unequipped by an unhelpful and obscure brief.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, the vodka-swigging, foul-mouthed General Berezin has also intercepted The Chemist’s message. Determined to prevent the truth about Project Pandora emerging, he makes a beeline for Kat and The Chemist. Also making his way towards Ozerkistan is Kat’s aristocratic and over-cultivated boss, fearing for her safety on the journey he assigned to her.
First off please tell us a little about yourself.
My background is producing comedy for the BBC, mostly for Radio 4 as well as CBBC. I’ve also produced pilots for E4 and BBC3. These days I’m Managing Director of Rushforth Media, one of the UK’s leading audiobook production companies. As a writer, I’ve co-written sketch shows for Radio 4 and devised a BBC3 pilot.
I hear you have a new book out, Unknown Unknowns? Could you give us a little info on that?
It’s a comedy spy novel, about a disgraced diplomat who is a given a chance to rescue her career by travelling to a lawless country, Ozerkistan, to debrief a prisoner. Unfortunately a Russian general also wants to reach the prisoner first as does a corrupt CIA official, as the captive claims to have the Pandora formula – a weapon of devasting power. So it’s like Bourne film, with jokes.
How do you balance writing with everything else you have going on in your life?
With difficulty is the honest answer. My wife, Jenny, is very supportive, otherwise I think it would impossible. I have to find time on evenings and weekends to write which isn’t ideal. If I was able to spend several months only writing, I’d have finished the book much sooner.
You worked as a comedy producer for the BBC for 8 years?! How did you find going from comedy to writing Thrillers?
My novel is not a straight thriller, there are plenty of comic moments throughout, so that’s an easier transition than writing serious fiction. Yet I think the same principles apply to all writing whether it’s comedy or drama and whatever the medium. You have to engage with your audience and keep them hooked. The hardest part was structuring the book and keeping track of rewrites. A sitcom script is only 5,500 words, a novel is typically 70 to 80,000 words long. So when you change something in the opening chapters, there’s a lot of work making sure you’ve followed up any loose ends.
You also created a childrens show for CBBC called Stupid!, how different was that from what you were doing before?
I can’t take credit for creating the show, that was the brainchild of the wonderful writer Dean Wilkinson. But I did work with Dean and others from the pilot script to the finished show. The highlight for me was being able to design the look of Goober, the gremlin butler, who ended up with purple pot belly and a furry tail.
How do you handle any negative press or comments (if any) from readers/listeners?
Feedback is what every creative person needs to do a better job next time. I’ve got a fairly thick skin from my producing days, where my shows would be reviewed in most national newspapers. You shouldn’t take every negative review to heart, as sometimes it’s just a matter of taste. If more than one person picks up on the same point, then it suggests there’s room for improvement.
Would you rather write or do radio?
That’s a tricky question. I loved making radio shows, but it was a different era then. Before the scandal with Russell Brand, BBC producers were left to their own devices more or less. I produced The Now Show for two years, without much oversight – the perfect way to make comedy. These days, it’s all about compliance. What that means in practise is anything sensitive or potentially offensive has to be vetted. Often it can mean the joke gets cut. For me, that takes a lot of the joy out of the process, in particular for radio which is a pure form – script, actors and usually an audience. So to answer your question on a roundabout way, I prefer writing these days.
Who are your favourite authors?
Tibor Fischer, PJ O’Rourke, Ian Rankin.
Who's your favourite actor?
Another tricky question... From TV actors in the UK, I’d say Olivia Colman is the best and most versatile there is, who I have had the privilege of working with on several occasions. And then of course, there’s the McConnaissance: Matthew McConnaghey has delivered a series of stunning performances in recent years.
Thank you so much for visiting today and sharing with us Adam!