The thing about fiction is that it is, well, made up. Of course. Especially so in genre fiction. Novels often all about escapism of one sort or another, whether it’s the delicious shiver of fear or a dreamy ‘neverland’. Thrillers are slightly different; the ‘thrill’ comes not just from the suspense of ‘will our heroine save the day’, but also in the recognition that ‘it’ (nuclear Armageddon, pandemic virus, financial meltdown of whatever the theme of that novel may be) could happen.
This is especially so in Patriot, where it is not just themes that are based in reality, but actual events, too. Several have happened since I first wrote about them (and the book did have a long gestation of around three and half years, but that’s another story). It is a thriller in which life has imitated art.
Something thing that has -spookily- happened since I first wrote about it is a period of solar flares. These natural phenomena vary in intensity over a cycle of roughly 11 years or so. One of the characters in the book talks about this (and everything he says is accurate scientifically). Since I wrote Patriot, we have passed through another cycle and I woke up one morning to hear a news commentator talking about the threat to our electronic networks from solar flares!
What was most challenging for me was the technology side of the novel. A couple of readers have commented that aspects of this are a bit far-fetched. I have some bad news for you guys; it’s a lot closer to the truth than you realize.
A weapon of mass destruction features in this book (no spoilers!). This weapon, as described, is entirely accurate. The detail of how it is brought into America is the part I made up, but the thing you should worry about is the fact that this could also be carried in something as small as a rucksack. The effects would be more contained, but this particular threat is something on which many military and science researchers around the world are working, right now.
In fact, there is only one small piece of technology in this book that isn’t absolutely accurate, which is the discovery of a piece of advanced military hardware that kicks off the story. Even this is about half-true; there are very similar weapons being used by America and its Allies right now. Only some of the details vary slightly. And – so far – the fact they have not fallen into enemy hands. I wonder how long it will be before some version of the horrific opening scene in Patriot involving an American apache helicopter, plays out for real?
The other big truth in the novel is the ability of governments and their intelligence services to ‘listen in’ on the ‘phone calls of private citizens anywhere in the world. I knew this was possible when I wrote the novel – and the real network of listening stations is an open secret – but it was Edward Snowden who told the world the reality and extent of the snooping. After I’d written about it…
For many of the details in the book, I went to great lengths to ensure they were correct. This included talking to aircraft and marine engineers, studying plans for motor yachts and, one of my favourite pastimes, poring over maps to ensure the locations I use in the book are accurate. Brooke can walk from Foggy Bottom metro to the Kennedy Centre in ten minutes and small planes can crash in Labrador and never be seen again. The reality of the settings in the book is another topic, but they are all places I know personally (except Afghanistan).
In fact, the only fictional things in Patriot are the characters and the plot itself. Everything else is true. Now there’s a shiver down your spine!