By Jeremy Burns
For his many readers, Andy McDermott’s name has become synonymous with adventure. From discovering Atlantis and the Garden of Eden to saving the world countless times, McDermott’s flagship characters Eddie Chase and Nina Wilde have explored dozens of fascinating locations across the globe, usually getting into high-octane shootouts and car chases in the process.
For THE VALHALLA PROPHECY, the ninth entry in the series, McDermott tackles Norse mythology, Vikings, a Soviet Secret, and the end of the world in an adventure steeped in the author’s trademark blend of action, history, adventure, and legend. The author sat down with THE BIG THRILL to take readers behind the scenes with one of the most exciting and inventive thriller minds working today.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a former entertainment journalist who in 2004 took a massive gamble by quitting his job to write full-time until either selling a novel or running out of money. To my everlasting relief, the former happened before the latter—just! My first novel, THE HUNT FOR ATLANTIS, came out in the UK in 2007, and since then I’ve had ten more published, several of which made the New York Times bestseller list.
Tell us about your new book, THE VALHALLA PROPHECY.
It’s the tenth book starring what have become my signature characters, American archaeologist Nina Wilde and British former SAS soldier Eddie Chase. They’re currently working for a department of the United Nations, the International Heritage Agency, and are called upon to help investigate the theft of a Viking runestone from a museum in Sweden. It turns out that the runes point the way to a place long thought to be only a Norse myth—Valhalla, the Hall of the Slain—that holds a deadly secret. But there’s also a parallel storyline set eight years earlier, in Eddie’s days as a mercenary before he met Nina, revealing that he has his own dark secrets that are somehow connected to present-day events.
What was your initial inspiration for THE VALHALLA PROPHECY? How did the story’s premise develop through the early days of your writing process?
The very first idea I had for the story was the opening scene, where in 1961the Soviet Union detonated the Tsar Bomba, the most powerful nuclear weapon in history: my “what if?” concept was that they did so to obliterate something so terrible that nobody could ever be allowed to find it again. With the bomb site being up in the Arctic Circle, that led me to imagine that whatever they were trying to hide was connected to the Vikings, and when I started researching Ragnarok—the Norse myth of the end of the world—I knew I had my hook for the novel.
Now nine books into the Nina Wilde/Eddie Chase series, what challenges have you encountered in keeping the characters and series fresh, and how have you overcome them?
When I wrote THE HUNT FOR ATLANTIS, the thought of doing a second book wasn’t even in my mind—never mind a ninth! But I was determined not to use the middle-aged male author’s cliché of “the hero’s love interest from the previous story vanishes never to be mentioned again so that he can win over a younger replacement,” so each book takes Nina and Eddie’s relationship to a new place. The second book, THE TOMB OF HERCULES, actually had them at each other’s throats for a fair chunk of the book, which in hindsight I probably overplayed, but they got through it successfully and (spoiler alert!) eventually married. With each new story, I’ve tried to give them a personal storyline that runs parallel to the main archaeological plot. They’re now discussing starting a family in THE VALHALLA PROPHECY, but I’m not going to give away anything beyond that.
How closely do you tend to stay to established historical/archeological/geographical facts when writing your books?
I try to stick to the facts… except when they get in the way of the story, at which point I’ll hurl them away as if they were a live grenade!
What are some of the ways you’ve conducted research for this novel? Any interesting stories there?
Most of my research has been from books and the Internet, but I’ve recently started travelling more. A trip to Italy took me to the town of Amalfi, which is absolutely beautiful, but it was the winding cliff road leading to it that caught my attention: I immediately thought “This would be a great place to have a car chase.” So it went straight into the next book!
How much of yourself do you put in your characters? With which character in THE VALHALLA PROPHECY do you most identify?
I identify most closely with Eddie Chase, because like me he’s a balding Yorkshireman! He also shares my love of absolutely terrible puns. However, Nina also has characteristics in common with me; specifically, her tendency to obsess over her work and her exasperation when outside events prevent her from getting on with it. (My distractions are a lot less dangerous and explosive than hers, thankfully.)
Which character was the most fun for you to write? Why?
Eddie’s always entertaining, but sometimes it’s the secondary characters who are the most fun. Whenever I was writing Eddie’s friend and mentor “Mac” McCrimmon, I would alwaysh shay hish dialogue in the voishe of Shean Connery! Macy Sharif was also enjoyable to write, because while she’s an archaeologist like Nina, she’s younger, far hipper, and takes herself a lot less seriously, which often leads to friction with my decidedly uptight and obsessive heroine.
When sitting down to write a new book, how much of an outline or plan do you usually create before launching into the first draft?
I found out the hard way at the beginning of my writing career that I need to have the entire storyline in place before typing the first word, as without it I’ll waste far too much time on meanderings that will inevitably be cut. But that level of planning also extends to the action sequences; I write big, complex, movie-style set-pieces, and just like shooting a blockbuster film they can’t be improvised. Every beat has to be worked out in advance, otherwise you end up with an aimless, ramshackle mess that causes massive headaches at the editing stage. “Wait, who’s got the MacGuffin? Wasn’t this guy supposed to be dead?” So I spend anything from two to six months devising all the details beforehand.
Other than THE VALHALLA PROPHECY, what is your favorite book that you have written (or co-written)?
I really enjoyed writing my spy thriller, THE PERSONA PROTOCOL (US title: THE SHADOW PROTOCOL), which was my first non–Nina and Eddie novel. As much as I love them, it was tremendously refreshing to take a break and write about new characters in different situations. Sadly, it didn’t go down as well as I’d hoped; the reviews were generally good, but while it sold okay it didn’t match the numbers of the Wilde/Chase series. So as much as I’d like to do a follow-up, those plans are currently on hold.
What is your favorite book by another author? Why?
CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller. I love the characters, the mix of humor and despair, the way the non-linear narrative coalesces to reveal how all these disparate vignettes fit together, and the insane, horrible logic underpinning everything. War is hell, but hell is other people—people like Milo and Aarfy and Peckem.
What is your favorite travel destination? Why?
Tough question! Based on the number of return visits I’d say New York City, because it’s a spectacular city with no shortage of experiences on offer, but recently I’ve been to Italy, Antigua, and Iceland, all of which were stunning in their own very different ways.
f you could have dinner with any one person, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you talk about?
The filmmaker and explorer James Cameron. I interviewed him when I was a movie journalist—it was supposed to be a fourty-five-minute interview, but we ended up talking films and deep-sea exploration for an hour and a half! So I’d love to continue the conversation.
What is your favorite period in history (get as specific as you want, e.g., country, reign of King X, et cetera)? If given the opportunity to time travel there, would you go? Why or why not?
I have the first-world problem of being accustomed to a certain level of comfort, hygiene, and security, so going back to the days of slavery, open sewers and low life expectancy isn’t all that appealing! Given the ability to time travel, I’d be more likely to go to the relatively recent past; I mentioned the Soviet Tsar Bomba earlier, and witnessing that—from a safe distance, of course—would be pretty spectacular. I would also have loved to see the launch of Apollo 11. Of all humanity’s achievements, sending people to another world and bringing them safely back has to be one of the most amazing.
If you had the opportunity to freely explore any secure location (palaces, bunkers, secret bases, corporate headquarters, abandoned sites) from anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you do?
Nosing around Area 51 (Groom Lake in Nevada) would be at the top of my list! I don’t believe that they keep alien spacecraft there, but it’d be fascinating to see all the super-secret hardware that they’ll only own up to possessing twenty years from now.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
It’s my dream job; I get to spend the day inside my own head, telling stories—and get paid for it! I’ve always wanted to create, to entertain, and being a novelist is the purest expression of those desires that I can imagine.
What is one thing that would surprise your fans about you or your writing process?
I once scrapped a mostly-complete Wilde/Chase novel because I wasn’t happy with it. It was called THE EMPEROR’S CURSE, and would have been about opening up the tomb of China’s Emperor Qin (he of Terracotta Army fame). I didn’t initially see a fundamental flaw, which was that Nina and Eddie were being led through events by other characters rather than being proactive; by the time they reclaimed their own agency, they were over halfway through the story! When I finally realized that fixing the problem would require completely restructuring and rewriting the first half of the book, it killed my enthusiasm for it. Fortunately, my publisher (Headline in the UK) was very understanding, so I was able to start a new project from scratch rather than hack out something I’d come to hate.
What advice would you give to new or aspiring authors who look up to you?
The first thing I’d say to any aspiring author who looked up to me is how flattered I am! As for advice, I can only really offer the old saw: never, ever give up. Nobody wanted to publish the first eight novels I wrote – but the ninth was THE HUNT FOR ATLANTIS, and that went on to be a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into over twenty languages. So stick at it.
What can we expect nexct from you, and where can readers go to hear the latest news?
The tenth Wilde/Chase novel, KINGDOM OF DARKNESS, has just been published in hardback in the UK; the US paperback is out in April 2015. I’m about to start writing their eleventh adventure, currently titled THE REVELATION CODE—I’ll be posting updates on Twitter (@AndyMcDermott) and at my website.
Many thanks to Andy McDermott for sharing his insights on the latest entry in this blockbuster series. If you love adventure, you owe it to yourself to check out THE VALHALLA PROPHECY, as well as the rest of McDermott’s books. The fate of the world may well depend on it.
Andy McDermott is the New York Times bestselling author of the Nina Wilde & Eddie Chase series of adventure thrillers: THE HUNT FOR ATLANTIS, THE TOMB OF HERCULES, THE SECRET OF EXCALIBUR, THE COVENANT OF GENESIS, THE CULT OF OSIRIS (aka THE PYRAMID OF DOOM), THE SACRED VAULT, EMPIRE OF GOLD, TEMPLE OF THE GODS (aka RETURN TO ATLANTIS) and now THE VALHALLA PROPHECY. He has also written the high-tech spy thriller THE PERSONA PROTOCOL (aka THE SHADOW PROTOCOL).
To learn more about Andy, please visit his website.