Origin - an X-files meets Da Vinci Code conspiracy thriller. So we were really pleased to run in to him recently, book-signing and promoting in our local Waterstones, and couldn't resist the opportunity to pose some questions.....
Origin is your first novel, so presumably all this is new to you. Was spending Saturdays signing and promoting books in bookshops the life you expected as an author?
I think I did expect it to a large extent. I mean, unless you’re one of the ‘big names’, and there’s a huge budget thrown behind you, it really is up to the individual author to push themselves as much as possible. I’ve been fortunate enough to be taken on by an excellent publishing house in Headline, which in many respects makes things a lot easier, but I still need to put the hours in as a debut author. Luckily though, I enjoy it!
How much time is taken up this way? More or less than the actual writing?
I would say that more time is spent on social media such as Facebook and Twitter than on physical book signings, in general – with smartphones, access to these opportunities is available pretty much 24 hours a day. At the moment, more time is spent promoting ORIGIN than on actual writing, but it all depends on the schedule. For instance, my second novel has just been agreed upon – again with Headline Publishing – and so the first draft will have to be ready for about the end of March. The balance will therefore shift hugely, and a lot more time will be spent on writing. So it’s cyclical really. But luckily, my wonderful wife also works very hard with me on promotion, which frees up more time for writing.
Is this all voluntary or are events organised by your publicist?
A bit of both really. My publicist Ben Willis organizes things from his end – for instance, he contacts the national media, tries to arrange events at literary festivals, and so on; and then my wife and I try to arrange local book signings. So it’s a team effort.
Without spoiling the plot could you tell us something about Origin?
Well, Origin begins with a body found buried in the Antarctic ice. It looks like a modern human, with advanced clothing and equipment, but is found to be 40,000 years old. The scientific team that finds the body is executed by a military hit squad, except for one lady – Lynn Edwards – who escapes. She then teams up with her ex-husband, and together they have to piece together a huge global conspiracy – one that takes in everything from the Nazca Lines in Peru, to the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva!
I described Origin as X Files crossed with Da Vinci Code - is that fair comment?
Definitely. Origin is a cross-genre action conspiracy thriller. It certainly has the pace of a Dan Brown novel – that feeling when you can’t put the book down, you just have to find out what happens next; and it also has a ‘twist’ that hopefully takes it beyond the confines of normal action thriller convention, in the same way the X-Files did on television back in the ‘90s. I think it’s a great combination, and one which readers will love.
...and talking of TV/films, Origin seems a likely film plot - how would you feel if a film production company approached you?
I would be delighted! My love of movies and novels is probably at the same level – I think both are superb forms of entertainment. Indeed, when writing, I tend to see things ‘cinematically’, and then transfer these visual images to the page. In many ways I see Origin – and my style of writing in general – as a ‘movie on a page’. I think it creates a more exciting ride for the reader. For instance, my action scenes are based on film technique – when we see action on the screen, we see several different camera angle shifts, changing from one point of view to another. I replicate this when I write, which I believe adds a visual dynamic to the scenes that enhances the experience for the reader. As a result, I think Origin would translate well to the silver screen. But we’ll have to wait and see!
Can there be a sequel or have you written to a dead end?
Origin can stand on its own, in terms of its finale being fully resolved, although there is of course scope for a sequel. In fact, I have notes for a potential trilogy for this story – or ‘thrillogy’ as my wife has suggested it should be called! But I have so many other ideas and characters I want to explore that any potential direct follow-up to Origin won’t be immediate.
Some authors have a long hard slog to reach publication, other have a short simple trip. How was yours?
Well, I feel very fortunate in many ways. I’ve always wanted to write ever since I can remember; in fact, I’ve always been convinced that this is what I would do for a living. But even though I have been writing stories since I was about six years old, it wasn’t until I was thirty-three that I eventually sent anything out.
I’d been writing a political action thriller for about ten years, and had about three hundred pages completed, which equated to about half of what I anticipated the final product would be. Last year, my wife told me to send it out to agents, but I was convinced that agents would only consider finished manuscripts, and so I was reluctant. She eventually convinced me though, and I sent a letter, a synopsis, and the first thirty pages to Luigi Bonomi, the previous year’s Literary Agent of the Year, and a man who had had a lot of success with action thrillers similar to mine. Luckily he liked what he read, and asked to read the rest. When I told him it wasn’t completed, he agreed to read what I had already done; and when he liked that, he said he would wait for the rest. I then wrote the rest in about three months, ending up with 150,000 words, or 600 pages. We then edited it down to 100,000 words, or 400 pages – a major job in itself!
The novel – Stop At Nothing – went out last year, and was very nearly picked up by Random House, but was unfortunately pipped at the post by a serial killer novel submitted at the same time (I’m not sure which one!). Apparently, ‘straight’ action thrillers were not selling very well at the time, and the paperback trade in general had just taken a nasty downturn.
Undeterred, however, Luigi asked me to come up with four other ‘high concept’ story ideas, which would either merge genres together, or deliver unusual twists – or both! I delivered four such story outlines, and we both agreed that Origin was the strongest. I therefore sat down and got back to work, and Origin was sent out to publishers early this year. The response was very strong, with several publishers interested, and Headline Publishing made a pre-emptive offer for it in April, which we accepted. I then worked with my excellent editor, Alexander Hope, to further refine the novel into the one that is now on the bookshelves!
I think my experience has been very fortunate, in that I was picked up by the first agent I contacted, especially as he is one of the best around, but it wasn’t all plain sailing – in fact, it was an entirely different novel that was eventually sold! But I think that it worked out for the best – Origin seems to have such universal appeal that it is being released in about thirty countries around the world, and is being translated into eight languages so far – German, French, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Czech, Bulgarian and Portuguese (for Brazil). We’re still awaiting feedback from the Frankfurt Book Fair, so there might even be more to follow!
As an aside, Luigi and I still liked the first novel – Stop At Nothing – so much that we have just released it as a ‘kindle exclusive’ eBook, available via Amazon.
What are your plans for future books? Do you plan to keep writing the same genre for the same audience?
Yes, the action thriller genre is the one I love, and the one I have the most fun writing. And I really believe that an author should love what they do, and write the sort of books they would want to read themselves. And as with Origin, they will not be standard, ‘straight’ action thrillers, but will cross genres to create an even more exciting reading experience for the audience. My next novel, out from Headline in October 2013, will really blow people’s minds – but I can’t say more than that for now!
Many thanks to JT Brannan for taking time out to answer our questions and we wish him every success with Origin and his future books, which we look forward to.
If you would like to know more then you can find out by using one or more of links below.
Website – www.jtbrannan.com
Blog – www.jtbrannanbooks.blogspot.com
Twitter - @JTBrannan_
Facebook – www.facebook.com/jtbrannanbooks