Dear Reader: a letter from Frank Gardner
Writing Crisis has been a huge mental adventure for me and so completely different from my two previous non-fiction titles, Blood and Sand and Far Horizons. Working as a correspondent in BBC News in my day job, I have to keep within the strict tramlines of accuracy and impartiality. So I can’t tell you how liberating it feels to start inventing plots, characters, their dialogue, their quirks and traits, imaginary people who I hope will evince some visceral reaction in the reader, either positive or negative.
I had always wanted to write an action thriller set somewhere exotic but it was only when faced with an 11-hour flight to Los Angeles that I sat staring at a blank screen on my laptop and thought: ok, it’s time to do this. The obvious place for me to anchor it was in the Middle East, so I chose Colombia instead; I wanted to surprise people. I’ve been lucky enough to go there four times, most recently for work trips but also doing some independent trekking in the 90s. These visits have taken me right inside the government’s war against the drug cartels there, allowing me to see first-hand how their hostage negotiation units operate or following a police commando unit into the steamy jungles to find and blow up processing labs. For me, the persistent whine of mosquitoes hovering round my face is all too real. Two days after we filmed in one of these places our cameraman went down with dengue fever and he was then off work for months.
The hardest part of writing this book was not the Colombian scenes, it was the Whitehall ones. How to make them realistic enough without being boring? Because the truth is, were someone ever to smuggle a weapon like the one in this book into Britain then there is a whole complex machinery of government that grinds into gear. Who takes the lead? Is it MI5? The Met Police? Cabinet Office? No.10? The MOD? Aldermaston? I did a lot of research in writing this book and I seemed to get a different answer everywhere I looked. The fun part was doing the research on the ground. I needed to go to Cornwall to see for myself how someone could bring such a weapon in by sea. But being based in a wheelchair, I could only get so close to the shore, so I sent my teenage daughter ahead to go and scout out the terrain, take photos then come back and tell me the lie of the land. Her input into Crisis is much appreciated!