Dear Reader: a letter from Simon Mayo
Back in the first decade of this century I was working at BBC Radio 5 Live, alongside some rather fabulously talented journalists. I felt every inch the imposter. The flighty DJ amongst the noble fourth estate. Every day was a privilege, even when they made me interview Steven Seagal. I learnt from some of the finest. When you talk to the likes of Jon Sopel, Allan Little, Caroline Wyatt, Andrew Marr, Frank Gardner, Carolyn Quinn, John Simpson, Danny Shaw and Bridget Kendall (I could go on), asking them to explain what was happening and why, you cannot help but consider it the grandest of educations. I came away with the highest regard for journalists at the peak of their game.
So the journalist at the heart of my new thriller, Knife Edge, was always going to be a hero. Famie Madden is loosely based on a producer I worked with at 5 Live called Nyta Mann. If she were alive still, Nyta would be most surprised to be mentioned here. She tolerated me but I learnt from her. Journalist and writer Nick Cohen, in the obituary he wrote, called her ‘spiky and arch’. The BBC’s Chris Mason called her ‘waspish, funny and super bright’. You get the picture. Famie is fierce, funny and foul-mouthed. She will not be patronized or bullied. She is exceptionally good at her job. She is, however, weary of the endless management changes and reforms which always, always make things worse. She’s on the brink, though she doesn’t realize it. When seven of her colleagues are murdered – within 27 minutes – in separate attacks, Famie quits. Then the messages begin to arrive, some typewritten, others in newspaper columns. Someone is trying to communicate with her about the case, but is she the next target or is she being warned off the investigation?
My original idea was to set the story in a BBC/ITN/SKY newsroom, but my fabulous editor Bill suggested shifting to a news agency, and we were off (editors are, annoyingly, almost always right on these things). Famie works at a big international news agency called IPS, obviously inspired by the big players here – Reuters, Associated Press, Bloomberg and Agence France-Presse. They have a hefty, worldwide reputation. What they say matters. If a story comes from them, you can rely on its veracity. In an era of the citizen reporter, these agencies matter more than ever. So an attack of the sort outlined in Knife Edge would be interpreted (correctly) as an assault on the freedom of all journalists to do their job.
Famie is an ex-journalist from almost the start of the novel. But like teachers, coppers, sailors, soldiers and doctors, journalists can’t quit that easily. Once a reporter, always a reporter. Famie wants to know who killed her friends. It is as simple as that. There’s a story to tell and, seemingly oblivious to the dangers to herself and her daughter, she is going to be the one to tell it.