Tom Rob Smith has gotten tons of attention for his trilogy starring Soviet Union security officer Leo Demidov, and his new novel, The Farm, is excellent. Tom was kind enough to stop by and answer a few of my questions, so please give him a warm welcome!
Congrats on your new book, THE FARM! Was it a bit bittersweet to wrap up Leo Demidov’s story and begin with a new character?
I was always sure that AGENT 6 was going to be Leo’s last story. The book was written with that in mind, and I think the ending for is exactly right for Leo. But yes, it’s always sad leaving behind a character I’d spent so long with.
Will you tell us a little more about what inspired the story?
Four years ago I received a phone call from my father telling me that my mother had suffered a psychotic breakdown, she was in an asylum and I had to fly out to Sweden to see her. Several years earlier my parents had retired and moved to a farm in a remote part of Sweden. Needless to say, I was shocked and booked a flight to Sweden but before I could catch the flight my mum called me from a pay-phone, telling me that everything my dad had told me was a lie, she wasn’t mad, he was involved in a criminal conspiracy and she was flying to London to tell me the truth.
I met her at Heathrow airport and brought her back to my apartment in order to listen to her version of events.
In my novel the story I tell is a fictional one, all the characters are my creation, but it’s inspired by the idea of not knowing who to believe – your father, or your mother.
Will you tell us more about Daniel and what you think makes him a compelling character?
Daniel is a young man in his mid-twenties who has never really grown up, he’s adrift and oblivious to difficulties of others. This makes him an interesting person to try and piece together the truth of what has happened because he’s so unqualified for such a role. He also has many secrets of his own.
You have ties to Sweden and much of THE FARM revolves around it, but have you spent quite a bit of time there? What kind of research did you do for the book?
I’ve spent a great deal of time in Sweden, many summers, so I know the landscape very well. Actually the research was mostly about the first person narrative which I use in a very different way in this novel.
What is your writing process like? How long does it usually take you to complete a book?
I wake up early, about 5.30, and write until about 2 in the afternoon. At that point I always stop, I tend to read in the afternoon and evening, I don’t do any writing. It takes about two years and then another six months or so of editing.
You’ve seen amazing success for Child 44, Agent 6 and The Secret Speech, but have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
Yes, I always wanted to be a writer, I worked on plays while I was at school – short plays, one hour plays, I wrote short stories too. The same was true at university but after university I found work in television and those were my first paid jobs as a writer. CHILD 44 was written with the money I’d saved up working on other people’s TV shows.
Why suspense? What do enjoy most about writing, and reading, in the genre?
I like the sensation, the grip the books exert on the reader. There’s a kind of magic about it, they create a compulsion to finish them.
You’ve undoubtedly influenced many other writers with your work, but what are a few of your biggest literary influences?
This question comes up a lot and I always think it’s a bit unfair to create a list because the truth is every book I’ve ever loved, whether a suspense novel or not, has influenced me – I find reading any good book, or watching any great movie or television drama inspirational, even if they’re not connected to the work I do.
What do you like to see in a good book? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?
I always try to finish the books I’m reading, it’s horrible giving up on a novel, or a non-fiction. It’s not a pleasant sensation. I read because I love books so I’m not interested in trying to find fault in other people’s works and even if there are elements of a novel that don’t connect with me I’d always try to get to the end.
What are you currently reading? Are there any particular books that you’re looking forward to this year?
At the moment I’m reading a lot of research non-fiction for my new novel. It’s an entirely different field for me and I feel a lot like I did when I was writing CHILD 44, which is to say, I’ve set myself an enormous challenge in terms of exploring something far removed from my life.
There many wonderful authors bringing out new novels this year, I’m friends with many of them, so it’s hard to list them all. I have a very large reading pile by my bed.
What’s next for you?
I’ve just finished the television scripts for my BBC drama series LONDON SPY and now I’m moving onto researching and planning for my new novel.
About THE FARM:
If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.
Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes.
Your mother…she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital.
Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow.
Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.