Wednesday, 15 August 2018

The Assassin: excerpt

I’m taking a bit of a jump start to my upcoming thriller The Assassin by publishing a small sample here. I had intended to wait until I have the edited version, but I got impatient and wanted to share it with you instantly. All the typos and grammar mistakes are therefore mine.

The Assassin by Susanna Shore

The sharp retort of a ball hitting the centre of the tennis racket reverberated around the court. The sound was much like a single round from a marksman’s rifle with a silencer on. His rifle. And he’d timed the shot perfectly to coincide with the women’s number one returning the first serve of the third best player in the world. It was the women’s final at the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament. No one would pay attention to the strange echo. And as his mark didn’t collapse and the dark colour of his shirt covered the entrance wound, he would be well on his way before anyone even noticed that the man was dead.

As it was, he was in the service area on the ground floor when the ruckus began, audible through the loudspeakers that broadcasted the game to the dressing rooms. He was carrying a tennis racket shaped bag like so many others there, dressed in fashionable tennis clothes, with wrap-around sunglasses and a cap pressed deep in his head. He didn’t look back when people around him reacted to the sounds from the court, but just put the bag into the booth of the car that was exactly like at least a dozen cars on the players’ parking area. What was it with tennis players and black Audis anyway?

He drove calmly to the gate where the security waved him out, the news not having reached them yet. It was only coming in that they’d payed any attention to his right to be there, but his credentials were sound—if fake. After the gate, he blended into the Saturday afternoon traffic, heavy, but not congested. He’d scouted beforehand a route with the least CCTV surveillance, and followed it to an anonymous rental garage in Kingston, ten kilometres west of Wimbledon. Securely in, he took out the racket bag containing his rifle, spent ten minutes cleaning both, and shelved the bag with its rifle among all the similar innocent-looking items.

He removed the number plates from the car and replaced them with the originals, careful not to scratch them. The fake plates went on the shelf in their box with others. A quick change of clothes into a dark, tailor-made suit, a removal of the blond surfer wig he’d worn over his short black hair and adding brown contact lenses, and he was indistinguishable from the couple of million suits filling London.

After the last check that the garage was neat and the car was in pristine condition, and wiping the door handles and the steering wheel clean with his gloves on, he drove out. Forty minutes later, he was in a car rental at the Heathrow airport, chatting up the pretty receptionist as he returned the key, leaving her an impression of a charming Frenchman. A television mounted on the wall behind her showed breaking news from the Wimbledon tennis court where a high-level Saudi diplomat had been assassinated. The police had no clues.

Did you enjoy the sample? You can continue reading on my webpage. The Assassin will be published on September 23. You can preorder it here.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The book that wasn’t supposed to be

Every once in a while, a book wants to be written. The need to realise an idea or a story in words becomes so strong that I leave everything and start writing. Often, the ideas fall flat, resulting in only a few feverishly written chapters that don’t lead to anything. But occasionally, a book is born.

This spring, the story I needed to follow was that of an assassin. The spark was a random tweet asking what kind of a sound a tennis ball made hitting the racket. My answer became the opening line of the book:
The sharp retort of a ball hitting the centre of the tennis racket reverberated around the court.
I left it at that. But a half hour later, I realised that instead of writing the book I was working on—the sixth Two-Natured London novel—I was imagining the scene that would follow from the opening line. And I simply couldn’t continue with the job at hand until I’d written the entire first paragraph:
The sharp retort of a ball hitting the centre of the tennis racket reverberated around the court. The sound was much like a single round from a marksman’s rifle with a silencer on. His rifle.
The opening chapter flowed naturally from there and in no time at all I had the entire story pictured in my mind. A clever assassin and the agent trying to find him. I gave myself three weeks to write the story, chose a strict frame of twenty-one chapters, thousand words each. It would be a compact novelette that would purge the story out of my system.

Three weeks flew by. At the end of it, I had about the 20 000 words I had decided on. But instead of a full story, I had maybe a half of it. As the story had unfolded, the motivations behind the assassination had become more complex. I’d added new point of view characters and a subplot. Much more was needed to finish the book. Now I had to make a choice: do I leave it be, or do I continue: restructure what I’d already written to match the pace of a longer book and see where that takes me.

I chose the latter. And I don’t regret it, even though finishing the book took me longer than I’d anticipated, and there were more rewritings than I could have imagined. Pantsing a thriller isn’t an ideal approach; the story becomes unnecessary convoluted as new ideas pop up and they have to be fitted in the overall story, sometimes with forceful tweaking that either works or not, in which case a rewrite is needed. And when I finally reached the end and figured out the motivations of the antagonist, it didn’t match anything I’d written so far. So I had to rewrite it once more.

Diving into a book head-first has other drawbacks too. Story-flow takes precedence over fact-checking. I called my protagonist Agent Morris, as she works for the MI5, only to learn much later that MI5 doesn’t call their personnel ‘agents’ but ‘officers’. Agents are their non-staff informants. The plot that relied heavily on the British government trying to sell Wildcat helicopters to Saudi Arabia unravelled towards the end, when I had time to do some research on British helicopter industry and learned that the manufacturer is owned by the Italians now. So another rewrite was needed.

The book isn’t quite finished yet. Once the plot is logical—and hopefully exciting—there are the characters to think of too. They grew fairly organicly at first, as pantsed characters do, so some fleshing up is required there as well. But I’m almost done, and hopefully the book will be out in September. It won’t be a 40 000 word book though; it grew into 65 000—a long way from the novelette it was supposed to be. Sometimes that happens. A book that wasn’t supposed to be is born.

The Assassin will be published on September 23. You can preorder it here.