This past Sunday, I shared a bit about a new release this week from St. Martin’s Press by “debut author” Ronan Frost called White Peak.
This book was seriously one of the best adventures I’ve read in a while, and the twist ending makes it even more compelling for me. Since I don’t want to wait seven years for the sequel, I’m promoting this book a bit more than normal in the hope that I get to come back to this world sooner rather than later. So go buy it! That’s right, for those that checked the link on “seven years” or recognized that I’ve only ever noted that particular fact for exactly one particular book, “Ronan Frost” is indeed a character in Steven Savile’s SILVER and GOLD. GOLD was a Featured New Release of the Week here back when it released in September, and Steven has been a Facebook friend for many years dating back to when I joined a particular book club on Facebook that he was already an active member in. Below are some questions from me about White Peak in particular, and Steven reveals several things about himself in his answers that I had never known. So let’s get to the Q/A, shall we?
Q: This story begins with an active shooter situation in a shopping mall that sounds somewhat similar to a real life events that happen all too often these days. Was this scene inspired by real life events?
A: A couple of years ago I was sitting in a small café with one of my closest friends, just having a catch up. Life’s pretty slow here in the wilds of Sweden—there are about two thousand trees for every soul—and we’re just BSing about Brexit and the madness of the world when he notices he’s got 35 missed calls from his partner. The stomach tends to sink when you look at your phone and realize someone is that desperate to reach you. So, I decide I better give him a little privacy, thinking something must have happened and wanting to be pretty much anywhere other than that café, right then. So, I take my phone out and decide to give him as much privacy as I can as he tries to call back. I open the app for one of the national papers and the headlines, still developing, claim that a terrorist attack is happening right there and then in Stockholm. So he’s still trying to reach his wife but the phone network keeps dropping the call. I push my phone across the table and he stares down at the news that an eighteen wheeler has killed pedestrians and driven into the perfume department of the big flagship department store. My mate’s face then, I’ll never forget it. His wife has gone down to Stockholm for the day, shopping. Suddenly the 35 missed calls make sense.
He gets through. She’s upstairs in the department store. People are panicking. They don’t really understand what’s happening. But she’s okay. Natural instinct is to go down, there are three main escalators, two banks of elevators. But the elevators come out too close to the perfume department, same with two of the escalators.
Technology is an incredible thing, using my phone we can watch live footage of the news streaming from the department store, and see where the worst of it is, so we know to tell her not to head down into the perfume department. There’s a staff staircase near the back which leads out into an underground parking lot. We tell her to head for that, keeping the line open.
In reality it was a happy ending, but my brain doesn’t work that way. Even as she’s going down the stairs talking to him I’m thinking: Christ, could you imagine anything worse than listening to a loved one caught in the middle of a terror attack and there’s nothing you can do… the answer of course was yes, there’s one thing worse, that’s listening to your loved one die in the middle of an attack and desperately scrabbling around for coins to keep the line open while you do… the fact that the story is set initially in the US meant looking for the kind of terror that is all too common, and that was always going to be more mundane, domestic, if you like. An active shooter situation, watching it play out on live tv, Rye, the hero, trying to steer his wife out of there and instead putting her right into the path of the shooter.
Q: It seems you were pretty busy in your former life and that this debut novel is a way to calm down from that. Is there any new insight you can offer about the terrorist incidents across Europe in the last few years and your involvement in working to stop them?
A: Hah, yeah, that stuff was a long time ago, and not as glamourous as it sounds. I graduated uni in the early 90s, right around the fall of the iron curtain, the end of the cold war. Back home we were rationalizing and centralizing our defence operations. We had several depots duplicating the work of others, so were looking to move all navy operations to Bath, for instance, closing down a lot of the regional stuff. My first day I was basically introduced as a hatchet man. I was going to spend the first few months there evaluating everyone and then writing the competitive tenders for parliament to see who kept and who lost their jobs. I’m basically a kid at this stage, and I’m telling 25,000 people you won’t be able to pay your bills next month. So, when the opportunity to get involved in more faceless stuff, I leapt at it.
A lot of the stuff is covered by the Official Secrets Act, so I can’t go into detail, even though we’re over 25 years on stuff ought to be declassified by now. Better safe than sorry. What I can talk about was after I quit, I decided to go back to uni and do my PhD. Within days of getting the okay I was approached by my old professor from my economics and politics degree, saying he’d been asked to put together an advisory group to go to Russia and help find alternatives for the economic crisis they were experiencing. I don’t know if you remember the times, but you’d see food queues going halfway down the block and around the corner, just hoping to buy a loaf of bread, and McDonalds had just opened their first restaurant in the city, where a Big Mac menu was a full week’s wage for a Russian worker. So, when he came to me asking if I wanted to be involved, given my other background with the MoD, I jumped at it. I mean, few weeks away, all expenses paid, in a different world, who wouldn’t? When everything was set up, all the visas and permits secured, and we were basically on the runway we were approached by intelligence and given various briefings for what was expected of us. There were moments when it felt like I was living in a Le Carre novel, to be honest. It was a different time. There were lavish diplomatic parties and the sheer extravagance of the new money wanting to prove anything and everything was buyable, there were new businesses trying to set up and get established that didn’t understand that everything was dependent upon bribes, even meetings with government officials. Nothing happened without the wheels being greased, but these people weren’t going to say ‘this is what we want to make x happen’ so part of what we did there was work out what it was they wouldn’t or couldn’t say they wanted, and make sure our people knew. Wheel greasing.
Of course, my namesake or should that be pseudonym’s sake, has a much more interesting life than me. You see, I am Ronan Frost and Ronan Frost is me, but long before I became him, I created him. Back in 2011 I wrote a novel under my real name, Silver, which was one of the top 30 bestselling books in the UK that year. It was an assassination plot novel, with Ronan Frost a member of the deniable ops group caught up in the middle of it, trying to stop the credible threat on the Pope’s life…
So why take the name? Well, it goes back to a conversation with my editor at St Martins, who said ‘Why don’t you give us a novel like Silver?’ and we knocked a few ideas around, came up with White Peak, and he said, ‘We’re going to need a name for the contract, doesn’t really matter what it is, we can change it down the line…’ I hate picking pseudonyms. It’s a seriously weird thing to do. So, because he’d said he wanted a book like Silver I plucked Frosty’s name out of the air purely for the contract. Six months later, as I was delivering the book I had a different name on the file, and my editor saw it and said, ‘What’s with you changing the name? We’ve been working with Ronan Frost for months now, let’s stick with it…’ so, when I was wrapping up Gold, the conclusion to the story started in Silver, I got to the last page, all the shouting is done, the bad guys vanquished, and one of the other characters turns around to Ronan and asks, ‘So what are you gonna do now?’ to which he replies, ‘I think I might write a book…’
So, Ronan’s been involved in some pretty hair raising stuff. He certainly made enemies in high places. And done a lot more to fight terror than his creator. But, there’s a line from Silver I think sums a lot of it up – it’s about inspiring the emotion of fear, that means it’s about the spectacle. I grew up during what we called The Troubles in Northern Ireland. These were the days when the IRA were perpetrating terrorist attacks on the mainland. We couldn’t have garbage bins in train stations and shopping malls for fear they’d be used to hide bombs. It was almost civil. They had code words they’d use to identify themselves when they called in to the police to warn them a bomb had been planted in x location. Most of the time that gave people the chance to evacuate, though we did see a loss of life it was nothing like the scale of what it might have been. But that all changed after 9/11. The sheer scale of the horror of that attack made what was happening between the Catholics and protestants in North Ireland almost redundant. They just couldn’t instill fear on a comparable level. There was a new kind of terror. The old gods were dead, if you know what I mean?
Jeff Note here: That last question was designed for Ronan as an easy way for Steven to promote SILVER and GOLD as well as White Peak, and wound up telling me a lot of fascinating stuff about my friend that I had never known!
Q: In any adventure book such as this, the locations tend to be nearly as important as the action itself. Did you get to do any traveling to see the regions these characters find themselves in? What locations presented the most challenges to describe in the context of the story?
A: I’m a huge lover of travel. I’ve got a peripatetic soul. I swear, by the time I was forty I’d lived in forty different houses. The last few years have been the most settled I’ve ever been. I’ve got some bucket list places I still haven’t visited, places like Machu Pichu and the Great Wall, but yeah, I’ve been to a lot of the places that feature in the book, and will feature in subsequent books if the series gets to continue. The private bank scene, for instance, that’s the truth the whole truth and nothing but. And seriously bizarre. But I’ve never made it as far as the Himalayas. The thing is, where I live temps regularly drop down into the low -20s/-30s and if we get snowfalls in November they’re with us until April or May. Last year we had about nine weeks where the snow was knee deep at least, and where it had banked up was head high along the ploughed roads, etc. I’ve got a dog, Buster, an Irish Wheaten Terrier. We go out into the woods every day and hunt for deer spores and stuff to activate his mind. The woods in the wilds of winter, knee deep snow, -30s, it’s not such a stretch to imagine the hell that is high altitudes and low temps. I’d come in from a walk having focused on a turn of phrase or idea to encapsulate the burning muscles, frost-burned lungs, etc, without having to imagine all that hard.
Q: Do you believe there is any factual basis to the legendary myths such as those tracked in this tale? If so, might it be possible to locate them now? If not, why not?
A: I think there’s an element of truth in some of these, sure. I mean, do enough research you start to notice patterns. The idea of wisdom falling from the stars, for instance. It’s vague. It doesn’t feel unreasonable. It’s not like claiming the holy grail is literally a cup that Christ drank from and his blood was collected in, so therefore would contain trace elements of his divine DNA. But legends, some, like King Arthur, not so much, but I like the stories. Others, like the Seal of Solomon being able to translate all languages and command demons, yeah, more unreasonable. But there’s a power to the myths that gives them longevity. We need them. We need the stories of Achilles and Agamemnon, of Lancelot and Galahad, Siege Perilous and the Spear of Destiny. Life would be lessened without them. They resonate with us for a reason, they’re speaking truths we understand and need to hear. But are we going to be able to dig under the ice and find a lost race? Nah, though if we get lucky maybe we’ll find a lost evolutionary step or something equally incredible. And maybe just maybe those legends will inspire new generations to want to look. That can’t be a bad thing.
Q: Since we’re all about book confessions on BookAnon, what is your juiciest secret as an author? What about as a reader?
A: Hmm, that’s not as easy as it might sound… okay. It’s not exactly secret, but… my first stories for were for what we call lads mags in the UK, top shelf stuff. I did maybe half a dozen for different soft core porn mags. I was about 17 at the time, too young to actually buy the magazines my stories appeared in. They had terrible titles like Beating the Meat… a boxing sex story haha… anyway, one weekend my mum was cleaning up my room and found the stash of porn mags under my bed and threw them away… so I don’t have any copies of my earliest stories.
As a reader, I don’t think I have any secrets… though… now I come to think of it… post-divorce, back when I was still teaching and fairly new to Sweden, I used to go to my mate’s bar because I couldn’t be bothered to cook. I’d order the ribs or a burger and read at the bar for a few hours while he pottered around serving people and having a good time, and no one ever bothered me. I mean not once. They didn’t ask what I was reading, or if I minded if they joined me, nothing. It was like a cloak of invisibility. Then one day I decided I’d check out this new book I’d heard a bit about, maybe it was something we could use teaching the kids… So I go into the bar, order my food and start reading and within five minutes this woman comes over and asks if the book is any good. We chat for a few minutes. Then she leaves me alone. Maybe fifteen minutes later another woman smiles and comes over saying how great the book is, she’s reading it to her daughter at the moment. And this goes on all night. Seriously. There must have been a dozen women who came up to talk to me that night. The book? Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It was way before the hubbub. The next night I was back to reading my normal stuff and no one talked to me. I mentioned it to my barman mate, and we decided to test the hypothesis, so every other night I’d read Potter in the bar, and every time I did at least five or six, and as many as a dozen women would come to talk to me, using the book as an ice breaker. But only Potter. So, during the days I’m teaching college English. I ask the kids to ponder why it might be, what is it about the book that makes it work. And we came up with an answer. See, the women who talked to me were invariably single mums, and there I was, a guy who either had kids or was comfortable enough in myself to read a kids book in public, or a guy in need of mothering. For a little while it was like I’d discovered a super power haha.
Many thanks to Steven for writing this book and giving such great responses to my questions, NetGalley for hosting the ARC I read, and St. Martin’s Press for granting the ARC request and asking me to be on this blog tour. Now go out and buy this book so I don’t have to wait seven years to see a sequel! 😀