“Ted Bell can really, really write.”
That is what #1 New York Times bestselling author James Patterson said about Bell, the former Vice-Chairman of the board and World-Wide Creative Director of Young & Rubicam turned acclaimed author of the Alex Hawke series.
For those who haven’t read Bell’s books, think Clive Cussler meets Robert Ludlum. Or, perhaps, put more plainly—Hawke, the sixth richest man in England and a certifiable badass, is this generation’s James Bond. And this time around, Lord Hawke is forced to go head-to-head with his most dangerous enemy yet . . .
Just before Dragonfire’s release, Bell was kind enough to go back on the record for our Five Questions segment and I asked him about everything from how he came up with the story idea for this one to what’s happening with the Hawke movie that was announced a while back. Check out the full Q&A below, them make sure to get your copy of Dragonfire, now available in hardcover, ebook, and on Audible.
TRBS: First and foremost, as always, the latest Alex Hawke adventure is incredible. How did you come up with the story idea for Dragonfire?
Bell: Good question. I was having lunch with my former agent and he asked me to describe what my next book would be about. Until that moment, I’d not really formalized the idea, only let it float around up there for the time being . . . But, then I said, “Imagine a Chinese Godfather movie. Or, a novel. Tell the story of an ancient crime family that dates back 500 years or more. And, how crime families differ and how they are similar. That’s it. I had the notion of a family that had been preparing one of its smartest young men to be put into a position of power in Washington DC, in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor.” Thus paving the way for part of the story to take place at a moment when America was down, and for China, the only possible ally the US could have which would allow them to take out the Imperial Japanese Navy, Army, and Air Forces. And achieve victory in the Pacific theatre of war.
It would also allow me to do something I love to do: put historic personages into my books in living, breathing characters. I use Churchill all the time as he is my all-time hero. But, in the 1940s, who else could I introduce into the HAWKE saga. Well, how about Franklin Roosevelt for starters. And then the thought hit me like a flash from above . . . hell, what about Ian Fleming? Now, there’s a character for you!
It was so much fun putting words in his mouth and collaborating with our Hawke’s grandfather, operating behind German lines giving Hitler fits! Ian’s wartime career far outshone the exploits of his famous 007. Very few people know that Fleming’s real life was far more exciting and daring than Bond’s ever was. There’s a scene in the book where Fleming, after they’ve just blown up the main railroad station in Berlin, casually says to Hawke: “You know, when this war’s over, if we survive, I’m going to my home in Jamaica and writing the spy novel to end all spy novels!” So, that was it. I was ready to hit the start button again. And, so it goes…
TRBS: What sort of research, if any, did you have to do before sitting down to write this one?
Bell: I had already done the research, although I didn’t know it all the time. A few years back, I was elected a Visiting Scholar and Writer-in-Residence at Cambridge University, UK. Readers might find it fitting and ironic that my sponsor was none other than Sir Richard Dearlove. A man who had been the Chief of MI6 for many years. In Bond terms, he was the actual “M.” He’d recently retired to become Master of Pembroke College at Cambridge and head of a department called POLIS. Political Science/International Studies. So, my whole year consisted of a high-level study of China.
Cambridge is also spy heaven. There were countless Chinese professors there, and students, all spies. We knew it. They knew we knew it. And nobody much minded. There were frequent dinners at the thatched-roof home of my neighbor, a POLIS professor, often including Chinese guests. You can only imagine the table talk. Grist for the mill, as they say. I was flattered to be invited to so many dinners and cocktail parties by the various Masters at all the different colleges. Sir Richard said, “Ted, don’t be flattered. It’s not you they’re interested in. It’s anyone who has enjoyed seeing his work successfully published. That’s what they all are after. They want you to introduce them to an agent or publisher!” I didn’t bother to argue. He was right.
TRBS: You switched publishers between books, how are things going at Penguin, and what’s it like working with your new editor Tom Colgan, who also works with Mark Greaney and the Tom Clancy series?
Bell: I could not possibly be happier. Tom is a fabulous editor, and the whole team there is incredibly supportive, especially in terms of the Art Department and, of course, Publicity. You have the feeling that Tom is always there for you. Will help you through some difficulty or other at the drop of a hat. It serves to give you a kind of confidence, that there’s a net below the tight wire, that you, no matter what stands in your way, will overcome it and, at the end of the day, deliver the goods. That’s rare, in my experience.
TRBS: How have you spent time social-distancing, and what’s the last great book that you read?
Bell: As to the book first. “Sailing Alone Around the World” by Sir Joshua Slocum. The very first man to ever circumnavigate the earth in a single-handed sailboat. No compass, no radio, no instruments at all! I read it in preparation for the next Hawke book after Dragonfire. It’s all about courage, and daring, and a backbone forged of stainless steel. That’s our Hawke in the new one which I’m working on now. And really having fun trying to create a modern version of all the great sea adventures that have been told by far better authors than yours truly. You know, guys like Melville, C.S. Forester, and Alfred Lansing’s Endurance the story of Shackleton’s incredible voyage to Antarctica . . . and others of that ilk.
TRBS: Lastly are there any movie updates you can share?
Bell: My film production company, Jon Adler, and I are looking to our film production company, Endeavor Content, to exercise the option they currently have on the HAWKE series. We shall see . . . it would be great fun to see His Lordship up on the big screen. Or, these days, especially, even on the little screen!
Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.