NAW Interview with Jack Hayes


Jack Hayes is a journalist for one of the world’s largest news companies. He has reported from Ethiopia, Mozambique, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and many others. Visit him here.

NAW- Tell us about your book, Candleburn. How did you get the idea for it? What is it about?

Candleburn is an action thriller set in Dubai.

It follows two stories that intertwine. The first involves a journalist. He receives a parcel relating to a story and people try to kill him to get hold of the contents: three used cigarette butts.

The second aspect involves a manager at a corporate spying agency called Chrome. Such companies have ballooned in the last decade as governments outsource their espionage efforts to get around pesky things like legal constraints and private clients look for businesses that provide more aggressive services than a traditional private investigator might. Chrome’s agents are turning up dead, one by one.

The core ideas for Candleburn didn’t come from one place.

There are many strands to the plot and it was a process of evolution rather than one with a ‘Eureka!’ moment (or, if you prefer, there was a series of many ‘Eureka!’ moments set over time).

The core theme of the book is Goebbels’ famous line that: ‘if you tell a lie, tell a big lie and tell it often enough, people will start to believe it.’

All of the interconnecting elements of the story, from the bitchy politics of a newspaper office to the grand world of global politics revolve around this.

The actual strands of the plot emerged, therefore, from many sources.

For instance, one came from the continual resurfacing of the story that Britain’s Prince Harry is not the son of Prince Charles. Now, this particular ‘conspiracy theory’ is clear hokum. But, even though it’s obvious rubbish, it’s surprising how many people believe it or, at the very least, give it some level of credence.


One of the points of Candleburn is that it doesn’t matter if an idea is true or not.

If small group of people believe something strongly enough, a lie takes on a power of its own.

Another element emerged from an expectation I had in 2010 that new terrorist groups would splinter from Al Qaida. These would use extreme religion as a cloak but, underneath the message they claim to represent, they would actually be more like profit-maximising companies.

I regret to say, this has proved prescient with the rise of ISIS (among others).

NAW- How long did you take to finish the book? How did you decide the title?

Candleburn took 12 weeks to write.
That’s slower than I’d like but I work a full time job as a reporter for a multinational, so is reasonably standard. It took a good deal longer to go through the editing process and find a publisher. I was very pleased to have Endeavour Press take it on.

The title comes from a song by a band called Dishwalla. The song does not feature in the book. Nor is it referenced. If you like, it’s a tip of the hat, or a ‘thank you’, to them for creating music that I’ve enjoyed.

In the novel, Candleburn is an amalgamation of the name of the emergent terrorist organization ‘The Candle’ and their favoured method of torture: burning away their victim’s fingers and toes.

NAW- Tell us about the character of Nate. How did you develop the character?

The lead character in Candleburn is the journalist Blake Helliker. He is a strong, proportional and athletic man; your standard, square-jawed hero.

The nature of Candleburn meant there was going to be a secondary lead – and that character became Nate “Asp” Aspinal.

I wanted a contrast between the two.

Not everyone is six foot tall and built like The Terminator. Some people are shorter than average and others are cerebral – though, no less heroic in personality.

Based on that, Nate began to form.

He’s analogous to a ‘John Steed’ from the 1960s Avengers TV series, given a modern twist. He uses his brain to defeat his foes. He has two degrees; one in Anglo Saxon and a second in Astrophysics. He abhors guns. He’s bald, with a van dyke beard. He has a little bit of a temper, especially when the ‘red mist’ descends.

Knowing these characteristics, I can begin to pick out the clothes he wears, the shoes, how he walks – naturally, he went to Oxford or Cambridge (Cambridge as it happens) – which gives me his accent, how he speaks, the words he uses, his wife, how he met her, the likely names they’d pick for their kids…

And out of these acorns, characters grow.

Blood Red Sea

NAW- What made you choose Dubai as a setting for the novel?

I lived in Dubai, working as a journalist, for two years.

I wrote Candleburn shortly after I returned to England, in part to tie together themes and concepts that had been floating around my brain while I’d travelled the Gulf and, in part, to make a break from my previous novel, Blood Red Sea, which I’d written while in Dubai.

Blood Red Sea was a World War 2 action adventure in the mould of Where Eagles Dare and The Eagle Has Landed.

With that novel complete and being shopped around literary agents, I decided that I next wanted to write a modern thriller and had a canvas already primed for Dubai.

That then had knock on implications for the plot.

Candleburn was born.

NAW- Tell us about your other works.

So far I’ve released six novels. I have just finished my seventh. Hopefully, my eighth will be complete by the end of the year.

If we take the seven as a starting point, then four of them connect together to make a series set in World War 2.

They follow a member of Britain’s Special Operations Executive called Maddox.

They are heightened fiction in tone – more ‘James Bond’ than ‘History Today’ in nature.

The idea stemmed from my concern that most of the modern WW2 fiction books were very documentary-like and almost fetishist about details (was it a type 2-red-X-3a or a type 2-Red-X-3b rivet on the left wheel arch of the Sonderkraftfahzeug 251?)

Now, there’s a place for that, but even historical recreation stories like ‘The Longest Day’ and ‘The Dambusters’ tend to shrug off that level of inane detail.

Dead Man Rising

To my mind, the authors had forgotten the 1960s and 70s ‘Boy’s Own’ fun of the ‘Dirty Dozen’, ‘The Heroes of Telemark’, ‘Where Eagles Dare’ or ‘The Guns of Navarone’.

So I set out to write a modern reinterpretation of what one of those ‘big screen’ extravaganzas would look like today. That became Blood Red Sea. I’m pleased to say, it’s been extremely well received and sells well.

The remaining three books all take place in the same world as Candleburn. The background events of rising tensions between the US, China, Middle East and Russia are the same – and so is the American President in power. However, in these three books you’re following different characters. That will change soon, as I begin to flesh out their respective series.

Candleburn is the first in a sequence of stories that follow journalist Blake Helliker and Nate Aspinal.

Overtime is the first in a collection focused on a ‘fixer’ for a Russian billionaire oligarch.

Dead Man Rising is the story of a former US assassin called ‘Rook’ who has had to hide away for many years because his former agency is trying to kill him. It follows his plot for revenge and to clear his name.

No Easy Mission

NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?

Obviously, work takes up a lot of time.

I’ve reported from more than 30 countries around the world – including Saudi Arabia, Oman, Mozambique, Israel & the West Bank, Ethiopia, Bahrain… it’s been fascinating to both see so many places and report on events like the Libyan revolution and Egypt’s Tahrir Square uprisings.

Last year, my wife and I had the privilege of welcoming into the world our son. He was born almost three months early. He’s fit, healthy, happy and beautiful.

He is also a joy to spend time with – particularly since he’s just discovered tickling!

Part of the writer-publishing contract these days is to maintain a social media presence, at the very minimum on two or three of the networks. Many of my readers found me through Twitter, for instance.

So, between journalism, my family, social media marketing and writing, there isn’t actually a lot of free time.

What there is gets spread across cooking, swimming, binge-watching US TV series (the Americans, hands down, are making the best TV in the world at the moment – though there’s some exciting stuff coming out of Korea and Sweden), and spending time with friends.

NAW- Please name your favourite writers. Are there any who you’d like to name as an inspiration?

There are too many.

Most prominent are: William Goldman, Michael Crichton, Jeffrey Deaver, Dean Koontz, James Grady, Jack Higgins, Stephen King, Alistair MacLean and Umberto Eco.

William Goldman, in particular, has inspired me.

Princess Bride, Marathon Man & Tinsel are excellent. Adventures in the Screen Trade is inspired.

And those are just his books.

His screenplays read like a Best of Film list from the last 50 years (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, Misery, A Bridge Too Far…)

Saving Hitler

NAW-What are you currently reading?

Right now, I’m reading Eva Hudson’s Fresh Doubt. It’s a magnificently well-crafted thriller set in London.

I’ve just finished Skis Against the Atom by Knut Haukelid as part of my research for my most recent book, ‘When Eagles Burn’. It’s the true story of the Norwegian resistance effort to stop the Nazi atomic bomb project by destroying the Norsk Hydro plant in Vermork, written by one of the men who took part in the raids.

NAW- What will you be working on next?

Next is a prequel to Dead Man Rising.

Somewhat predictably, it’ll be called ‘Dead Man’. It will follow the assassin Rook’s last job for the agency he worked for and his move into hiding.  A lot of the basic information was interwoven into Dead Man Rising, but I had readers who wanted more information on the character’s background.

There is also clamouring for a sequel.  By putting in place a prequel, I hope to provide any third book in the series with greater depth.

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