Adam Hamdy, crime author, screenwriter and co-founder of Capital Crime


I’m delighted this week to host a question and answer session with the successful crime author and screenwriter Adam Hamdy.

Adam is the author of the acclaimed Pendulum trilogy, an epic series of conspiracy thriller novels, nominated for the Glass Bell Award for contemporary fiction and selected for the BBC Radio 2 Book Club. 

His new novel, Black 13, is already a top 20 bestseller and has been described as ‘stunning’ and ‘thrilling’ by readers and critics.

In addition, he co-founded the Capital Crime festival in London in 2019 with literary agent David Headley and is membership coordinator for the International Thriller Writers Debut Authors Program.

Adam Hamdy

  • Adam, you launched Capital Crime last year on an unsuspecting public of crime writers and readers. I went and was impressed by the line-up of guests and the number of people in the audience. What was your aim and what did you feel you could offer that was different from existing crime festivals?

David Headley and I launched Capital Crime to provide London with its own large scale crime and thriller festival. Focused on the reader, we want to give people the opportunity to hear their favourite crime and thriller creatives and give them the opportunity to meet their literary idols in person.

Capital Crime has a few points of difference from other festivals. Firstly, we decided to make the festival as accessible to as many readers as possible regardless of background or means.

To do that, we decided to host Capital Crime in London, a city that’s home to millions of people. We also launched a tier of affordable tickets, meaning people on low incomes could attend.

  • What did you learn last year and what will you do differently in 2020?

We’re having longer breaks between panels to give people more of a chance to enjoy meeting the authors during signings.

  • How did you start writing? What sparked your interest and when?

I’ve written short stories and plays since I was a child. My parents moved a lot when I was young so I had to be able to create friends I could take with me wherever we went.

  • Can you tell us a bit about your background? I know that you trained as a lawyer and philosopher, then became a strategy consultant and advised international businesses. What made you want to give up such lucrative work and plunge into literature?

My father died suddenly and it prompted me to re-evaluate my priorities. I decided life is too short not to pursue one’s dreams, so, much to the consternation of friends and family, gave up my lucrative career and took a gamble on writing.

At times it’s been very difficult and in the past I’ve questioned my decision during those dark moments, but now things seem to be going well and I wouldn’t trade where I am for anything.

  • Do you feel that early training and career has influenced your writing in any way, positively or negatively.?

As a management consultant I had to go into large international businesses and quickly understand what they did and what their challenges were.

This meant become adept at research and gauging what is important and relevant to any issue, as well as identifying threats and trends, all of which has proved very useful as an author of contemporary thrillers.

  • Do you take up any political positions? Support any party? Or cause? Do you feel your writing reflects your views or do you deliberately avoid any such influences?

I hope people will ask questions when they read my work. I never lecture, but I do try to provoke thought by exploring issues that may be bubbling beneath the mainstream.

I wrote Pendulum at a time when online bullying and suicide advocacy wasn’t widely recognised as a problem. Now, of course, we’re all aware of it. I don’t have any political affiliations and my politics is a mix of left and right.

I think adherence to ideology, rather than good ideas is, one of the most troubling aspect of our political system. Using a restaurant analogy, every election we pit two different set menus against each other and force ourselves to vote for one or other, even though we might not like 50% of the dishes on either.

A smarter way would be to have an a la carte menu that allows us to pick the dishes we want.

  • What do you feel led to your first success? Was there a realisation on your part or a change of approach?

I wrote two books before Pendulum. Both were blends of genres, one was a sci-fi espionage thriller, the other a supernatural noir crime story. I got positive feedback from a couple of big five publishers, but was told cross-genre books are hard to market.

So I wrote a down the line thriller, Pendulum, and that sparked interest from multiple publishers.

  • How do you write? I think both writers and readers are interested in the mechanics – do you have fixed hours or a target word count? A favourite place? A special pencil?

I write with paper and pen. I work 10 to 12 hours per day, six or seven days per week. In addition to my books, I also write for the screen, so I have to be disciplined and work hard to meet my deadlines.

I write in an armchair in front of the fire, listening to music. I use a fountain pen because the lack of pressure needed to apply the ink means it allows me to write for a long time without getting aches in my hand.

When I transcribe the work I do it in a garden office I share with my wife, who is also an author.

  • Do you plan? Do you generally have a sense of the ending your heading to, or do you dive entirely into the unknown?

I always plan. I think it’s useful to know the destination, even if one varies the route along the way.

  • You’ve also written screenplays. Do you find you have to approach them differently from novels?

I approach them the same way conceptually, thinking about concept, character, challenge, conflict, but they are very different in their execution. A screenplay demands far more discipline in terms of structure and economy.

  • Who/what are your major influences? Whether other books, films, writers or indeed non-literary figures?

I have a great deal of respect for Bertrand Russell as a philosopher and all-round thinker. In terms of literary influences, the authors who influenced me most growing up were John Wyndham, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Alexander Dumas, Michael Crichton and Thomas Harris.

More recently I’ve learned a great deal from the works of Anthony Horowitz, Mari Hannah, Deon Meyer, Kate Rhodes, Michael Connelly, Candice Fox, Peter James, David Mitchell and James Patterson.

Individual novels that really stand out for me are The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas, The Stand by Stephen King, Crimson Lake by Candice Fox, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and Black Sunday by Thomas Harris.

I read a lot of non-fiction and am particularly fascinated by neuroscience, so will grab anything that enhances my understanding of how the brain works.

  • What do you read? And, perhaps equally importantly, given how much a writer has to spend time on writing and publicising, how do you find time to read it?

I’m a huge fan of Hollywood biographies, so I read a lot of those. My favourite is A Life by Elia Kazan, because it’s an honest and raw look at quite a flawed and controversial figure.

I read a great many crime and thriller novels and in order to get through my reading, I will block off a few days each month to do nothing but read. I approach it with the same diligence and intensity as I do writing.

  • What do you do for fun? (Not to say that writing can’t be fun). How do you spend your time off?

I’m very privileged to earn a living coming up with ideas, and it’s hard to switch off because it is so much fun to give one’s imagination free reign.

But I recognise it’s important to have balance, so I spend time with my family, I go running 3 or 4 times a week, and rock climbing once or twice per week. I also shoot competitively, something I got into while researching a film.

  • You’ve just launched a new book – Black 13 – which is already a Top 20 bestseller. What was your inspiration for the story?

Over many years I’ve built an extensive network of contacts within the intelligence and law enforcement communities, and political groups and the criminal underworld. In 2016, one of these contacts drew my attention to an individual who connects street level far right radicalism with the highest corridors of power, and I was drawn into a labyrinthine world that links politics, high finance and criminality.

I spent the next three years researching that world, and Black 13 is the result, the first book in what will be a long running series that introduces readers to the new and frightening reality of contemporary espionage.

My research for Black 13 has taken me into hidden parts of society many of us are unaware exists. I’ve been to far-right events and recruitment meetings, and have interviewed intelligence operatives, law enforcement agents, convicted criminals, the founders of notorious political groups and many others connected to this world.

I hope all this work has resulted in a fast-paced engaging book that causes people to stop and think about the world around them.

  • What’s next for you?

I’ve co-written a novel with James Patterson, Private Moscow, which publishes in September 2020. The sequel to Black 13, Red Wolves, will be published in early 2021, and, in addition to a TV series I’m developing with the producers of Marcella, I’m about to start work on a new book I’m not able to talk about at the moment.

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