Title: Curse The Day
Author: Judith O’Reilly
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Date of publication: 2 APRIL 2020
Buried secrets always surface
At a global tech gala hosted at the British Museum, scientist Toby Hawkes is due to unveil an astonishing breakthrough. His AI system appears to have reached consciousness, making Hawke the leading light in his field.
But when terrorists storm the building, they don’t just leave chaos and corpses in their wake. They seize Hawke’s masterwork, sparking a chain reaction of explosive events which could end the world as we know it.
Michael North, ex-assassin and spy-for-hire, must find the killers and recover the AI. But he can’t do it alone. Hawke’s wife, Esme, and teenage hacker, Fangfang, have their own reasons to help complete North’s mission – and together they unravel a dark and deadly conspiracy which stretches right to the top of the British elite.
Can North survive long enough to uncover the whole truth? Or is it already too late for him – and too late for humanity.
Hi Judith! Thank you so much for agreeing to chat with me on Chocolate’n’Waffles! I am always very excited to meet authors new to me and talk all things books, so I am raising a virtual (and my very real) mug of tea and to our discussion, as well as the success of your latest book!
Let’s begin with something easy. Would you like to introduce yourself?
Well first off, thanks so much for having me here today. Strange times, as they say. I think if you can launch a book right now, you can launch a book any time.
So who am I? Well, I’ve written four books – two of them memoir and two of them action adventure thrillers. My first memoir was called Wife in the North and that was a big book at the time. It was serialised in the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph and was a Radio 4 Book of the Week. For the next, A Year of Doing, I did a good deed a day for a year to see if it made me a better person – it didn’t. Then I swapped across to crime. My first thriller Killing State came out last year and Curse the Day is the follow-up to that.
Other than that re who am I? Which has to be a key question for all of us these days. I’ve got three kids, an elderly mum, I try to be an excellent friend, and I am a big believer in kindness.
Kindness is everything. I am with you on this!
Now, could you describe Curse the Day in three words?
Three words? Why so mean? I’m not charging for these answers by the word you know.
Occupational hazard! When I was studying publishing, one of our weekly training was to find the perfect three words to sell a book!
Okay. AI (I am counting that as one word)
(Anyone in need of reassurance should know there are a lot more words in the book itself.)
Curse the Day enables reader to meet Michael North again. He was the main protagonist in your first fiction book Killing State. What kind of man is Michael?
What kind of man? Good question.
North is young and sexy and reckless. He is a former soldier who took a bullet to the head during combat. They couldn’t get it out without killing him so he lives with it still in there. He knows if the bullet moves, he could die. Literally die at any second. That means he is completely desperate for his life and actions to mean something and he is also willing to go that extra mile because if he is going to die anyway, why wouldn’t you. (Lesson for times in that I’ve just realised.)
Artificial Intelligence is slowly but surely making its way into our lives. Is it the reason why you decided to write about it?
I am not a techy type of person. I’m not a scientist or someone who has ever had that much to do with computers – no more than the rest of us anyway. BUT I do think that artificial intelligence is one of the biggest challenges facing mankind in the future (if we make it through Corona of course.) AI is everywhere – our phones, social media, medical data, self drive cars and we are letting it happen, but we have to accept that at the point artificial intelligence systems stop being ‘narrow’ and able to do that one thing, and make the switch to being ‘general’ with much broader competencies we have a real issue. Because how are we going to cope when there is a whole new intelligence in the universe? And how is that super-intelligence going to behave? We don’t want to sleep walk into this.
So yes, I wrote about AI because it is a fascinating issue and also personally speaking as a writer, I like to learn all of the time. I don’t want to just sit down and bash something out. I want to research it and get to grips with it, look at it this way and that, shake it around a bit, and then bash something out!
More than a technology threat, Curse the Day deals with heavy and action-filled subjects such as conspiracies and deadly secrets. Such intense and packed novels require a lot of work. What is your writing process like?
Who doesn’t love a good political conspiracy! My background is as a journalist including years spent in the lobby, so I like to stir some good old political shenanigans into the mix when I can. Re the process, yes, I make a total meal of writing. I research as I said, and I plan and plan. Then I write it. Often I get stuck at 30k words. Then I run at it again. Get stuck at 45k. Get stuck again at 60k. Keep writing. Finish, then start over. Some people love editing. Can’t say I’m one of them, but it is satisfying to write what you think is a great scene (even if you’re the only one who thinks that.)
And re the practical side of writing, I drink the most unbelievable amount of tea, eat way too much dark chocolate, often work with a poodle at my feet, and work seven days a week. I am relentless.
A real writing machine! I find it easier to work with my furry babies at my feet. Or on my lap. Or half on the laptop…
You have written two non-fiction books before transitioning to fiction. Was it difficult to move from one side to the other?
Re the transition to fiction. I admit I thought it would be way easier than it was. I wrote a novel between my nonfiction books and nobody saw it but my agent and my editor at the time and the less said about it the better. I had presumed I would be able to write fiction because I read so much and because I’d already written non-fiction (and also because I’d spent 20 years as a journalist). Not so. It was hard graft figuring it out and I worked really hard at the ‘craft’ of it. If that comes to you naturally, good for you but I worked like stink to be able to do it.
In your opinion, what is the recipe for a good thriller?
Recipe for a good thriller? Hmmm.
You need a pacy plot. To get from A to B.
You need a big question at the start, and lots of smaller questions as you go to pull the reader through.
You need a character readers ‘get’, who they’re prepared to spend time with and a pretty grim and dastardly villain.
You need to besiege your characters with all kinds of trouble.
In my opinion you also need a few laughs. Some dark humour is a bonus.
I really REALLY like this recipe. Humour in a thriller is difficult but so good!
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
A lot from current affairs. There is something in Curse the Day that I can’t mention, because it will give the plot away but I was shocked when I first saw it written about in a current affairs magazine. So you take some nugget from the real world, then you layer it up and up and up till it’s a whole world and worth your time writing about and someone else’s time reading about.
Oh, I’m curious now! I need to read Curse the Day this weekend!!!
Are there authors you look up to?
I admire so many authors. Lee Child for his astonishing creation Reacher and his beautiful honed down style (he read my first novel on a beach then emailed me to say he’d loved it. Thrilled doesn’t begin to cover it.) David Baldacci for his fantastic propulsive storytelling (I met David at Bloody Scotland when I ‘opened’ for him and he was incredibly charming and encouraging. Could not have been nicer.) I love James Patterson and Dan Brown’s books. I am a huge superfan of Robert Harris – he writes like a dream. Love the books of LJ Ross, Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Sophie Hannah, and Mari Hannah. I could go on and on. Nothing beats opening a book, realising someone is seriously talented, and thinking ‘Ah, I’m in safe hands here’.
Is there anything you would like to tell your readers?
Advice to readers? (aside from follow me on twitter) Don’t waste your time with a rubbish book. If you don’t enjoy it. Don’t finish it. Life is too damn short. If you are thinking that you may want to write yourselves at some point, read more than you would think humanly possible, and think about what is on the page and why it is there. Then sit down and do it. Then re-write it. Then do it again.
Thank you so much for making time to chat with me. Happy publication day, Judith!
Guys, you can grab your copy of Curse the Day on Amazon!