Can you share your elevator pitch for The Inside Man with us?
JP: I’ve actually tracked down the original pitch that I sent to HarperCollins. It is probably a little long to share the entire thing, but I have pulled out some sections that may make for some interesting reading, especially considering how much the story changed from the original pitch.
JAX Riley is the 30-year-prison inmate that becomes the CIA’s unlikeliest recruit. He is their Hail Mary play at catching the world’s worst killer. From stopping the next mass murder.
An undisputed Long Bay heavyweight, all tattoos and tough, he is also a certified genius. It’s one of his four degrees that catches the CIA’s eye. His degree in Counter Terrorism.
“We have reason to believe another bomb will go off in 28 days,’’ said the strange yank that confronted Riley in the Long Bay visit’s room.
“We are almost certain there will be an attack on May 11. We don’t know where but we do know when.’’
Riley said nothing. For once he was completely confused. Stunned silent.
“And then there will be another one,’’ he said.
“On June 11. And another one exactly a month after that. In fact, there will be 12 in total, the final bomb to be exploded on Christmas Day.’’
The prisoner finally spoke. “And what has any of this got to do with me?’’ Riley said.
MADE-by-monsters, bred by bad, Jax Riley will go on to become the CIA’s dark Mr. Do-it-all. He is the man they will go to when they need a demon to catch the devil.
He can sniff out a serial killer, track down a terrorist and outwit a murdering mastermind. In a world that technology has made small – the deepest cover a mouse click away from becoming paper thin, the Australian ex-convict becomes their most valuable spy.
But Riley wasn’t always the vigilante style action hero in waiting that is propositioned by the two CIA agent’s looking to stop the world’s worst wave of terror. He wasn’t always tough. A heavy. An enforcer.
Riley was once just another shit-scared teenager walking into the hell they call Long Bay. And that is where this story begins. Terror Cell is not only the on-the-seat-of-your pants tale of how a genius hard-man earns his freedom by bringing down a twisted terrorist mastermind, but the story of how a kid becomes a killer.
How did you come up with the inspiration for Riley Jax’s character?
JP: Firstly, the name, Riley Jax, originated from a formula. When trying to find a name for my hero, I noted that the most famous action heroes shared something in common. The letter “J”. Yep. James Bond, Jack Ryan, and Jack Reacher, all characters with “J’ names. The deeper I looked, the more I found. John Wick, Indiana Jones, Jack West, John Rambo, and Jason Bourne. I decided I would continue the tradition and came up with Riley Jax, which was a combination of my children’s names: Riley and Jax.
In terms of the character, Jax developed quite organically. I borrowed little bits and pieces from both real and fictional characters, most notably an Australian Paralympian named Curtis McGrath. Curtis was an army engineer who lost his legs in an IED attack and I used some of his remarkable story when developing Jax. I wanted Jax to be brave and resilient and I couldn’t think of anyone more so than Curtis. With-out knowing or doing it on purpose, I probably took bits and pieces from young prisoners I have interviewed over the years. I certainly borrowed from their experiences if not their character.
How has your career as a reporter and an author of true crime helped you to write your first fiction book?
JP: Yes and no. I thought the transition would be relatively smooth given I am no stranger to the book writing process, but there were a few “non-fiction” habits I had to rid myself of. While I found the process of plotting both the story and characters fairly natural, I did struggle with the unforeseen challenge of point of view (POV). I rarely had to consider POV while writing non-fiction and it took me a while not only to choose a POV but to use it proficiently. I settled on a “third person” POV but had to be mindful not to include too many POVs or to “head-hop”. I also had to resist the temptation of putting all the best action first after years of writing news reports, where I was limited to 500 words.
Are there any real-life experiences you’ve had that helped you when you were writing The Inside Man (that you can talk about)?
JP: Absolutely. Nearly all the stories from The Inside Man are based on real life events that I have come across during my time as both an author and a reporter. I actually had a funny conversation with my editor. She pulled me up on a few stories saying that they weren’t believable, even for fiction. I had to tell her they were indeed true-life episodes that I had recrafted and placed into the narrative. I ended up getting to keep them when I proved they were true. Many of the characters in the book draw from real life criminals. I won’t tell you which characters are based on who, but I will tell you that Roger Rogerson, Ivan Milat, Chopper Read, and Neddy Smith are all in the book in some way. I will let the reader work out who is who. There is also a scene where an imamate is bashed in a prison cage. Google “Rodney Atkinson” and “Prison Fight” to see the real-life episode.
We’d love to know what’s on your bookshelf. What do you like to read in your down time? And what have you read and enjoyed recently?
JP: My bookshelf is dominated by my horror fiction collection. The first book I ever read was Salem’s Lot by Stephen King when I was five. Yes five. My Dad gave it to me because I loved scary stories in the hope that it would get me reading – and it did. I read everything Stephen King had put out before moving into other authors like Dean Koontz and James Herbet. I now read whatever horror I can get my hands on.
My favourite horror author at the moment is Glenn Duncan. He is a tremendous writer and I Lucifer is one of the best books I have read. I also have a large collection of true crime books, a number of which are signed. Roger Rogerson gave me a signed copy of his autobiography just a couple of weeks before he was arrested on a murder charge. My favourite book on my shelf is a first edition copy of Stephen King’s on writing. I have a lot of writing books but King’s book on the craft helped mould me into the writer I am today. My bookshelf is also teeming with pet monsters; Pennywise The Clown, The Grim Reaper and Freddy Kruger among those keeping my books safe.
The Inside Man by James Phelps is available online and at your local store.