We are speaking with Chris Ryan in honor of his new thriller Outcast. It's a drizzly July morning as we start the Zoom-meeting. Ryan logs in from England. It turns out to be an animated and relaxed conversation.
On the introductory question of when Ryan last spoke with a Dutch platform, he initially has no answer. He has to dig deep into his memory. "I think it was at a book festival somewhere in the west of the Netherlands." Zoetermeer? "Yes, that's correct! It was Zoetermeer. With all book lovers and publishers. But that's a few years ago indeed," Ryan smiles.
Chris Ryan was born in Rowlands Gill, England, near Newcastle. "I had a good childhood, my parents were average. I joined the Special Air Service after the rigorous selection process. During the mission in Iraq under the codename Bravo Two Zero, our mission was compromised. I was the only one who escaped. After my career in the SAS, I became an author, that's the short version."
His latest thriller is titled Outcast. What is this book about? "Let me start by saying that Outcast is based on a true story. Look it up on the internet, the mall attack in Nairobi. A group of extremists attacked a shopping center and killed many people. It turned into a hostage situation. An SAS soldier was stationed nearby to train Kenyan troops. When he heard about the attack, he went to the shopping center. He actually single-handedly saved people there. But the SAS leadership didn't take kindly to that and portrayed him in a bad light. He hadn't followed orders and received criticism. Nonsense, of course, because the man is simply a hero. That's the basis for the main character in 'Exiled.'"
The storyline of Outcast goes like this: After SAS NCO Jamie 'Geordie' Carter intervenes on his own in a deadly terrorist attack in Mali, he's labeled a 'lone wolf' by jealous senior officers. It makes him an outsider in the unit. Carter gets a second chance with a new mission: finding a missing SAS hero named David Vann, who is now considered a rogue.
Is it part of a new series with Geordie Carter? "No, it's not. Because in the next book, let's just say it ends... differently for Geordie than it normally happens with main characters," Ryan says with a laugh.
After his SAS career, Ryan started writing. There were two reasons for this, according to the Brit. "After the Iraqi mission, a film was made about my escape. Maybe you know it, The one that got awau. It was a poor depiction of what I had experienced. Too dramatic, and the filmmaker Paul Greengrass portrayed the mission as a big failure with two competing camps; Andy McNab's and mine. That wasn't true. The collaboration went well during the mission. To tell my own story, I wrote my own book, The one that got away. I wanted to set things straight. The book was very well received and launched my writing career." In this case, the film came before the book, which is the opposite of what usually happens.
Speaking of Andy McNab; that ex-colleague - also a thriller author - is never fully shown but always distorted or with a black bar over his eyes. According to his own statement (in an interview with ThrillZone), that's because he still receives death threats from the IRA. What does Ryan think of that? The Brit laughs and says, "No way. The real story is that McNab is just an ugly bastard. Those threats and such are nonsense. And McNab regrets it now because he can't give public lectures, and so on."
The second reason Chris Ryan started writing was closer to home. "When you see how many adults have never picked up a book and can't read well, it's alarming. And it starts with the youth. Reading is a gateway to another world and a better future. I started with adult action thrillers but also with books for the youth, like 'Special Forces Cadets.' The beautiful thing is that I recently received a message from a grateful man who started reading because of me in his youth. That's why I do it. To get the youth to put down that tablet and pick up a book. Reading helps you develop."
That gateway to the future also opens a door in his memory. "Now that we're speaking, I suddenly think about what reading means to people. When I was still in the SAS, we often went on training abroad. We'd take a crate full of books with us. Reading provided relaxation. You'd finish those books at some point. But there was one soldier who made a habit of tearing out and hiding the last pages of those books. Imagine, you're almost at the climax, and the last pages are missing. He had them and you could get them in exchange for his favorite ration," the Brit concludes with a broad smile.
Initially, he mainly wrote standalone action thrillers but eventually started writing series like those with Danny Black and Strike Back. What does he prefer? "I think writing standalones suits me a bit better. The reason is that in series, you ultimately end up with the same concept. You can't develop your characters much more, and the blueprint for the next installment is already there. With a standalone book, you can build from scratch. That suits me better, although there are probably authors who think differently."
And youth books or adult books? "I enjoy writing both, but with youth books, I have a real mission. And that is to get the youth to read. If that works, it gives me more satisfaction."
His adult thrillers often receive feedback that they're very realistic. Does he think so too? "See, my belief is that you should write about what you know. You can see that in my action thrillers. My knowledge doesn't come from books, but from practice. I think I can put that on paper quite well. That's where the realism comes from. If I don't know something, I don't write about it."
His books have been adapted into movies or TV series several times. How does he feel about that? "I've already given my opinion on 'The One That Got Away'; it was a bad movie with a lot of sensationalism. 'Strike Back' is a TV series with - for me - two sides. There are a few seasons that are too much and unrealistic. With lots of bullets, naked women, and sex. I found that disappointing. But there are also seasons that come closer to my books and ideas, like the one with Philip Winchester as Stonebridge. I enjoyed watching that. Right now, there aren't any real ideas to adapt more books into movies."