I don’t know quite where Charlie Fox came from. She just arrived one day, climbed off her motorcycle, sat down and started to talk. I knew from the start I’d be a fool to ignore her. Charlie had the watchful wariness of somebody who’d been through life’s grinder and was still putting herself back together again. She’d been a victim and worked hard never to become so again.
When I began to chart her story, in Killer Instinct, Charlie’s ill-fated military career was several years behind her. She’d separated herself from her family and was living in a northern UK city and teaching self-defence classes to women. I knew right from the start that she wasn’t going to stay an amateur sleuth for long, but that point in her life felt like the right introduction. Charlie had been to rock bottom and hauled herself back up again, but the events of this book marked the moment she discovers just how much her experiences have changed her. As the title suggests, she is tested again and this time she discovers her personal killer instinct. From that moment forwards, her life is never going to be quite the same.
I felt it was important to show Charlie’s evolution, her reactions to the urban battlefield of race riots in Riot Act, where she once again encounters Sean Meyer, the army training instructor she fell for – with disastrous consequences for both of them. He is now a professional bodyguard, something for which his mindset, training and abilities make him perfectly suited. And something which Charlie proves she has the guts for, too.
When I wrote Riot Act it had been a long time since there had been any race-related unrest in the UK, but shortly after the book came out there were several riots in towns and cities across the northern half of the country. I take no blame for that one!
By the third book, Hard Knocks, Charlie’s new career in the same profession is outlined. She promises Sean she will go to a close-protection training school to find out what she can about the death of one of the trainees, who just happens to have been someone both she and Sean knew from the army. Charlie’s relationship with Sean is still very tentative. He doesn’t know exactly what happened to her, and Charlie’s pride prevents her from telling him the truth.
I was originally intending to set this book at a bodyguard training school in the UK, but after the Dunblane shooting, laws were passed banning handguns from private ownership. As firearms training was an essential part of the story, I had to move the location of Major Gilby’s school to Europe. Most of the training schools moved to France, Belgium or Germany. I chose Germany because it was somewhere I knew better than the other two places. In the end, the lack of speed limits on the German autobahns worked in with the story far better.
Many people assume First Drop, book four, is actually the first of the series. This was partly because it was the first book picked up by an American publisher, and partly, I admit, because of the title I chose. The action starts off on a roller coaster, and I loved the analogy – once you climb to the top of the lift hill and hit the first drop, you can’t stop, can’t get off, all you can do is hold on tight and hope you survive the ride. It seemed to fit with Charlie’s first proper close-protection job, looking after a bratty fifteen-year-old on the run in Daytona Beach during the Spring Break weekend. A simple job at the outset, it rapidly becomes a life-and-death struggle for Charlie, and gives her profound second thoughts about her newfound career.
I was doing photographic work at Spring Break in Florida when the idea for this novel first came to me. I was standing on the main drag in Daytona Beach, watching all the tricked-out cars filled with partying teenagers and thought that if you were on the run with a teenager, this would be the perfect place to hide – hiding in plain sight. From that, the whole idea of First Drop was born.
Book five, Road Kill, sees Charlie return to her northern England roots, looking for the reassurance of being around friends from her old life, before the violent events of Florida overtook her. Unfortunately, events conspire against her when it seems that someone is deliberately running down motorcyclists on the local roads – one of Charlie’s closest friends included. When that happens, she’s never going to be able to stay out of it, even though she finds it hard to know who she can trust. With Sean to back her up, she agrees to protect a group of bikers on a fast road trip to Ireland, even though they seem determined to live fast and die young.
I wanted to go against preconceptions with this book. Not only about motorcyclists in general – we’re not all Hell’s Angels running a meth lab in the woods – but I also wanted to set a book in Ireland, both north and south of the border, that gave a true flavour of the place. I grew up with Northern Ireland constantly in the news for the worst reasons, but having been there I fell in love with the place and wanted to show another side of it.
With the exception of Killer Instinct, which was briefly available from Busted Flush Press before publisher David Thompson’s tragic demise, and First Drop, none of the early books were published in the States. When they went out of print in the UK it became increasingly difficult to find them at non-collector prices, so last year I released the first five books in Kindle format, complete with lots of added extras. I also put out a collection of Charlie Fox short stories, Fox Five so that new readers could get a feel for the character.
The next book after Road Kill was Second Shot. For this I decided it was time to up the pressure on Charlie. She has always been very physically capable of looking after herself, and I wanted to see what happened when that invincibility was stripped away. So, as the title suggests, she is shot twice and almost dies while protecting a newly rich lottery winner who is searching for her missing father. Charlie spends more than half the book on crutches, and has to approach dangerous situations in a totally different way in order to save the life of a child.
Second Shot was the next book my original US publisher picked up. In fact, I was halfway through writing it when they signed for First Drop and announced they would really like to see Charlie working in the States again (so Road Kill was out) in a book called second-something-or-other. My original choice of title was going to be Fall Line, as the story is partly set in the ski areas of New Hampshire, and as every skier knows, the fall line is the fastest way down hill. But Second Shot it became, which actually fitted the story much better.
In order to put my character up a tree and throw rocks at her some more, for Third Strike I mused on what would be Charlie’s worst nightmare. I came up with a ‘take your parents to work day’. Charlie’s upper-middle-class English parents have never approved of her choice of profession – or of Sean – and having them need her protection after her surgeon father gets on the wrong side of the pharmaceutical industry was just the excuse I needed.
Charlie’s father has constantly been one of those characters who appeared in a cameo role in previous books and completely stole the scene. I wanted to put him front and centre and see what happened when the moral high ground he’s always taken was no longer an option. The results were violently intriguing.
Having also put Charlie in a very difficult personal position regarding her relationship with Sean, she goes into the events of Fourth Day doubting herself and everything about her life. She and Sean are tasked with extracting a man from a California cult – the Fourth Day of the title – after five years spent under the spell of the cult’s charismatic leader, Randall Bane. Again, I wanted to play with people’s preconceptions in every regard.
I did a lot of research for this book, but whenever I spoke to SWAT and security personnel about such cults and the likely defences of fortified compounds, they all assumed that Charlie would be on the outside, trying to get in, rather than on the inside, trying to keep people out …
The latest in the series is Fifth Victim, which finds Charlie in another difficult position. Her personal life has never been easy, and in this book it gets harder. Her relationship with Sean is in limbo and she is filled with guilt and anger that threatens to push her over the line. The whole theme of the book is about loss, and in particular about not realising what you have until it’s gone.
You face a choice with a series about keeping the character completely static or allowing them to change and develop as the series goes on. I’ve chosen the latter, so that although the story of each book is separate, Charlie’s personal journey is ongoing. It certainly keeps me engaged and intrigued by her character, and I hope it has the same effect on readers!