Today I’m excited to be chatting with author Nathan M. Farrugia! I first met Nathan a few years back as we shared the same publisher (Momentum – who are sadly no more). I’ve enjoyed reading his high-octane thrillers with a sci-fi edge, and am pleased to say I’ve finally managed to get him onto the blog for a Q&A.
Before I start in with the questions, though, here’s what you need to know about Mr Farrugia:
Nathan M. Farrugia is the author of the USA Today bestselling Helix and Fifth Column cyberpunk thriller series. Nathan is known for placing himself in dangerous situations, including climbing rooftops in Russia and being hunted by special forces trackers in the United States. He studies Systema, a little-known martial art and former secret of Russian special forces.
Nathan is a former Australian reconnaissance soldier who has trained under USMC, SEAL team, Spetsnaz and Defence Intelligence instructors, and the wilderness and tracking skills of the Chiricahua Apache scouts and Australian Aboriginals.
So, Nathan, how did you come to be a writer? Was it always something you were interested in or did you fall into it?
That’s a good question. I guess I’ve always wanted to be a writer of some sort. I used to take notebooks to school, but instead of doing school work I’d fill them with choose-your-own-adventure stories, comic books or video game plotlines.
I didn’t really think about novels until I was 16, when I started a very bad attempt at what would later become The Chimera Vector, my first published novel. Most of those early drafts were written in Microsoft Word 97 on an old hand-me-down PC. Once, my computer caught fire and toasted my hard drive. I lost six months of writing and learned the hard way to start making weekly backups to CDs. On the upside, I haven’t had a computer catch on fire since. That’s good, right?
What were your favourite books/films growing up? What kick-started your creativity?
When I was young, I chewed through the bookshelves at home, which were mostly Wilbur Smith and not much else. I went on to read every Star Wars novel and Stephen King book I could find. My father taped every episode of The X-Files onto VHS for me (in Australia, that’s our version of Betamax) so I could watch it when I visited on weekends. It scared the crap out of me and I was probably too young, but I loved it.
My favourite author growing up was Michael Crichton, but I also enjoyed reading Matthew Reilly’s early novels (Ice Station is my favourite). Reading them gave me the encouragement I needed to finish writing my novel.
Now, you were in the Australian military for bit. Can you tell us a little about that?
It was about six months of learning heaps of things, followed by me dropping my Nokia phone and instantly breaking it. Then it was mostly routine and repetition. I started off in the infantry and then moved to the reconnaissance scouts, which was part of a combat support regiment in the Australian Army. We would scout ahead and gather intelligence on the enemy, often in smaller groups.
Most of my training came after the army when I reached out to particular instructors around the world who could teach me more about bushcraft, urban survival and surveillance. They don’t really teach that in the army, and only bits of it in special forces. But these are some of the things I love including in my books. So what I’m saying is if you’re into that, buy my books.
What inspired you to write your ‘Fifth Column’ and ‘Helix’ series’?
There’s some great thrillers out there; I’m a big fan of Andy McNab’s ghostwriter, and also Greg Barron, Chris Allen and James Rollins. But much like yourself, Amanda, I wanted to write thrillers with science fiction. And I wanted those books to be all about enhanced operatives and oppressive governments and their clandestine agencies. Except it took me a while to realise they don’t really seem to fit in with books by technothriller authors like Tom Clancy and Dan Brown, so I stopped calling them technothrillers and started calling them cyberpunk thrillers. And sometimes I put on my VR goggles and surf the cyberspace.
You’ve created an intriguing world in Helix filled with an array of spies, shady organisations and of course the medical augmentation aspect. Can you tell us a little bit about how you built this world, any research etc?
Since it’s set in the present time without too much of a shift from our world, it made sense to build on what we have. But I created the Fifth Column–a fictional multinational, clandestine agency that has influence over much of the world–because I thought it would be more cohesive and precise, and I think we need a precise villain rather than just a vague collection of bad people doing bad things somewhere in the darkness.
The genetic engineering I use in my books is a bit easier. I follow what’s been happening in our world, first with zinc finger gene editing in the early 2000s, then with the more precise CRISPR gene editing in 2005.
I pretty much operate under the idea that whatever our progress is publicly, black research will be at least two decades ahead. So while we’re curing muscular atrophy by cutting up genes in Japan, they could conceivably have genetically augmented assassins.
Helix is your second series. Although set in the same world as The Fifth Column, did you find it easier or harder to write than the first?
In Helix, I was continuing with characters from the previous series, but also introducing new ones with a new story, and most importantly for new readers. It was challenging to connect both series together, and I’m not even sure I pulled it off completely, but it worked enough that new readers can enter Helix and feel like they’re at the beginning. And I think you need a new character to do that.
So you have a reputation for taking crazy holidays – all in the name of research, right? Can you tell us about some of your more memorable ‘crazy holiday’ experiences.
I once broke into an abandoned theme park in Berlin (you might have seen it in the movie Hannah), and snuck around while evading roving security patrols. It was very post-apocalyptic, with long grass and vines taking over rollercoasters and merry-go-rounds. But when I risked walking out onto the train tracks in the middle of a moss lake–which made for a great Instagram photo, by the way–security spotted me and I had nowhere to run. Look, I thought about it, but I wasn’t prepared to dive into the moss lake just to escape. So … they caught me.
So, if you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be? Do you have a secret passion that we don’t know about?
Good question! Hmm, probably a video game writer.
Is that cheating? Because it’s still a writer. Honestly, anything that involves storytelling would be my dream job, including writing books!
What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had told you when starting your writing career? What do you know now, that you wished you knew then?
Focus on writing a series first. Then worry about finding readers who might like it later. I jumped the gun too early and spent a lot of time reaching out to people when I’d barely released my second book. They’ve become big fans and great friends, but I didn’t have much to offer them at the time except the sequel.
Good advice! So, what can we expect from you next?
Once the Helix series concludes this year, I’ll be releasing ZERO, the standalone story of a Chinese operative, and then working on the next series. It will continue with the same characters, but I want it to still be very accessible for new readers. I really enjoyed writing Helix as a long series of novellas, so I’ll definitely be continuing this approach with the next series and in the future.
Excellent! Well thanks for being my guest today!
Readers – if you’d like to know more about Nathan, you can stalk him in the following places:
And if you’d like to check out Nathan’s Helix series, here’s where you can find it: