Q&A with Terry Hayes

With the book, I am Pilgrim, Terry Hayes has expanded his writing resume. Besides being the screenwriter of movies such as “MadMax2,” “Dead Calm,” and “Payback From Hell,” he is now a novelist. I am Pilgrim is both a crime and an espionage story that is part mystery and part thriller. It is the first in a series of three books.

Hayes embarked on this adventure to write an epic espionage story a la the science fiction series, Lord of the Rings. Readers should enjoy how he intertwines pop culture into the story line. But, the plot in a grander scale, is a warning of the dangers of bio-terrorism, which would make the tragedy of 9/11 look small in comparison.


Elise Cooper: Why did you decide to write a book?


Terry Hayes: I wanted to incorporate pop culture within a novel. I inspired to write this massive espionage thriller where “Terminator” meets “Red October.” I wanted to include intrigue with science and technology.


EC: Is there a difference between screen writing and being a novelist?


TH: Hugely different. With movies you are part of a big team. Forty to fifty people have a meaningful voice. Screenwriters do it with one hand tied behind their back. They are dependent on the interpretations of the actors. Where as a novelist has the creativity to do whatever they so choose. Of course I would not mind being a screenwriter for I am Pilgrim since I would know what to put in and what to leave out.


EC: Can you describe the Pilgrim?


TH: He is a wounded individual. His childhood has formed the character he is today. He is now a covert intelligence agent who is a loner and highly intelligent, but has a real heart. Through the Pilgrim I explore the question, ‘How much evil should you do for goodness to win out?’


EC: You have a very interesting quote in the book that seems to answer your question. “He said he’d learned that when millions of people, a whole political system, countless numbers of citizens who believed in God, said they were going to kill you-just listen to them.” Can you explain?


TH: I really hope people think about some of the issues of the world we live in. Specifically the rise of extremist people and the dangers they can impose with these new technologies. Think how dangerous it is to have all this information hemorrhaged on the Internet. This is the double edge sword of freedom. I showed this through the quote in my book. Just as with the Nazis in the past, today no one is listening to the Islamic world that are telling us they want to kill us. People have this propensity to get on with their lives so they don’t listen. I wanted to show that people have not listened in the past so why would they listen now.


EC: What about the technology?


TH: I enjoy taking these new developments in technology and weaving them into the story. I am interested in how warfare is developing. I have two young boys who are at an age when they consider this stuff interesting. They have a lot of questions. Well, they have the right dad. I read a lot to try to understand. That is why I put the scene in with the photograph. I found it very interesting that you might be able to develop one from the back of a mirror.


EC: Where did this quote come from? “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, And the women come out to cut up what remains, Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains. And go to your God like a soldier.”


TH: It was a Rudyard Kipling poem. Afghanistan was the graveyard of countless empire wars. Everybody that goes there leaves in despair and feels nothing can be done. I had the Director of National Intelligence who had two tours of duty there as a soldier use it as a bit of advice to one of his field agents. I think this was integral to the story.


EC: What do you want the readers to get out of the book?


TH: A thrilling and adventurous ride. I hope they think about some of the issues of the world we live in.


EC: Can you give us a heads up about your next book?


TH: Because I had no guarantees or expectations for I am Pilgrim to be successful I decided to write a stand-alone novel, The Year of the Locust. It should be out in eighteen months and is centered on cloaking technology, where objects appear invisible even though they are really there. There is a lot of research being done on this by the military. I would describe it as “Planet of The Apes” meets “Lost,” or “Star-Trek” like.


After this book the second book of the Pilgrim series will be out. In this book Pilgrim establishes a relationship. The third book has someone attacking him. He must pretend to be dead, even to the one he is in love with, to find out who killed him. I promise the readers that with these two books they will learn everything about Pilgrim they were afraid to ask. If the series is successful I might continue the adventures with future books.