The Vicar, debut novel from A.J. Chambers
Author Interview + Book and Author Info + Author Pet Corner!
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Inspired by the author’s own experience, The Vicar introduces Terry Nolan, an M15 operative who, when he discovers his cover is blown and millions of lives are at stake, will do whatever it takes to stop enemy forces.
Terry Nolan, an off-the-books MI5 operative known as the Vicar, has been officially dead for the past thirty years. But when Nolan is attacked in Boston, it becomes clear his cover is blown. Even worse, his Parishioners—the network of spies who work under the Vicar—have all been compromised.
Nolan races to New York to try and find his last remaining agent, Shae, whom he personally recruited years ago. Instead, he finds Kristen, a young civilian who is determined to save Shae, too—and who may know more than she’s letting on.
In the search for his missing agent, Nolan intercepts intelligence that indicates weapons of mass destruction are on their way to Britain’s four largest cities. Working directly with the ruthless head of MI5, Nolan must call upon all his clandestine skills to save the final Parishioner and find out who is behind the attacks and why. But he’s playing a dangerous game, and the dark secrets of his past are about to catch up with him.
To purchase The Vicar, click the following links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BlackStone Publishing.
Interview with A.J. Chambers, author of The Vicar
The Vicar is inspired by your own experiences working for the British Army. How much is Terry Nolan, the M15 operative and lead character, similar to you?
I based Terry on about six individuals that I used to know.
It would be disingenuous for me to say that no part of Terry encompasses a part of me, but isn’t that true of every writer?
When I picture Terry in my mind, the face of a senior NCO who was a friend of mine always appears in my head. He was from the North of England, a great rugby player and a real tough S.O.B.
The one trait that sums up Terry is was a dedication to get the job done, catch the bad guys and protect the innocent victims, whoever they may be. I am not saying the lines aren’t sometimes blurred, but that is to be expected in this type of conflict even though he does his best to stop that from happening.
Terry Nolan is a British operative, but the novel starts in Boston and moves to New York, although Britain features heavily. What drew you to setting The Vicar in the US?
I once had the pleasure of meeting Lee Child. Someone posed a similar question to him about his character, Jack Reacher, and I liked his answer. If your readers don’t know, Mr. Child is from the UK. When asked why he didn’t base the character of Reacher there he replied that the UK just wasn’t big enough for the character.
For me it was more a case of history.
For a number of years, individuals from around the world, including the USA, provided money and in some cases weapons, to the Provisional Irish Republican Army, more commonly referred to the PIRA or IRA, as well as other terrorist groups. This isn’t me making things up—it is historical fact.
I also wanted to make The Vicar more international, which gives Terry more room to do his thing. Also, I have lived in America for over thirty years and it just felt natural to include my adopted country in the novel.
Tell us about Shae and Kristen, two important characters in The Vicar.
Given Terry’s personal history, and the events that happened in his past, I wanted to play on his savior complex and the conflict this causes when it comes to him fulfilling his mission.
This need he has to protect and save the two ladies morphs into more of a father/daughter relationship with one of them by the end of the book.
While you base The Vicar in your own experiences, how much did you find yourself exaggerating events for dramatic effect? What kinds of events did you fictionalize?
To keep the momentum of the book flowing, things occur much quicker than they would in real life. A perfect example of this in book form is Six Days of the Condor by James Grady. Intelligence gathering can be slow and grueling, also frustrating at times.
While not getting into specific events, some are as they might happen in real life circumstances while others are exaggerated for dramatic effect.
At times Terry does break the rules but this is done to maintain the pace of the book and amp up the urgency of the situation. Remember, Nolan is not a police officer, he is an off the books Intelligence Operative operating in a foreign country.
As a writer I wanted to avoid dragging the reader into days or weeks of interrogation which would result in the pace of the book becoming bogged down.
After leaving the British Army, you became a chef. That’s a big career change! What do you love about cooking, and what’s your specialty?
I have always loved cooking. As a child I used to help my mother and father cook, and if not actively helping, I watched what they were doing. Although growing up working class with limited means, which precluded eating out at restaurants ever, my father had spent a number of years in India with the Royal Air Force, before being disabled out due to a slight case of polio, and was a dab hand at making curries. Every couple of weeks he would spend hours in the kitchen making his take on Indian food. It was a joy to watch as well as to eat.
After I left the army I worked with a language school teaching English to older students from Europe for a summer. The class I taught was mainly made up of college age Italians and once or twice a week I used to take great pleasure in cooking for them as they took the time to teach me Italian as well as how to cook their cuisine. After they returned to Italy at the end of the summer one of them contacted me and asked if I would be interested in coming to Italy and doing a culinary apprenticeship, the very next day my bags were packed and I was on my way.
After two years I moved to the United States, where I attended University and studied literature and history. After I left, I went right back to being a chef. Although I have never worked in an Italian restaurant, I found myself specializing in Creole and Caribbean fusion.
The one thing I love about Caribbean food is how fresh and vibrant everything is. I particularly enjoy making fresh seafood such as conch fritters with a spicy mango dipping sauce of seafood ceviche. I like to add a twist to that by adding a passion fruit vinaigrette. Another one of my favorite dishes to make and to eat, especially in the spring or fall is a Cuban meal called Ropa Vieja, which translates to old clothes.
Don’t let the name fool you! It is a wonderfully flavorful dish made with slow cooked flank steak which is shredded, hence the name, and tomatoes with a sofrito base. It is most commonly served with fried sweet plantains, black beans and rice.
What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up the sequel to The Vicar, called The Inquisitor. After that, I’ll give Terry a little R&R as I really put him through the wringer in The Inquisitor.
I’m also working on a detective thriller set in Washington, DC. The main character, Xavier Blaque, is an ex-NFL linebacker who, after being forced to retire due to injury, joins DC’s Metropolitan Police Department and is now their lead homicide detective. I should be finished by the fall.
After this I think Terry will have had enough rest and recuperation. We don’t want him getting rusty, do we? so I will begin his third book in the series which will be set shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Words of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers:
I guess my advice, after going through the publishing process and all the ups and downs that entails, is to keep the faith—both in yourself and the process. Invest in a really good freelance editor! Mine has been in the business for over forty years and has edited some of the biggest names in the business. He also seems to know everyone, which can be a great help.
Also, when it comes to securing an agent, put yourself out there. If at all possible, attend writers’ conferences such as ThrillerFest and sign up to take part in pitch sessions with agents and publishers. Think about it this way—they are there looking for talent and you will have an opportunity to sit down with them face to face and pitch your novel. Before you do, I’d make a point of having a finished manuscript, one that is as polished as much as possible. Imagine how many unsolicited queries they receive via email on a daily basis. Pitch sessions are definitely preferable and a chance to get noticed.
Lastly, just because you have finished a manuscript don’t fall into the trap of thinking publishers will be beating down the door as if you are the next Hemingway. The Vicar was the third novel I finished writing before it was picked up, thank you Blackstone Publishing.
Even though I was assured by my editor and my agent I was talented, at times it is easy to become despondent. Keep writing, hone your skills and eventually you will get there. Even the most talented writers, singers, athletes etc. practice their chosen field incessantly so they can become great at what they do. So keep at it.
Author Pet Corner
Such cute doggos and cats! Thank you for sharing their pictures with us
A. J. Chambers was born and raised in the north of England.
He joined the British Army in the 1980s and was primarily based in Northern Ireland.
He was also stationed in various countries around the world. After leaving the military, he worked as a chef for over twenty years.
The Vicar is his debut novel.
To learn more about A.J. follow him on Twitter.
Elena Taylor/Elena Hartwell
All We Buried, available now in print, e-book, and audio.
Silver Falchion Award Finalist, Best Investigator
Foreword INDIE Award Finalist, Best Mystery
Header Image by Tim Ball from Pixabay