'He's trying to get a rise': Author Mick Heron unravels spy Jackson Lamb's motivations

12 May 2022, 13:22 | Updated: 12 May 2022, 14:45

'It's a loss to me personally': Author Mick Herron opens up about killing characters to James O'Brien
'It's a loss to me personally': Author Mick Herron opens up about killing characters to James O'Brien. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Tim Dodd

Slow Horses author Mick Herron told James O'Brien how he has managed to make his most iconic character Jackson Lamb so likeable when he behaves appallingly.

Herron, whose new book Bad Actors is out now, revealed how he loved writing about "spies with broken wings".

Mick Herron is author of the Slough House series of crime fiction, described as a place where "washed-up MI5 spies go to while away what's left of their failed careers. The 'slow horses,' as they're called, have all disgraced themselves in some way to get relegated there".

James described the Slough House series as a "convalescent home for failed spies" who've "endured appalling disasters, some of them self-inflicted, some of them less so" presided over by character Jackson Lamb.

James asked Mr Herron why Jackson Lamb is so likeable when "he's so awful".

Mr Herron replied: "That's a very good question, and it's not one I've analysed over much. I just kind of allow myself the unfiltered freedom to have him express himself in objectionable ways sometimes. But I never let the reader know what he's thinking or feeling, so it's possible, and I certainly like to hint at it, that he's trying to get a rise out of people."

Asked why he likes to write about "spies with broken wings", rather than the "traditional superhero spy", Mr Herron said: "Failure and damage is interesting to write about, and gives me more to draw on when I'm creating characters. I'm not opposed to the idea of heroes, and reading books with almost super-characters in them, but it doesn't interest me as much as the idea of people nursing secret sorrows and having to drag a lot of baggage around with them."

James O'Brien asked Mr Herron: "What was it like having a new [book], when so many people like me have so much invested in the series... It must be different to throwing it unexpectedly into the ether and seeing where it lands?"

"Yes, it's a bit different now," Mr Herron said.

"Having a publication date is more of a thing now than it used to be. It used to be that a book was released and there'd be a hollow silence coming back at me from the void. But now the books are being noticed and reviewed."

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"How hard is it to kill a character off?" James asked.

"It is difficult. I only do it when I think it's necessary for the book," Mr Herron said.

"It does mean that there's a particular voice that I no longer have access to, and I do miss that. There are characters who are no longer in the series that I do still think about, because I can no longer have characters do what they used to do or speak in the way they used to speak.

"It's a loss to me personally."

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