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Belfast author J.D. Fennell talks writing thrillers and winning praise

J.D. Fennell has released the second instalment of his Sleeper series - allowing readers to catch up with his hero Will Starling.

In the first book, the Belfast writer introduced us to the young hero who finds himself in the most unusual circumstances, and his story isn't over just yet.

Following the release of Sleeper: The Red Storm, we caught up with Fennell to find out what we can expect from the new novel, and just what it's like to be praised by James Patterson.

Where does the reader meet Will Starling in this second novel?

Sleeper: The Red Storm is set two years after the first novel, Sleeper. Will has been drafted into the Special Operations Executive as a spy working alongside the French Resistance. When we meet him he is in Chartres, France, mid-mission with two French colleagues racing to blow up a Nazi controlled communications pylon. Unfortunately, things don’t quite go to plan and it is here the story begins.

How did you find the writing process compared to the first novel in the series?

I had more time to write Sleeper because I was an unpublished author and therefore worked to my own deadlines.  Once Sleeper was out there we established an audience. It was important to keep the momentum and interest alive by releasing the follow up one year after the first.

Consequently the timescales for delivery narrowed and the writing process for the The Red Storm became an intense affair.

Do you feel any added pressure for the second outing of the series?

Yes, in the most unexpected way.

I lost my mum the Christmas before Sleeper was published in April, 2017. Because of this it took eight months to get my head around starting the Red Storm.

I was determined to have it published one year after Sleeper and wrote relentlessly from August 2017 for a further eight months, working seven days a week killing all the spare time I had. And I was also holding down a full time job. It was a harsh, but worth it.


How did you find reaction to the first novel - and were you pleased with the response?

I was delighted with the response to Sleeper. The reviews were wonderful as was the seal of approval from the mighty James Patterson (“Sleeper is an exciting tale with pace and surprise. JD Fennell can write up a storm.”)

Sleeper has also been nominated for three different literary awards: The Redbridge Prize (longlist), The People’s Book Prize for fiction (shortlist) and The Amazing Book Awards (shortlist).

How many novels can we expect in this particular series?

I am planning one more. Will’s story is not over yet.

Do you have plans beyond Will Starling?

I am about to start a crime thriller set in the present day. It’s very different world to the Sleeper books, which is quite exciting for me as an author to explore.

What made you want to write this particular genre?

I love pacey thrillers. It was not a difficult choice to write what I liked to read.

As a Belfast writer, did you find any difference in how Northern Ireland readers reacted to the first novel?

Northern Ireland readers, including the press and radio, have been incredibly supportive and generous, which I will be forever grateful.

Are you more eager to impress a home crowd?

Every writer wants their work to be appreciated by as big an audience as they can reach. That said, there is definitely a connection with a home crowd that makes their approval a real bonus.

What novels are you reading right now?

I’ve just finished The Good Son, a psychological thriller by Jeong Yu-jeong, a South Korean crime writer. It is an uncomfortable but compelling story of a young man who has possibly committed matricide. Saying no more. I’ve just started reading a proof of a dark Scandi suspense story, Resin by Ane Riel. Loving it so far. It think this book will be big.

Sleeper: The Red Storm is out now.

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