Toulon is the second most important character in Surface to Air. I went there to research the book. It is a brilliant city. The French fleet sits in the harbour, aircraft carrier and all. You can stare down at it from the top of the very steep hill next to the coast, Mont Faron. You can take a taxi-boat across that harbour. There is also – of course – the Stade Mayol. All four settings feature in the book.
Andrew Sheridan is the reason I could write Surface to Air. I met him when Sale Sharks supported a book festival event I was doing in Manchester. When the former England World Cup finalist moved to finish his career Toulon I contacted him. Please could he help me contact Toulon Rugby? He did more than that. He met me outside the Stade Mayol – home of the European Champions two years on the bounce – and showed me round, let me watch training, chatted to me, introduced me to others and – when he’d gone – fixed it for me to stay and watch the team’s kicker kick. Jonny Wilkinson.
This is not the first time I have demonised the Russians in a book. I did it in Dead Ball too. It is to do with Putin that the meanest team my heroes play is Russian. Enough said. But – to balance things up – in another book, White Fear, a Russian saves the Arctic single-handed. Also, my favourite author is Dostoevsky. Just saying.
I read a lot of books about recent air conflicts to get this book right. About the Balkans, Libya and the Falklands. Once I had read them I invented my own air war – with a focus on humanitarian relief – which acts as a backstory in Surface to Air. That’s where the mum and dads are while the boys are playing rugby. At war.
Find out more about Surface to Air here.