About The Author
Jake Wallis Simons is a novelist, journalist and broadcaster. Born in London, he studied English at Oxford, before taking a a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. He is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts, and a Visiting Fellow at Bournemouth University. He lives with his family in Winchester.
Jake is a features writer for the Sunday Telegraph. In addition, his work has appeared in the Times, the Guardian, the Independent and the Sunday Times Magazine. He also writes and presents for BBC Radio 4 and is a regular contributor to From Our Own Correspondent.
His first novel, The Exiled Times of a Tibetan Jew, was published in 2005. His second, The English German Girl, followed in 2011 and charted the efforts of a young Jewish girl, having escaped from Germany on the Kindertransport, to rescue the rest of her family from the Nazis; it was one of the eight titles selected for the inaugural Art-Council funded Fiction Uncovered promotion.
Written under the name Jake Simons, his latest book is a thriller, The Pure, about the Mossad and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. A disaffected former agent passes secrets to WikiLeaks but finds himself drawn into a much larger plot.
Below he writes about his own abortive attempts to join the secret service and how his contacts from his university days helped him make The Pure as authentic as possible.
The Author At Foyles
Many of my friends from Oxford tell the same story. The Master discreetly calls them in for sherry one day. After a brief - and somewhat stilted - chat about their future, he asks if they have considered the Foreign Office. If they reply positively, he asks how they would feel about the "special Foreign Office". There follows several weeks later an interview in a certain nondescript building near Westminster. At that point, whether the candidate embarked upon a career with SIS (MI6) or not, they will draw their story to a close.
The students who were approached were precisely the sorts one would expect. The ones who were studying PPE or languages; those with an interest in politics, perhaps active in the Union; the ones who were the most efficient, conformist, responsible, ambitious, and worldly that Oxford had to offer. Personally, I was none of these things, and I never got the "tap on the shoulder". Nonetheless, when casting around for a suitable career after University, I thought I might as well throw SIS into the mix.
I managed to make it through the first round before I was rejected. To be honest, I was surprised that it had taken all of one round for MI6 to twig that a creative type like me, with an unusually small hippocampus and a dislike for anything practical, might not be of great benefit to our national security. Nevertheless, I'd tasted the tiniest soupçon of the world of espionage, and found myself determining to experience it - or a version of it - for myself one day, through fiction.
Until eighteen months ago, I had never seen myself as the thriller type. My most recent novel, The English German Girl - an atmospheric historical novel about the Kindertransport, which came out last April - involved six years of painstaking writing and research. Afterwards, in that weird state of emotional exhaustion and elation, I decided I needed a contrast. That was when my determination to write a thriller, which I had almost completely forgotten, came back into my mind with fresh intensity.
My agent describes The Pure as "Bourne meets Spielberg's Munich". A fast-paced story about a disgruntled Mossad agent and the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, it includes many of the classic tropes of the genre: sexy double agents, high-speed car chases, nailbiting tension, violence. But underpinning the action is the Gordian knot of the conflict between Israel and much of the Islamic world, and the tension between loyalty to one's people and loyalty to one's principles.
Several members of my family have served in the Israeli army, in various different units. My brother, for instance, was a combat medic, my cousin was in an infantry brigade, and my uncle was a paratrooper commando. I myself, at the age of sixteen, briefly flirted with the idea of joining up, even though I knew deep down that it was just a fantasy (like the attempt I would later make to join SIS). Instead of joining the IDF, I went travelling in Asia, then on to Oxford. But my proximity to the toughness and camaraderie of the Israeli army has left me with an enduring fascination. And, of course, a wealth of interview contacts.
When I began my research for The Pure, I was surprised by how rarely the contemporary Mossad features in popular culture. This is the deadliest, most feared, most awe-inspiring secret service in existence. The audacious assassination of the Hamas weapons smuggler in Dubai in January 2010 - for which Mossad operatives disguised themselves as tennis players - commanded the attention of the world (in Israel, tennis kit has become a standard fancy dress outfit). As did the 1996 killing of the Hamas suicide bombmaker Yahya Ayyash, known as "the Engineer", whose head was blown off by a booby-trapped mobile phone. Yet the only fictional portrayals of the Mossad - Munich, The Debt - are set in decades past. Why? Perhaps because of the controversy surrounding Israel's military, especially its policy of targeted assassination. Perhaps because of the polarising effect that Israel has on public discourse. Either way, I was keen to try and fill the gap.
My first port of call was to interview my various contacts from the Israeli military. I also consulted the wealth of media reports - many of them speculative - about alleged Mossad operations around the world. Most helpful of all, however, was the 1991 memoir By Way Of Deception: the making and unmaking of a Mossad officer, by Victor Ostrovsky. This book, the publication of which the Israeli government tried to suppress, claims to lift the lid on the Mossad's recruitment and training processes, as well as their modus operandi in the field. Much of The Pure is based on this, which I think lends the thriller authenticity.
Finally, it was natural to show the first draft of the manuscript to the various British diplomats and intelligence officers to whom I was connected through Oxford. By and large, they found that the book rang true, although they did provide several very important pieces of advice, all of which I implemented. My only regret is that for obvious reasons I am unable to acknowledge them, and my Israeli contacts, by name. Nevertheless, they have my thanks.
The world of international espionage - so desperate, so dangerous, so cunning and audacious - is a perennial source of vicarious entertainment. In expanding our fictional horizons to encompass the world of the Mossad, I hope to provide not only high octane thrills and spills, but also a thought-provoking exploration of the difficulties involved in being an Israeli in the world today. As the iconic Israeli novelist David Grossman has often pointed out, Israel is one of the only nation states whose population has no confidence that their country will still exist in a decade's time. This abiding sense of insecurity, which is unthinkable to us in Britain, informs their attitude towards foreign policy; the need to square that with the preservation of humaneness is one that troubles many Israelis. It is this profound crisis of conscience - in addition to the sheer adrenaline - that I have tried to express through my thriller.
You can follow Jake on Twitter @JakeWSimons; find him on Facebook here.