Search

Jonathan Freedland: ‘The most creative two words in the English language are: what if’

PUBLISHED: 10:11 22 June 2017 | UPDATED: 10:11 22 June 2017

Jonathan Freedland. Picture; Philippa Gedge

Jonathan Freedland. Picture; Philippa Gedge

2014

Stoke Newington author and journalist Jonathan Freedland talks to Zoe Paskett about his new book, To Kill the President under nom de plume Sam Bourne

There is no mention of Donald Trump in Sam Bourne’s new political thriller, To Kill the President, but it’s impossible not to draw parallels.

He is never credited with a name, but the fictional President has introduced a registry for Muslim citizens, grabbed women, denied climate change and tweets seemingly without thought.

“Readers are going to bring to it their awareness of what’s going on now, I don’t discourage that,” says journalist Jonathan Freedland, real life version of his penname Bourne. “But what I was prompted by was what if you did have a president who even people close to him concluded was a danger to the world?

“For people who write political fiction, particularly people who write political thrillers, the most creative two words in the English language are ‘what if’.”

The book begins as the new President, a “volatile demagogue”, nearly launches a nuclear attack on North Korea after his feelings are hurt. The returning protagonist, fiercely principled Maggie Costello, who steered two Bourne novels to acclaim (The Last Testament and The Chosen One), uncovers an inside plot to assassinate the President. She has to decide whether to reveal it and leave the fate of the free world to a man who suggested slavery never happened, or commit treason and risk the US falling to civil war.

“That idea of some quite idealistic people who’d worked for the previous president who might have thought they had to stay on for a new president who they didn’t believe but felt it was their patriotic duty, a) that struck me as an interesting idea and b) Maggie is exactly that type of person,” says the Stoke Newington local.

His attachment to Maggie, and that of his readers, stems from how well he knows her. He knows her favourite film, what she’d eat for breakfast, how she’d vote in the election (“I know the answers to all of those questions immediately for Maggie”).

“The first [novel] I wrote [The Righteous Men] had a young, mainly British, male reporter who finds himself in America in his 20s and in some ways, of the characters I’ve done, he’s the one that readers responded to less. I think a big part of that was by the fact that he was too much like me, he didn’t really become another character.

“Maggie is really different from me and readers really do believe she’s a real person which I like.”

Reading To Kill the President I am struck by a pit-of-the-stomach growl that normally accompanies a particularly chilling true crime documentary and have to keep repeating the mantra “this is fiction, it’s fine, this is fiction” to myself. Yes, it’s fiction, but the authenticity of the story’s narrative comes from very real experience.

Freedland, columnist for the Guardian and presenter of Radio 4’s The Long View, kicked off his career as a political reporter on the Washington Post.

When Bill Clinton came to office in 1993, he persuaded the BBC and the Guardian that they needed someone on the ground who’d been on the campaign bus.

“I was this 25-year-old kid from Britain who suddenly was on Air Force One covering the President. You get a particular ringside seat as the guy from the Washington Post so I already had amazing access.”

His experience of covering the presidencies of Clinton, George Bush Sr and, well, pretty much every president that came before Trump, threw the new president into stark contrast that prompted Freedland to write a column encouraging us to discard the rulebook we used for previous US leaders.

“He does not comply with any of the norms of liberal democracy and it’s that sense in which he’s abnormal,” he tells me. “For example, during the election campaign he threatened that if he defeated his opponent he would put her in jail. He allowed and encourage chants of ‘lock her up’. That’s absolutely the norm in an authoritarian, dictatorial society; it’s not the norm in a democracy.

Of Trump’s relationships with other world leaders he says: “He’s clearly more comfortable and sees himself fitting in with autocrats and dictators. That is his style. So therefore why are we surprised when he sits around in a cabinet meeting, wanting them to bend their knee to him and treat him like the dictator in the Sacha Baron Cohen movie?”

Freedland’s insight from the frontline of US politics lends itself to creatiing a believable imagined world; though this could also have something to do with the fact that the story’s President has, in Bourne’s words, “a relationship of creative tension with the conventional wisdom”, like the real one does.

It’s just too close to the bone.

To Kill the President (Harper Collins, £7.99) is out on July 4.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Hackney Gazette visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Hackney Gazette staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Hackney Gazette account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Hackney Stories

23 minutes ago

Clapton manager Jonny Fowell disappointed with poor performance from his men as they drew 3-3 with Southend Manor.

50 minutes ago

Arsenal have been drawn against Östersunds FK in the Europa League draw as they attempt to emulate Manchester United’s success in winning the trophy last season.

11:21

Spurs have been drawn against last season’s runners-up in next stage of this campaign’s competition

21 minutes ago

Mystery surrounds the identity of a man found dead on Hackney Marshes two years ago – with police no closer to knowing his name or what happened.

The 32-year-old put in easily his best display in an O’s shirt at the weekend after being given time to get back to full fitness

Detectives investigating the alleged rape of a woman have released CCTV footage of two men they wish to speak to.

12:15

Christmas has come early for a Haggerston brain injury charity after it was given £15,000 to continue a popular kitchen project.

A surge of “aggressive driving” in the streets around Cycle Superhighway 1 (CS1) from car and scooter users means another string of road closures could be on the cards.



Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Most read entertainment

Show Job Lists