tv Meet the Author BBC News August 26, 2017 11:45pm-12:01am BST
very much for believe. thank you very much for that. have a lovely bank holiday weekend. i am going to be indoors, working away. coming up next, stay tuned for meet the author. on the cover of sam bourne‘s latest thriller, to kill the president, it says this: "the unthinkable has happened. "the united states has elected a volatile demagogue as president." well, readers may suspect that they know what's coming, but of course, we don't know who he is. he has no name in the book. just that there's enough danger for some of those around him to have to face a troubling moral dilemma. well, sam bourne is the guardian columnist jonathan freedland. he has long since outed himself as the author. welcome. some of your readers may find the setup in this
novel eerily familiar. does that make it easier or harder to write? well, in some ways harder, because this is meant to be and is avowedly fiction. it's an alternative present. but of course the reader is going to have recent and current events in their mind. so you have to sort of ride that and use that to your advantage, and yet also insert things that will be wholly unfamiliar, so the heroine of the story, the character called maggie costello who has appeared in a couple of earlier sam bourne novels, irish—born, very idealistic, principled woman who worked for the previous president, who was this widely admired figure around the world, and now has held on, working for this much more unpopular president. so she is at the centre of it, she is a wholly fictional character. but the universe around her, i'm aware that people are going to be bringing things to it that they know from the real world.
well, you know perfectly well what they're going to bring to it. they're going to say this is donald trump. now, i mean, is it donald trump, or is it not donald trump? so, the president is never named. he's a fictional creation. and i think that's important, because you wouldn't be able to set all these other hares running. so, you know, for example, at the centre of the story are these two lieutenants to the president, loyal partisans for their party, who find themselves frankly appalled by the man they are serving, have come to the conclusion that he's a menace not only to america but to the world. and those people, the backgrounds they have, in this novel, they're the defence secretary, they're the chief of staff. they don't map onto the real defence secretary, the real chief of staff. so what you're doing is creating this alternative universe, this alternative world. but at the centre of it obviously are going to be things that people will find familiar. we don't want to give away the whole plot, and the central moral dilemma that unfolds as the story goes on. but you can set the scene for us at the beginning, i think, without spoiling it for anyone. yes, so the book opens with the president launching a nuclear strike against north korea.
remember i wrote this book many months ago, before any of the current events had happened, but that is a quirk of the timing. he launches a nuclear strike against north korea and china after a war of words with the north korean leader, and that is narrowly averted really by the ingenious intervention of quite a low—level person who narrowly averts that strike. it's a fascinating moment, because it gets us into the whole question of whether there's a machine that is irrevocable once it starts, or whether it can be stopped. one of the fascinating things of parts of the research i did for this book was about the nuclear authority of the president. it turns out it's the least checked power of all the powers and american president has. the right to, or the power, to launch a nuclear assault, one that could end civilisation and the human race, there's no restraint. there's no filter on him. once he or she decides to do it, they simply have this aide, this quite low—level military aide who walks around with a briefcase manacled to the wrist which has the nuclear codes in it. he gets the codes from the aide,
calls up a number in the pentagon war room, simply confirms his identity using those codes, and then he can give the order. the defence secretary is not there, the head of the army is not there, the chairman of the joint chiefs is not there. it's up to the president. he's a nuclear monarch with this power, and that is what sets this plot, this story, in motion. but what the plot then explores is whether the military mind and the political mind has the flexibility to say in those circumstances, we must do something. even if it is something morally as difficult and dangerous as the launching of a nuclear strike itself. well, that's right. at the heart of this book, i hope, are a series of these kind of moral dilemmas for the players involved. figures in the white house. the president himself is actually more or less offstage for most of this novel. it's about the people who serve him, and the dilemmas they wrestle with. and there's one right at the very beginning, can you thwart a presidential order? what will it take? but from then on, the even larger dilemma, which confronts the two people who work for him, and which is discovered
by our heroine, maggie costello, is that they begin to conclude that the man that they have taken an oath to serve is a menace to the world. and there they begin to wrestle with, where does your responsibility lie in that situation? as a good patriot, is it your duty to serve the commander—in—chief, or should you, if you really have concluded he's a danger to the world, seek to remove him? and of course they explore the legal avenues first. in a sense, we've been there before in the nixon presidency, because although what was at stake was simply the clinging on to power, it wasn't the possibility of a nuclear strike or anything like that, at least as far as we know. but there was a question raised among some of those around him as to whether his travails and horror of the position he was in had unbalanced him. and if it had, was there anything anyone could do about it? well, it's absolutely right. and i'm glad you mention it, partly because the characters themselves refer to nixon and the so—called madman strategy. this is where he deputed
his secretary of state, henry kissinger, to go round the world saying to world leaders, nixon's a bit crazy, you know. he's just crazy enough to do this. which nixon encouraged this strategy, because he believed it would make them fear him more, and therefore accommodate him with peace in vietnam and that kind of thing. but i'm particularly glad you mentioned nixon, partlyjust because it comes from that era of the early ‘70s where not only was nixon and watergate going on, but it spawned the conspiracy political thriller. and, you know, i had no role in this, but one thing i love about this book is the cover. and the cover is absolutely a ‘70s—era sort of cover design. it could be day of the jackal or three days of the condor, which were thrillers i grew up with and loved. and the nixon era really incubated an atmosphere where people were ready to believe that the president was somehow a danger, and therefore buy into those kinds of scenarios. some people will think either looking at this book, just looking at the cover, or reading it, that this is a bit rich. you can't bear donald trump, so you've written a book portraying him, albeit through an unnamed president in these pages, as somebody
who is about to blow up the world. and they say, come on, if you believe that, write it, put your name on it and answer questions, rather than suggesting that it can happen. how do you answer that? well, jonathan freedland is denouncing trump regularly in the column i write as a newspaperjournalist, i'm sort of commentating on that. this was a different issue that i wanted to wrestle with, which was this question, the what if question. you know, i think all thriller writers will say, the two most useful words are what if. you take what's going on in the real world, and then you knock it on a stage, and you think, what if this then happened? and the what if for me was, what if you served somebody like that, and you yourself, not a hostile guardian journalist, but you yourself, a loyal member of the president's party who had sworn the oath to serve him, you yourself came to the conclusion he was dangerous? that's what i wanted to explore, and i think, you know, the day of the jackal, and i've been very pleased a couple of critics have compared it to that, was about a named president
in charles de gaulle. jeffrey archer wrote shall we tell the president?, in which teddy kennedy was imagined in an assassination scenario. so i think there is a kind of sub—genre that does this. but to me, the reality and this novel are separate. they may be separate, but the key to a novel like this, you mentioned day of the jackal, you mentioned three days of the condor, the key is that the reader has to believe that this is not fantasy, that it could come to this. if they don't believe that, they'd probably give up after five pages. yeah, i think there is something in that. and i think one of the things that's interesting getting the reader reaction so far, and it's not been very long, is this idea that this seems plausible, that the danger, the sort of stakes that are in their mind as a reader, are because they look at the real world, and they think, a scenario not the same as this, not identical to this, is plausible. and i think one of the things that the big surprises that have confronted you and me as journalists this year is they've made all kinds of scenarios that would once have seemed fantastical
now seem plausible. and therefore i think it makes readers able to regard a story like this as plausible, because the real world itself is throwing up fantastical things all the time. jonathan freedland, sam bourne, author of to kill the president, thank you very much. thank you. 26 celsius in kent was the highest temperature. clearly not everybody is getting temperatures are like that but when the sun makes an appearance it feels pleasant. blue sky really makes up for it and more of that in the next couple of days. overnight, some clear spells and areas of cloud producing the odd spot of rain and isolated showers. temperatures under clear skies,
lower than this in rural spots. it is all really quiet this weekend. this finger of high—pressure has moved in across the uk for top some cloud around. warm sunny spells coming through. some thick cloud at times feeding in. some outbreaks of mostly light rain. elsewhere barely a breath of wind. south—east england maisy 27. no weather complications apart from more breeze on monday for the second test. a few festivals going on. sunday, notting hill carnival will get warmer on monday.
a bit ofa carnival will get warmer on monday. a bit of a change coming on monday. through sunday night, rain gathering towards the north—west of the uk. if we look at the big picture, or upfront heading hao wei. the isobars are closer together so the wind sta rts are closer together so the wind starts to pick up. in scotland and northern ireland, will see the weather system moving in. gail is possible in the far north of scotland. parts of northern england and north wales was the pick cloud going into the evening. south of that, sunshine around during monday. a range of temperatures and i7 that, sunshine around during monday. a range of temperatures and 17 in glasgow but 2008 in london. recently to texas and harvey has been downgraded to a tropical storm so the wind not as strong but still a lot of rain to come and it meanders just inland in taxes by several more
days so prolific amount of rain and a very dangerous situation for flooding. at dates on our website. —— updates. this is bbc news. i'm duncan golestani. our top stories: texas prepares for potentially catastrophic flooding in the aftermath of hurricane harvey, the biggest storm to hit the us mainland in 13 years. their‘s particular concern about houston, the fourth largest city in the united states which is prone to flooding, and also for a city which flooded badly in 2005 under hurricane katrina. hurricane the king of spain walks alongside half a million people in barcelona's march of defiance against the recent terror attacks. bangladeshi border guards accuse burmese troops of firing at rohingya muslims fleeing