Lightning proves the spark for journalist Ed Davey’s debut novel
An ancient Etruscan belief provides the inspiration for the BBC reporter’s Dan Brown-style action adventure, but north London also plays its part too, finds Alex Bellotti.
As a reporter first for the Islington Gazette and now for the BBC’s investigations unit, Ed Davey has never been short of a good story. Earlier this summer, however, the release of his debut novel, Foretold By Thunder, took him into uncharted waters as a writer, channelling fantasy, science and even the beliefs of an ancient Italian tribe in a Dan Brown-style action adventure.
“I’d written short stories my whole life, but it was actually while I was at the Gazette that I started to take it seriously, writing every week and attempting actual novels,” explains Davey, 32.
“It’s a very difficult process; it’s a bit like learning trying to build a table from scratch. If you try to build a table with no practice or clue about how to do it, chances are your first effort will be pretty shoddy. So I wrote two small novels that were not really of a publishable standard before I finally managed to produce something that someone was willing to take a chance on.”
Foretold By Thunder charts the journey of down-on-his-luck journalist Jake Wolsey, who one day finds a declassified file revealing Winston Churchill’s fictional obsession with the ancient Etruscan civilisation. His discovery leads to him meeting the girl of his dreams, but also attracts more unwelcome attention from MI6 and the Chinese secret service as he digs deeper down the rabbit hole.
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The novel’s plot revolves heavily around the ancient Etruscan belief that lightning strikes can predict the future. To ensure such a fantastical idea remained realistic, Davey heavily researched history and quantum physics – work he admits took nearly as much time as writing the book itself.
“I think that when a story’s got fantastical elements, you’re asking the reader to take an even bigger leap of faith than they normally would, which is why you’ve really got to do your groundwork and show you’ve done concrete research just to make it plausible.
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“What you want to give readers, I think, is these few moments where they feel a little shiver down their spine and think, ‘That’s almost too much just to be coincidence’.”
Despite hurtling through countries as far reaching as Istanbul and Ethiopia, many of the novel’s biggest set pieces also take place in north London.
In one scene, Davey’s protaganist is chased down Regent’s Canal (“and obviously canal boats are not the fastest”), while further chapters see a shootout in King’s Cross and Jake hiding from MI6 down the Caledonian Road.
As well as covering north London as a local journalist, Davey also lived in Islington and Hackney during the novel’s construction, and says it felt only right to make the patch a central location in the story.
“I spent the formative years of my journalism career in Islington and Camden, so know those areas better than really anywhere else in the whole world, even better than Bristol where I grew up,” he adds.
“I do think they are the two most fantastic boroughs in London, so full of history and atmosphere, and when you’re writing a historical thriller that’s exactly what you want.
“Every scene you want to be permeated with a sense of the past and those boroughs are perfect for achieving that.”
Foretold by Thunder by E.M. Davey is published by Duckworth Overlook for £7.99