Succession of Power and Very Annoying Coincidences

succession-of-power-on-tableIt’s out. My new book. My first thriller. Succession of Power is out now on amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, and Kindle versions in both America, the United Kingdom, and everywhere else as well. In time, it’ll be available on the iBooks store and for Barnes & Noble’s Nook too.

This story is a labour of love. I haven’t done anything like it before, so it’s been a real journey.

But another story has emerged from writing this book that if you wrote it up as a fiction short, people would consider it unbelievable and preposterous.

So back in 2010/2011, I had the idea for the book. The 1947 Presidential Succession Act details the order of cabinet positions that would take over the presidency in the event of a catastrophe. Under the 25th Amendment, if the president can’t discharge his or her duty any more, (either due to impeachment, a medical issue, getting killed, etc.) the vice-president takes over. If they’re both out of the picture at the same time, it’s the Speaker of the House. If the Speaker is out of the equation, then it’s the President pro tempore of the US Senate. Then it goes down to the cabinet positions, starting with the Secretary of State, all the way down to the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

I thought about this back in 2010/2011. And an idea dawned upon me: when would this act ever really need to be applied? The only time I could think of (call it a lack of imagination), when all these people would be in the same room at the same time, is the night of the president’s State of the Union speech in the House of Representative’s chamber. My idea was, what happens if a bomb went off in that room? Who is left?

The answer, as it happens, is the ‘designated survivor’, that is to say the one (usually quite junior) cabinet secretary that stays behind in the White House, and watches the State of the Union on TV. He or she would have to become the president in the event of an horrific attack on Capitol Hill at that moment.

So that’s the premise of my story: A junior cabinet secretary is flung into the president’s chair after a bomb detonates in Capitol Hill, wiping out the rest of the government. The new president takes on the role during the worst possible moment. She is an unknown, with few allies, and is aided by the one Secret Service Agent who, with a dubious informant, was the only one who saw it coming.

I loved the idea. But I figured that it surely must have been done before. So I didn’t think much more about it.

I don’t write down these ideas. I don’t have a “writer’s notepad” in that sense. I think a notepad that you use to write down ideas as you get them is like a repository for bad ideas. An idea has to earn its merit. It has to stay with me. It has to get under my skin. It was to be an intellectual irritant. Only then do I know I might have something.

And this story kept on at me, like the good stories did. So In August of 2015, I decided to write the rough ideas down. I also scoured the annals of time. Surely there was already a novel that covered this idea? No. A TV show? No. A movie? No.

Incredibly, the brilliant idea I had, that I assumed must have been done before, hadn’t been done before. I couldn’t believe it.

Then something happened with my regular working life. I’m a radio guy. I’ve been a presenter/broadcast journalist/media hack for my whole working life. I switched from broadcasting with the biggest commercial radio broadcaster in Europe, to the biggest broadcaster in the world (by employee-count), the BBC.

I moved house, and got settled in my new job, which I love. Then, at the end of February 2016, I started writing Succession of Power. It was done by August. It was published, and came out on Tuesday September 20th, 2016.

Then, on Wednesday September 21st, 2016, unbeknownst to me, a new TV show went on the air on Disney’s ABC channel in the US, starring Keifer Sutherland, called Designated Survivor. The very next day – Thursday September 22nd, 2016 – it aired around the world on Netflix.

Sutherland plays a junior cabinet secretary, who becomes the president under the Succession of Power laws, after a bomb wipes out the rest of the succession line during the president’s State of the Union speech. And an FBI agent (rather than Secret Service Agent), investigates the bombing, convinced that there’s more to come.

It was my plot. My story. It came out exactly 24 hours after my book did.

You cannot make that up.

I had spent so much time in that August of 2015 looking way back to see if the story had been done, that it didn’t occur to me to see if the story was already in production somewhere. I mean, why on earth would it? What would the odds be?

I was gutted. I just couldn’t believe it. I’m genuinely really proud of this story, but now I think that it’ll just be seen as a rip-off of a (what looks like a really great) TV show.

I can’t quite bring myself to watch the show just yet, but I will. It looks fantastic, and while there’s part of me that hopes it’s awful and dies in the ratings and goes away quickly, there’s another part of me that hopes it’s really successful as that almost kinda vindicates the idea I had in the first place. Doesn’t it? I don’t really know.

There’s some thematic differences. My “emergency president” is a gay women. In a Republican administration. One of the themes in the story is how we can all be very politically correct and socially accepting of things like a female president (the polls say we’re getting one very soon), but how tolerant are we in a time of crisis, when the rubber really hits the road? And I’m sure there’s more twists and turns that make them different. But the log-line of the TV show and my book are pretty much identical.

So it’s been a pretty upsetting few days if I’m honest. I only found out about the show by accident this week. I know, I know. Talk about a ‘first world problem’. I’m probably being very silly. But for now, it really stings.

Either way, if you fancy the idea behind the book, and can drag yourself away from the (probably fantastic TV show) Designated Survivor for a few hours, I hope you’ll take the time to read Succession of Power. I think it’s possibly the best thing I’ve ever written. The paperback version is well priced (just £8.99 in the UK), and the Kindle editions are just a few bucks/a couple of quid.

I really hope you enjoy it. I’ll get out of my grumpy cloud very soon, I promise.

Plus, I’ve got a really awesome idea for a new story I’m going to start working on. After this week’s crazy events probably sooner than later.

I just need to spend some time making sure no one’s done it before. And that there’s not a similar TV show in the pipeline…

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