Khaled Talib is a former journalist with local and international exposure. He has worked full time for magazines, and his articles have been published and syndicated to newspapers worldwide, while his short stories have appeared in literary journals and magazines.
Khaled is also the author of The Little Book of Muses, a collection of personal muses for writers and aspiring authors. The author is a member of the Crime Writers Association and the International Thriller Writers Association.
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1. Incognito was inspired by my frightful incident after encountering a mysterious woman in black one cold night in Geneva. The woman had been standing outside the building as I watched her from my room window. Later, when I went downstairs, I found her in the dim foyer. She was standing frigid, staring at me. There was no one else in the foyer. I was reminded of the governess in the old movie, The Omen. It led me to create an assassin based on this character.
2. I went for a holiday to Switzerland and Italy, but the holiday turn into research work for my novel. Meeting people, taking trains, visiting historical monuments all played a part for the story backdrop. I took down lots of notes.
3. I have always been fascinated by the Pierre Lotti café in Istanbul with its spectacular view of the Golden Horn. The first time I saw the place, it was in a tourist book. As I sat drinking apple tea, I realized I could write an action scene here, which I did.
4. Guy, one of the names of the characters in the book, is based on a real person. He was the receptionist and telephone operator in the hotel I stayed in Geneva.
5. I did some fact checking, which included contacting the Mandarin Oriental Geneva. The day I wrote “The End” after finishing Incognito’s manuscript was also the day the hotel’s marketing and communications manager resigned from her job. I had been corresponding with her to fact check some details.
6. The tourist guide’s character at Villa Balbianello in Lake Como is based on a real person who led the tour during my visit. This is the villa where they filmed Daniel Craig (James Bond) was recovering with Vesper (Evan Green) in Casino Royale.
7. I chose the novel’s title “Incognito” to blend with my previous novel’s one-word title, Smokescreen, to create a signature identity.
8. The idea of dragging the Vatican into the picture is based on my encounter with a Swiss woman I met while trekking a snowy mountain in Saint Moritz. I had asked her for directions. One thing led to another and she started complaining about her neighbor, Italy. Then she blamed the Vatican for all “the problems of the Europe.” I felt she had issues, but her words prompted me to thicken the plot.
9. The mystery side of the novel was inspired by Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and Robert Ludlum’s the Road to Gandolfo, which included a plot to kidnap the Pope.
10. There were two other characters that made up the specialist team sent to rescue the Pope. But I had to downsize to keep the plot focused. The character Guy was initially a hotel receptionist, but I merged him with another. The other, a young Swiss, had to be deleted.
When I set out to write INCOGNITO, I was told by industry people it was impossible to kidnap the Pope.
You can’t just write a novel and create a scene where he gets kidnapped. It has to sound believable, even though the premise is fiction.
But I found a way that sounds plausible after researching everything about the Vatican. Now, advanced readers, including one known industry personality in the United Kingdom, has this to say after reading the novel:
“The premise of such a kidnap is really darkly entertaining and sometimes I think almost highly likely!”
“Dark” seems to be the keyword as another reader left a review on Goodreads that reads, “Definitely the darkest intellectual thriller novel I’ve read this year!”
Incognito is a story about religion and politics, particularly Islamophobia, Christianity, the refugee crisis, the sudden rise of fascism in parts of Europe and NATO’s fear.
The protagonist Ayden Tanner does not believe in God. But he is assigned to find the Pope who is missing.
The question is, how much effort will he put in this mission? Will he risk his life to save someone who has nothing in common with him? Today is 15, May. INCOGNITO is out. I hope you enjoy the read.
Maybe it was Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Maybe it was David Seltzer’s The Omen. All I know I had to have my own monastery. So I created one.
The small scene in Incognito took me quite a while to construct. I was not only writing the story, I was playing medieval architect.
Photo shows the Monte Cassino monastery in Italy. Reminds you of one of those virtual combat games like Counter Strike and Assassin’s Creed and whatever else that I am too old fashion to know. Many of you know this, but I’ll just mention it anyway.They didn’t built monasteries thousands of feet above ground not for mystical reasons or in their attempt to reach God. They built them high to protect monks from marauders.
Saint Peter’s square, Vatican City. Almost every religious thriller novel and movie about the Vatican will have an image of it. It has become the standard.
In fact, authors have covered almost every inch of the Vatican that’s its really tough to produce original scenes and ideas.
But I had a good creative director when I used to work a short while at an ad agency. I noticed how he saw things differently even if something had been overused. It took me a while to see how he sees things, and then an idea hit me.
I saw something at the square that jumped out at me. I realized how this could work for INCOGNITO. As with my first novel, Smokescreen, expect the unexpected.
My driving school days experience: I got into a cab and instructed the driver to take me to the school. Halfway, the driver got into a situation with a biker. Problem with the blind spot.
But for some reason the driver got so riled up that he forgot he had a passenger in the backseat.
The driver gave chase and tried to run the biker over several times. He wound down the window and cursed the biker.
The biker looked at the driver, then said calmly, “You’re a mental case” before speeding off.
When I reached the school, the driver turned around, gave me a big smile and said, “Good luck with your lessons.”
I visited Jordan’s capital city once. I got tired after touring a bit, and decided to rest in a mosque.
I woke up an hour later to find a young Malayan student sitting with his back against a pillar. I expected him to be a student at one of the Islamic universities in Jordan. I also knew the young fellow wasn’t expecting me to speak his language because I look like everyone else in the Mideast.
So I went up to him and said in his language, “I am the Angel of Death. Your time has come. Follow me.”
The young fellow turned blue, and I had to console him that it was a prank. I found out that he’s also from Singapore, so I took him for lunch. The least I could do after scaring the X*^%*! out of him.
I’ve been asked this question a lot: What inspired me to want to be an author? For some authors, it’s the case of reading another author’s novel. For others, it could have transpired after attending a book festival or meet-the-author session. There are plenty of reasons. A life experience could also be a catalyst to push you to want to pick up the pen – well, keyboard, these days… at least for most of us. I, for one, have never understood my own reason. But I would attribute some author-themed movies as having a strong influence on my decision to pick up the storytelling pen. Here’s a few of my favorites:
Tom Selleck plays a mystery novelist Phil Blackwood who is having trouble finding inspiration, so he goes to the courthouse to observe real criminals in action. There he
encounters a gorgeous immigrant charged with a gruesome murder. Convinced she’s not guilty, Selleck furnishes Nina with an alibi and a place to stay. But, as the two begin to fall in love, Phil finds he has grave doubts about her innocence.
Even though Robin Masters was never seen, his mysterious persona was inspiring enough to want me to pick up the pen while Tom Selleck (Thomas Magnum) went about solving cases.
Author! Author! is a 1982 American comedy drama film starring Al Pacino, Dyan Cannon, and Tuesday Weld. The plot concerns a Broadway playwright trying to solve his family and relationship troubles while trying to get a new play into production. My favorite line in the movie: “We’re all depress in this family. We will all stay depress — together.”
Stand by Me
After the death of a friend, a writer (Richard Dreyfuss) recounts a boyhood journey to find the body of a missing boy. The finale scene where Dreyfuss types out the last sentence in his manuscript was meaningful. He wrote: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?”
One of my top favorites, a cunning and resourceful housewife Roseanne Barr vows revenge on her husband when he begins an affair with a wealthy romance novelist played by Meryl Streep. I was rooting for Streep. Funny as hell.
The life of a Depression-era family in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains is the subject of this wholesome series. The TV series is seen from the point of view of eldest son John Boy, who becomes a novelist.
A writer (Johnny Depp) is accused of plagiarism by a strange man, who then starts haunting him for “justice.” Yikes!
Michael Nouri plays a Detroit taxi driver with aspirations of becoming a crime writer. He picks up a woman (Joanna Pacula) who turns out to be on the run from murderer.
The movie, adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name, revolves around a writer returning to his hometown to discover the citizens are turning into vampires. Freaked me out, this one.
Ever wondered why many Italians have “Al” in their surnames?
That’s because of Arab influence. In medieval times, an Emirate was established in Sicily, southern Italy with Palermo as its capital. This took place between the 9th and 10th century. Monumental remnants can still be found in the region.
The word “Al” in Arabic means “The” like Allah, which literally means The God. “Ilah” in Arabic is “God” and “Al” is “The.”
Author of the New York Times Bestselling novel Once A Spy
Khaled Talib’s novel Smokescreen is a cocktail of Deighton, Ludlum, Hitchcock, and two parts adrenaline.
Million-copy NYT bestselling co-author of Hooked and Brainwashed
Devious! Diabolical! Lurid! Intelligent and deftly plotted. Pick it up if you dare. Put it down if you can.
Author of Drift
In this action-packed thriller, Khaled Talib explores the little known relationship between Singapore and Israel, spinning a web of international intrigue that expands across the globe as inexorably as it tightens around his protagonist’s throat.
Author of The Umbrella Man and The Ambassador’s Wife
I have published two novels set in the police and security services in Singapore, and I am here to tell you that SMOKESCREEN is nearer to the truth of that closely controlled little country than you might believe. It is a gripping and creepy tale of how governments can rig the way we all see the world.