Write What You Know? – A Guest Post by John Fullerton, Author of Emperor

It’s some while since I stayed in with John Fullerton to chat about his book Spy Game in a post you’ll find here. Today John is back with a guest post considering the premise that a writer should write what they know to celebrate the release of his latest book, Emperor.

Emperor is published today, 9th December 2022 and is available for purchase here.


Can ex-NSA agent Ava stop the Emperor’s war plans before he kills millions – and her?

There’s a new Cold War…and it’s about to erupt into World War Three.

Emperor Qin – absolute ruler, dictator for life – has one task before he succumbs to brain cancer, and it means war. Can ex-spy Ava stop him in time to save millions – and survive?

Qin will ‘unify’ China by ordering the conquest of Taiwan, a democratic nation of 23 million people just 100 miles off the mainland, a pledge the Chinese Communist Party has made every year since the 1949 Revolution.

But there’s a leak, a flood of state secrets.

They land in the lap of the former NSA analyst in Washington DC. Ava Shute hasn’t sought the material. On the contrary, she’s a most reluctant recipient.

One thing keeps Ava going: the prospect of a nuclear Armageddon. The clock is ticking as Chinese agents hunt Ava down with orders to kill.

Write What You Know?

A Guest Post by John Fullerton

Some say one should write about what one knows.

I have — until now.

My first novel was written in a spasm of angst. It was set in Bosnia, where I undertook a number of six-week-long reporting assignments for Reuters. I couldn’t wait to get out of the war zone, and as soon as I was out, had enjoyed a hot bath, a bottle or two and a decent sleep, I wanted back in.

I found it hard to adapt to ‘normal’ life: to family, to working shifts as a chief sub editor at Reuters’ World Desk, to the banalities of a London routine. I had difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, difficulty relating to other people. I couldn’t share the experience with anyone. So I drank, went to the gym, cycled, read books, drank some more, upset a lot of people, swore at several, punched a few, and waited for the next job abroad to relieve the tedium.

So I bashed out my first novel in a blind fury. The Monkey House, set in Sarajevo, was grim. It created a bit of a stir, went into several editions, was translated widely, was twice optioned for a possible film, and helped me pay off my mortgage.

The second was set in Afghanistan, the third in Lebanon during what is referred to as a civil war; that was only half-true, for it was primarily a war-by-proxy waged by Israel, the United States, Iran and the Soviet Union.

The first novel of my Cold War spy trilogy, Spy Game, drew on my time as a ‘contract labourer’ for the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), sometimes referred to inaccurately as MI6 in the media, and working as a head agent on the Afghan-Pakistan border. The other two in the series were based on experiences in Lebanon and Thailand.

Emperor is different.

That’s because I’m stuck at home in Scotland, looking after my youngest child after my wife’s death from cancer six years ago. I promised my wife I would take our six-year-old to Scotland, make a home for her, find her a decent school and look after her to the best of my ability until she reaches adulthood.

That’s what I’m trying to do. So no solo trips, no excursions to Ukraine, more’s the pity.

Emperor is set in two places: Beijing and Washington DC.

I confess I don’t know either, though I spent some months in Hong Kong while it was still under British rule, and I have visited Washington DC, but a long, long time ago.

All I have is my online browser and a few guidebooks along with a massive pile of non-fiction books on China.

Friends have been a big help, especially one who can’t be named because he lives in the shadow of what the Chinese call the ‘relevant department’, a euphemism for the secret police of the Ministry of Public Security.

Will Emperor work as a novel? I don’t know. Will I be caught out by my errors in description, in directions?

It’s quite possible.

Does it work?

Only you can decide.


What an impassioned and affecting guest post John. Thank you so much. I have a feeling Emperor will be a huge, much deserved success. Your wife and daughter would be so proud of what you’re achieving in difficult circumstances.

About John Fullerton

John Fullerton was, for a time, a ‘contract labourer’ for the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, an experience that formed the basis of his recent Cold War spy trilogy. He’s lived or worked in 40 countries as a journalist and covered a dozen wars. John Fullerton was employed by Reuters for 20 years with postings in Hong Kong, Delhi, Beirut, Nicosia, Cairo, and London. Emperor is his tenth novel. He lives in Scotland and has begun a new espionage series set in the UK and Germany.

For more information, follow John on Twitter @fictionarrative or visit his website. You’ll also find John on Facebook.

7 thoughts on “Write What You Know? – A Guest Post by John Fullerton, Author of Emperor

  1. Oh I hated the stress of my job, getting up at 5, driving up to three hours, working all day in schools, running evening training sessions for teachers until 6 ish and then driving home again before doing it all again the next day in a different part of the country or catching a flight to do it overseas. I retired myself!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree, you don’t need to know about everything you write about. I do visit the countries I write about but I only spend a short time there so I do a lot of research as well. Talking to friends who have spent more time there helps as is reading about these places. I also find YouTube videos very helpful. I applaud Mr. Fullerton for raising his young daughter on his own and taking that job seriously. Fortunately writing is something you can do from home.

    Liked by 1 person

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