Interview: Alan Clements - Independent means

ALAN CLEMENTS is a powerful man. In the seclusion of his study, on the ground floor of an elegant townhouse in the west end of Glasgow, he is bending the world to his whim.

The First Minister is dispatched with a heart attack. Sorry, Eck. The head of BBC Scotland is shot in the kneecaps. Ouch. By 2014, Scotland has narrowly voted for independence under a Machiavellian new Nationalist leader, Ross Johnson, but the population appears to regret it almost instantly. The Conservative prime minister, acting like a cuckolded husband, wants the unfaithful party out the house in 100 days and, with the Scottish banking system in meltdown, Scarlet Scotland barely has the clothes on her back.

Yet there is a new suitor in the shadows. Mother Russia extends a comforting arm. The hardliners in the Kremlin are only too eager to satisfy the new nation's oil and gas needs and prop up her finances, and all they ask is to set up a missile defence shield in the recently vacated naval base at Faslane. After all, America has one in Poland, and fair's fair. How can Scotland's new leader refuse such an offer, but isn't that nuclear warheads that a crack team of Russian special forces are sailing up the loch under cover of nightfall?

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The president of the United States, Todd MacFarlane, Texan Republican and closet homosexual, certainly thinks so, and no fondness for the land of his forebears is going to persuade him to turn a blind eye to the prospect of new missiles, behind his own shield, skipping over the Atlantic and on to Washington. So before you can sing a chorus of "A man's a man for a' that", he's dispatched a CIA team to stir up violent rebellion, arm the fledgling British Liberation Army (BLA), the gang of bitter unionists intent on a second "rough wooing", and so ensure a successful coup by means of blowing up the Independence ceremony in Edinburgh. Trying to figure out what the hell is going on, as well as stay one step ahead of a CIA hitman, is George Wallace, a senior special adviser to Scotland's First Minister who, with his passion for fine wine and heavyweight history books, bears a striking resemblance to one Alan Clements. Scottish politics hasn't been this exciting since, oh, local government reorganisation.

So, is the story that unfolds in Rogue Nation, the debut novel of the head of content at STV (perhaps better known to some as Mr Kirsty Wark) a stark warning of the dangers of independence or simply an inventive attempt to introduce Scotland as a fresh setting for the international thriller? Certainly, with its brief chapters and jump cuts with headings such as, 'THE OVAL OFFICE. THE WHITE HOUSE. WASHINGTON DC. 6PM', it's more John Grisham than George Orwell. And what exactly is the CIA chief telling the president in the White House?

"The BLA and US Special Operations troops will seize key government buildings in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee. Navy Seals will land at the Gare Loch and storm Faslane Naval Base, wresting control back from the Russians and destroying their offensive missiles before they can be made operational."

Great stuff.

So why didn't Clements embrace the kailyard tradition and write a worthy novel on the trials and tribulations of the working man? "Well," he laughs. "I wanted to sell a lot of books. I wanted to walk through Glasgow airport and see my book on display and people reading it."

We're meeting on what could be a movie set for the novel, a deserted floor inside STV's new offices at Pacific Quay in Glasgow, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering a commanding view of the River Clyde and the "squinty bridge". It's easy to imagine crack troops abseiling down and smashing through the plate-glass, or a meeting in the centre of the vast floor that ends with a man dead on the carpet.

As one of Scotland's most experienced, and successful, TV producers, Clements is well aware of the importance of story-telling and gripping an audience, but he'd never tried to do so in print. Yet when he found himself on enforced "gardening leave" from RDF, which had bought over his company, IWC, and refused to let him join STV, claiming breach of a "non-compete" clause in his contract, he decided to occupy himself by writing a novel. A legal clause prohibits him from talking about the messy affair that led to a court case, which Clements lost, and in which he had to admit asking his wife's secretary to hack into RDF company e-mails. "Yes – there's nothing I can say," he explains. There is much, however, he can say about the delights of his new writing career. Legally forbidden to work in television until the terms of his contract were up, he settled down each morning in his study at nine o'clock and aimed to hit 1,000 words.

"I'd always thought about writing a novel," he says. "I'm a huge fan of thrillers and Ian Rankin's novels. I always get them for Christmas and spend Boxing Day happily engrossed. I had the plot and the ending and then had to work back, ironing out all the individual plot strands. The difficulty was figuring out character and motivation. In television, we deal with images and it was hard to get into the habit of fleshing out scenes. My first draft was 50,000 words. My agent said, 'There's a great plot here. Now we just need to turn it into a novel'."

Those who pick up Rogue Nation have two choices. Literary reader, who revel in rich, detailed characterisation but find plot a bothersome distraction, will find much to mock as they struggle to re-imagine Princes Street as a setting for World War Three. Yet those who enjoy the speedy read of a thriller, who like nothing more than being ping-ponged around the globe from the Oval Office to the Kremlin to a back-street pub in Glasgow in little more than a paragraph, should strap themselves in for an exhilarating ride.

Given that Clements, in literary terms at least, equates Scottish independence as a harbinger of the end of the world, it's perhaps not surprising the book has raised the ire of some Nationalists. (But they should remember The Wounded Stone, a fine novel by Terry Houston, a staunch Nationalist, that also proposed, in the interest of exciting fiction, that Scottish independence would lead to pitched battles and screaming fighter jets.) On the issue of independence, Clements is relaxed. "I think we are moving forward and that, despite all the economic upheaval at the moment, there will be a choice in the future between a system of devolution max, which will resemble a federalist solution, or complete independence, and I think, to borrow Peter Mandelson's phrase, that I would be intensely relaxed about either of those options."

As head of programmes at STV, independence could only be beneficial to the station. Clements has been there for nine months now and wants to turn the station into a super-indie, no longer making programmes just for the ITV network but also for the BBC, Channel 4 and, increasingly, the world.

"I just didn't think I would be trying to do it in the teeth of the worst recession for decades," says Clements, who, with other senior executives, has taken a 10 per cent pay cut. Fans of Lewis, the sequel to Inspector Morse, may have resented missing the last series and being served instead with "classic" Scottish films, but Clements is unapologetic about his bid to increase the Scottish content and opt out of the ITV network schedule. One example of a new, nimbler station was STV's quick-turnaround documentary on Susan Boyle, which was a huge ratings success, beating EastEnders in Scotland.

But does Clements see Rogue Nation as television material? "I'd love to see it as a TV series – I think it would make a great drama," he says. "But I'll have to wait and see if there is any interest."

Rogue Nation by Alan Clements is published by Mainstream, priced 9.99