Alex Shaw spent the second half of the 1990s in Kyiv, Ukraine, teaching Drama and running his own business consultancy before being head-hunted for Siemens. The next few years saw him working across the former USSR, the Middle East, and Africa.
Alex is an active member of the ITW and the CWA. He is the author of the #1 International Kindle Bestselling ‘Aidan Snow SAS thrillers’ Cold Blood, Cold Black and Cold East. His writing has also been published in the thriller anthologies Death Toll, Death Toll 2 and Action Pulse Pounding Tales 2 alongside International Bestselling authors Stephen Leather and Matt Hilton.
He is commercially published in English by Endeavour Press and in German by Luzifer Verlag.
Q: You divide your time between Worthing, on the southern coast of England, and Kyiv in Ukraine. How long do you stay in each country, per year? Do you write and research in both countries, or do you go to Kyiv just for research?
A: Before my two boys started school we used to spend more time in Kyiv as that’s where my wife is from. We try to get back whenever we can. I write and research in both places but I love to write ‘on location’ in Kyiv. The place really is my second home and has been so for twenty years.
Q: How much of what you write has been influenced by your experiences of living in various countries around the world?
A: A lot. As a reader I love to travel without leaving my armchair and as an author I try to deliver this. I dislike reading anything that’s mostly based in the UK, I need some exotica but for me this can equally mean a little known Ukrainian village or downtown Dubai. Most of my writing is based on places I have lived and worked in or holidayed at. When I’m abroad I’m always thinking how I can use what I’m seeing, hearing and feeling in my work. Many of the scenes in Cold Black are based on my experiences in Saudi Arabia whilst on British Government Trade Missions.
Q: Your Aidan Snow series are thrillers, with an ex-SAS trooper turned MI6 operative. How much research goes into writing about the SAS and MI6 and where did you start looking for such information to make your novels credible and believable? Do you have contacts in the SAS and MI6 whose knowledge you draw on that enables you to write so convincingly?
A: I read around any new subject I’m thinking of writing about but, to be honest, I research the location of my stories more than the military or intelligence aspects. I have a tame former MI6 officer who fact checks for me, contacts in Ukraine and a couple of ex-special forces guys I can ask if I’m stuck. However the more information an author includes in their work the more mistakes they are likely to make. The basis of convincing writing is character and emotion, and I try to make my characters sound and act like real people.
Q: How much of Alex Shaw is in Aidan Snow? It didn’t escape me that the initials of the names are the same and you both worked in an international school in Kyiv. Were you also injured as a young man working for the SAS?
A: I think authors appear in all the characters they create, but funnily enough I’ve never been asked how much like one of the villains I am! Cold Blood is probably the most autobiographical of my novels, I was living where Aidan Snow was living when I wrote the book and doing the same job he was, but I wasn’t a former member of the SAS. Snow and I are from the same place, are the same height, have the same values, share the same political views on terrorism, justice and Russian aggression against Ukraine, Georgia and Syria, but I am not Aidan Snow …
Q: Several of your books have been translated into German despite the fact that many of the stories take place in Ukraine. Why did you decide to translate them into German rather than Ukrainian or Russian? Do you have any plans to translate your books into additional languages?
A: I chose Germany as I saw an opportunity there for my work, the legacy of the Eastern Block means that many Germans are interested in Ukraine. I have a great German publisher and am amazed by my success, I sell more there than anywhere else. Several of my books are available in other languages and I’d love to have them in Ukrainian and Russian but as yet I’ve yet to find the right publisher.
Q: Is there anything about your books that you would change, if you could?
A: Jeffrey Archer re-wrote one of his first books twenty years after it was originally published because he was never happy with it, now I can understand why he would do that but for me that’s too extreme. My books are a reflection of who I was and where the world was at the time I wrote them. Perhaps I’d simplify the names and locations in my debut novel, Cold Blood, as I’ve been told, mostly by Americans, that they find the ‘European names’ confusing.
Q: Your books cover some interesting genres. You move fluidly between crime fiction, young adult time travel, thrillers involving terrorism and espionage, to apocalyptic fiction involving vampires. What is next and in which genre do you feel the most comfortable?
A: I find writing thrillers the most comfortable and tend to bring this aspect into all of my writing. I’m working on several projects at the moment including a Nordic Noir set in Finland and Ukraine, a crime thriller set in 1990s small town America and a military thriller set in Afghanistan. Aidan Snow will also get another outing in 2018.
Q: You went from looking for an agent to self-publishing and then back to searching for a publishing agent once again. You now have some of your titles published by Endeavour Press and Luzifer Verlag. What does this mean to you and do you hope to have all your titles picked up by a publisher or do you still enjoy the control self-publishing affords?
A: I self-published, initially, because in 2007 I wasted a year of my life trying to get a traditional publisher. I then discovered Amazon’s CreateSpace. For over five years I remained Indie. This experience really helped me develop and grow as a writer because when I submitted again I received offers from the first two publishers I approached. Getting a publisher made me feel validated, and opened doors for me, it also enabled me to join the ITW and the CWA. But I know many authors who are happy to remain Indie and do have huge sales. I’ll probably keep my short stories self-published but strive to have any new novels placed with a publisher.
Q: You are an active member of the ITW (The International Thriller Writers organisation) and the CWA (the Crime Writers Association). What benefits do you get from being members of these groups and would you encourage other crime writers to join. My understanding is that these bodies only accept traditionally published authors. Why is this and could that change in the future?
A: The ITW accepts self-published authors if their sales are large enough, whilst the CWA only accepts ‘commercially published’ authors. In the past the CWA’s view has been that commercially published works are of a higher standard than self-published ones. Many would now argue that self-published works can and do exceed traditionally published works in terms of both quality and commercial appeal. There has been talk this past year within the CWA of perhaps admitting Indie authors but as yet nothing has changed. There are many benefits of membership of both organisations, including networking with other authors and being part of literary bodies which are committed to furthering their member’s careers and crime writing as a whole.
Q: Finally, how important is networking for you as an author? Which functions do you always attend and how active are you in the author community?
A: Networking and social-networking are extremely important and I put my success down to Facebook, this is where I’ve met authors, publishers, readers and reviewers. I try to interact in online groups as much as I can. Offline I attend ITW UK meet-ups, CWA events and crime festivals. I’ve been at CrimeFest, The London Book Fair, Newcastle Noir and Bloody Brighton. I’ve been thrilled to meet some of the crime writing greats including Lee Child, Peter James, Ian Rankin, Stephen Leather, Gunnar Staalesen, Kati Hiekkapelto, Jørn Lier Horst and others. In addition to meeting your own readers, getting to know the people whose names are written on the books you love to read is one of the best perks of being an author!