We are thrilled to bring you an interview with the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger award-winning author Simon Conway, as he shares his highly anticipated new book The Stranger.

A fascinating man, Simon Conway is a former British Army officer and international aid worker. He has cleared landmines and the other debris of war across the world and successfully campaigned for an international ban on cluster bombs – you’ll find out more about this ‘other’ side to him as you read on. 

So sit down, relax and join us as for an interview with Simon Conway.

Hi Simon, welcome to You’re Booked.

For anyone who isn’t yet familiar with your books, how would you describe your writing style to someone who’s never read your work before?

I write thrillers so pace is an obligation. I keep my chapters short and I try to use good ingredients, a strong plot and true-to-life characters.

I always strive for authenticity and so I’m pleased when it’s used to describe my writing. I work hard to try and capture the small details that make up the essence of a place. It might be a Syrian refugee camp, car park B at Kabul Airport or the office of the Director of Jordanian intelligence. I believe that If you can successfully evoke a place then you can carry the reader with you. As a spy-master says in one of my books, “the best lies are sandwiched between truths”. It’s as true of fiction as it is of espionage.

Author, Simon Conway

I’ve been trying to adhere to George Orwell’s six tips for writing from his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” – never use a long word where a short one will do, if it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out, etc. At work, it helps having a boss who is a former Major General who demands clear and concise Anglo-Saxon English. And where I stray too far in my fiction, my editor Nick Sayers, has the good sense to call me out.

One thing we’re always keen to know when talking to an author, is what your typical writing day look like?

I try to write a minimum of five hundred words a day, under any circumstances, sometimes on planes or in airport departure lounges. I’ve learned that helicopters are rubbish for writing. I trash laptops at a frightening rate and I’m constantly emailing myself the latest draft or, if there’s no signal, downloading it on multiple USB sticks for fear of losing it. Because I have a full-time job that involves a lot of international travel and the risk of night-time emergencies is a fact of life, there is no typical day and it’s not easy to build a rhythm. That said, scenes and characters tend to steep like tea in the back of my head and when I eventually sit down it often flows. My favourite place to write is the cottage that I rent in rural Dumfriesshire, close to HALO’s HQ. If I am there I sit up at night, surrounded by books and listen to music while I tap at the keyboard. I don’t write with a pen. I can pack a wound and insert an intravenous drip, but my most accomplished medical skill is illegible writing.

Was writing something you’d always known you would do?

Yes, always. I wrote my first novel when I was eleven. In barely-legible pencil on foolscap. It was a World War Two commando story about a motley crew of rebels and castoffs who pull off an audacious rescue mission behind enemy lines and mostly die in the process. It set the tone for all subsequent work. Eyes-upward emoji. Put it this way, I can’t imagine not writing.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your settings and characters?

I’m fortunate that my job at HALO, clearing up after conflict, takes me to remote and sometimes hazardous places. In the last five years my focus has been Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Because my role involves setting up new projects, I am often the first person from HALO on the ground and that inevitably sets you up for interesting experiences. I meet strangers who share anecdotes on abandoned battlefields and in the back of land rovers and land cruisers. I bastardise real people. Ten years ago, I worked in an office opposite the MI6 building and my work took me regularly into Parliament. I watched and took notes. When it comes to villains, I don’t seem to have any problem in drawing on my own resources to create them

How do your characters develop? Do you find that your characters take on a life of their own when you are writing? Or are you always completely in control of what they say and do?

I want to say that I am in control. After all, I have the power to punish them in unusual ways but characters can be pesky and independent minded. They grow more autonomous with each draft.

When you are not writing, what do you do to relax?

I have a strong-willed Siberian Husky who has put up with me muttering to myself for over eleven years. We hike together in Scotland, on woodland trails and up hills and mountains. I’ve developed a taste for dark Venezuelan rum to be taken at the end of a night’s writing with one cube of ice. I used to live on Islay and when it comes to whisky, I prefer it smoky and peaty.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

I suspect that I’m not the only one who has been reading a lot of dystopian fiction recently. I really enjoyed Andrew Hunter Murray’s The Last Day, Claire North’s 84K, Chris Beckett’s America City, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Dogs of War, but the strangest and most audacious book I’ve read recently is Nick Harkaway’s 2017 novel Gnomon.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to any aspiring writers?

Write every day.

Thanks for joining us Simon.

Get The Book: 

ISIS can’t control him. MI6 can’t find him. But he’s coming…

Things change quickly in the world of espionage and clandestine operations. Jude Lyon of MI6 remembers the captured terrorist bomb-maker. He watched him being flown off to Syria, back when Syria was ‘friendly’. No-one expected him to survive interrogation there.

Yet the man is alive and someone has broken him out of jail.

Bad news for the former foreign secretary who authorised his rendition. And Jude’s boss Queen Bee who knew he wasn’t a terrorist at all, but an innocent bystander. Now she calls Jude back from a dangerously enjoyable mission involving a Russian diplomat’s wife.

He has a new job: close down this embarrassment. Fast.

But embarrassment is only the beginning. Someone is using the former prisoner to front a new and unspeakably terrifying campaign. Someone not even ISIS can control.

He is like a rumour, a myth, a whisper on the desert wind. But he is real and he is coming for us …

He is the genius known only as … The Stranger.

From the corridors of Westminster to the refugee camps of Jordan, the back streets of East London to the badlands of Syria, The Stranger is a nerve-shredding journey of suspense as Jude Lyon pieces together the shape of an implacable horror coming towards him – and a conspiracy of lies behind him.

Rave Reviews:

‘A story SO strong, you suspect it MUST be true!
The Stranger renders Simon Conway one of the 21st century’s masters of the thriller genre’  Jon Snow 

‘Probably my favourite book of the year . . . a fabulous thriller, full on, remarkable and ingenious.
If you don’t read it, you’re missing out big time! Michael Jecks 

Get the book now:

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