We’re just a few short days away from the release of the next Caine: Rapid Fire adventure, SANDFIRE. This is my first collaboration in the Rapid Fire series, and I really enjoyed working with fellow thriller author Aiden L. Bailey. I’ve been a big fan of Aiden’s books for a while now, and I was thrilled to join forces with him to bring readers a new take on Caine and his mysterious past. I thought it would be fun to interview Aiden, and let readers see what it was like to dive into the shadowy world of betrayed assassin Thomas Caine…
ANDREW: Tell us about your experiences writing Thomas Caine. Did collaborating with another author change your writing process in any way?
AIDEN: Writing Caine was both an exciting and daunting process. On one hand Thomas Caine is such a great character and it was fun to put him through the adventure we created for him in Sandfire. I couldn’t say no to an opportunity like that. On the other hand, if I got it wrong, I’d be the guy who forever ruined the Caine series.
Caine’s character was the most challenging aspect for me in Sandfire. He’s a tough guy who brings justice to those who abuse positions of power. He’s also sensitive to the needs of people trapped in difficult situations and self-reflective to his own nature. It was about finding a balance between all aspects of his personality.
The writing process itself ran like a dream. We worked well together perhaps because we already write in similar styles and tell the same kinds of stories. We ‘got’ what each of us was trying to achieve with SANDFIRE. If one or the other didn’t like some aspect to the story, we just came out and said it. We always ended up going with the option that was best for the story and the character.
What was most helpful was watching how you revised and edited the drafts, making the language shorter, sharper and more succinct while refining Caine’s character. I’ve adapted that approach to my writing now, and I’m writing faster as a result. It was a great experience and I am grateful I had the opportunity to write in the Caine series.
On a final note, early reader feedback has been positive and encouraging, so hopefully I won’t be the guy who ruined Caine.
ANDREW: What do you think is the key to crafting a hard hitting, fast paced story in the novella format?
AIDEN: There are several elements I try to incorporate into every story I write — novels or novellas — to remain true to the conventions of the espionage action thriller genre. These included starting and ending the story with the main character so readers are immediately and always invested in the hero. End every chapter on a cliff-hanger or surprise revelation. Keep an underlying sense of danger and tension in every scene. Put the main character in situations that seem almost impossible to escape. Ensure all major characters have strong motives and that their own journeys aren’t always in alignment with any other character. Keep backstory to a minimum and when required bring it out in dialogue where I can. Lastly, transport readers into exotic locations and be creative with action sequences.
I’m never sure how well I do this, but with SANDFIRE, we worked hard to get as many of these elements into the narrative. Hopefully we succeeded.
ANDREW: Your next book, Blood Ivory, is scheduled for release shortly after Sandfire. What can you tell us about this new thriller on the horizon?
AIDEN: Blood Ivory is a short action adventure thriller novella featuring the hero Simon Ashcroft from The Benevolent Deception and The Assyrian Contraband but is set before both those adventures. There was also a strong emotional hook in the story that compelled me to write it.
Ashcroft is a former Australian Army soldier employed as a counter-terrorism officer with the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS). He’s tasked with identifying the links between Philippine terrorists and Tanzanian ivory smugglers. In East Africa he’s trying to stay dispassionate about the plight of elephants who are being slaughtered wholesale across the continent, but he can’t.
I’d seen elephants in the wild in East Africa when I traveled there, even came face to face with one in the bush without meaning too. They are incredible animals and you sense immediately that they are very intelligent and very emotional creatures, who feel and hurt and love as strongly as humans do.
In the past 100 years African elephant populations have been reduced by 97%. They are near extinction. It is such a tragedy that some people place greater value on dead tusks than they do on the value of living, caring elephants. This is the theme of Blood Ivory.
ANDREW: Tell us about your character Simon Ashcroft. What do you think sets him apart from other thriller heroes?
AIDEN: Ashcroft is an Australia soldier turned spy turned security contractor who across four books just can’t seem to find his way home to his family. He has two young daughters he barely sees and a job that is dangerous, working for incompetent people who don’t always have his back. Past missions have taken him to all the worst danger spots in Africa and Asia. But he’s not afraid to confront threats and deal with those who impart unjust misery on others. He’s a man of action often getting into difficult situation requiring creative means of escape. I like to think he has a sense of humour.
As to what sets him apart, I’m not sure. I’m probably too close to the character to give an objective view on that one.
Feedback from readers however is that Ashcroft is able to feel and express empathy but can lock those feelings completely down in dangerous situations. He isn’t haunted by his deeds like many other thriller protagonists evident in him being able to have a family despite his shadowy work. Readers have also said they find him charismatic, which is nice, and the complete opposite of the secluded stoic personality type common in this genre.
ANDREW: I’ve been a big fan of your Benevolent books since the beginning… what are your plans for this mind-bending techno-thriller series?
AIDEN: The Benevolent Series is an espionage technothriller that features Simon Ashcroft from Blood Ivory and The Assyrian Contraband.
In the first book, The Benevolent Deception, Ashcroft is assigned to find and protect Casey Irvine, a tourist on safari in Kenya. After saving her life, they discover wildlife poachers, corrupt police and even the local military have targeted Casey for assassination. She has no idea why and neither does Ashcroft.
As Ashcroft and Casey run for their lives across East Africa, a new global threat emerges. Cyberterrorists have unleashed a digital weapon known as ‘Shatterhand’. An insidious program that can command the world’s military forces, manipulate the media and impersonate the President of the United States.
The sequel and concluding novel is tentatively titled The Shatterhand Code. It’s written now and I’m going through the editing phase. There are several twists and turns to keep readers guessing right up to the last chapter as to what really has been going on over the two books. A conspiracy behind the conspiracy. I hope to release the full series towards the end of the year.
ANDREW: Both of our books feature lots of travel, and exotic locations around the world… what are some locations you plan to feature in your upcoming books? Any travel plans in your future?
AIDEN: Blood Ivory is set in Tanzania and Kenya, specifically the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Tsavo West National Park featuring shootouts with poachers and wildlife aplenty. Other scenes include an assassination in the Tanzanian city of Arusha and an confrontation at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro.
The Shatterhand Code features a chase through the slums of Mumbai, a perilous pursuit on the roof of a fast-moving train in the tropics of Western India, gun battles in the streets of Abu Dhabi, a dangerous journey across the deserts of Saudi Arabia and paramilitary action in the tropical scrub of northern Australia, to mention a few locations. I try to make exotic locations feel as real as I can, while simultaneously looking for what is unusual or unique about each place, then sharing those experiences with readers.
Although I have no travel plans for the immediate future, I do plan to return to Africa one day and see the places I missed last time I went. About half the ideas I have for adventure thriller novels are set in that continent, so it’s not really surprising I’m eager to return.
ANDREW: I know we’re both big Ian Fleming fans, and you asked me about my favorite Bond novel. Now it’s my turn… What is your favorite Bond novel, and what scene stands out for you the most?
AIDEN: While Live and Let Die was the first Bond novel I read in my teenage years, and it left a lasting impression, I would have to say Dr No is my favorite novel. The scene where Bond battles the squid was so unexpected, surreal and typically Bond. I don’t know why that scene hasn’t been adapted into one of the films yet, but I can see why in 1962 when the Dr No film was made it would be near impossible to do with the technology available at the time.
Incidentally, the squid scene heavily influenced a sequence in The Assyrian Contraband where Simon Ashcroft comes head to head with a bull shark.