“Aiden L. Bailey’s debut spy thriller is mind-bending, genre-breaking, cliché-twisting… call it whatever you like, just read it!”
That quote is taken from a blurb I wrote for author Aiden L. Bailey’s debut spy thriller, The Benevolent Deception. This unique, action packed novel really broke the mold, and it quickly became a “must read” on my kindle. Now that Aiden has released a prequel, and has begun work on the next book in the series, I thought it would be fun to interview him for the site. I can’t wait to get a look at what twists and turns this fascinating author has in store for thriller fans like myself!
Tell us about yourself… how did you become a writer?
Although I’m originally from Sydney, I have lived and worked all over Australia including in outback mining towns and the remote desert regions. I started as an engineer on oil and gas pipeline and mining construction projects. After a couple of years my skills in writing and graphic design allowed me to transition into marketing roles, preparing proposals for multi-million-dollar infrastructure construction projects for defense facilities, coal fired power stations, water treatment plants, oil and gas refineries, offshore drilling platforms, highways, bridges, and rail networks. That work took me all over Australia, New Zealand and for a short time to the United States.
I’ve always had a creative mind, and the need to write stories has been with me since I was a young child. For many years I tried my hand at science fiction short stories. I also edited various SF anthologies and magazines, and interviewed some of the top authors in the industry.
About three years ago I finally admitted that what I most wanted to write was espionage thrillers and techno-thrillers, not SF, and so set about writing my first novel under a new penname (I didn’t want to confuse readers with the SF genre I use to write in). Eighteen months later I completed and published The Benevolent Deception. With that book’s release I had discovered the genre for me and plan on writing many more novels just like it.
What other writers influenced you?
What I read most often is thrillers, especially spy, techno-thriller and adventure stories. I have a strong interest in novels set in far flung places like Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. Contemporary authors I’ve recently enjoyed include Vince Flynn, Lee Child, Dan Brown, Gillian Flynn, Mark Dawson, Jack Silkstone and Rob Sinclair. Authors that influenced me at a younger age included Martin Cruz Smith, Wilbur Smith, Len Deighton, Alex Garland, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Graham Greene, Michael Crichton, Desmond Bagley and Ian Fleming.
I’m also a big fan of SF and the genre’s impressive authors are Iain M Banks, Suzanne Collins, Alastair Reynolds, Philip K Dick, Isaac Asimov, Brian Aldiss, Harry Harrison, Larry Niven and on the fantasy front J.K. Rowling.
I guess it is not surprising I write espionage techno-thrillers combining aspects of both genres.
What gave you the initial spark of inspiration to write your debut spy thriller, The Benevolent Deception?
Inspiration originated from a new technology emerging in the world that I suspect we are only on the fringes of understanding its long-term impacts, and some of those potential impacts are downright scary.
When I looked deeper into this technology I realized it could also ‘fix’ several of the world’s ‘problems’ such as religious fanaticism, poverty, over-population, global warming, biodiversity degradation, intolerance and superstition, wealth inequality and corrupt totalitarian regimes everywhere, but in very unconventional and unexpected ways, and not to everyone’s liking or long-term survival.
In my novel that technology is used to first assassinate the U.S. President by manipulating insurgents into shooting down Air Force One in Afghanistan. The same shadowy group then impersonates the President everywhere by hacking into every government communication, global media outlet and social media platform. They spread fake Presidential speeches pushing an agenda that is not aligned with the current policies of the United States. It might look and sound like the President talking on the news networks, but is it really him?
The Benevolent Deception follows four characters – a former intelligence officer, a Secret Service agent, an investigative journalist, and a civilian targeted for assassination for reasons she does not understand – as they are each pursued across the globe while they attempt to unravel the mystery.
The Benevolent Deception incorporates some unique themes and ideas you don’t often see in spy thrillers, almost touching on trans-humanism and science fiction at times. Could you describe some of your influences in this area?
Before I started writing The Benevolent Deception I invested a lot of time studying the styles and techniques of today’s top thriller authors with the aim of writing a novel that fit the conventions of the genre. But I’m also influenced by techno-thriller authors like Dan Brown, John Birmingham, Matthew Reilly and Michael Crichton, and films like Inception and Ex_Machina that feature one speculative idea incorporated into the backdrop of the modern world. This mechanism allows me to keep the story and characters grounded in the modern world and yet explore the potential impacts of a single near future technology.
Feedback from many readers is that the surreal events of The Benevolent Deception seem implausible or illogical at first, but by the conclusion it all comes together in a series of ‘penny-drop’ moments. I’m grateful for this feedback because I felt like I was taking a risk with this book.
Were you intentionally trying to stretch the boundaries of the genre?
On reflection, I probably was. I’ve already mentioned I wanted to incorporate speculative elements into a traditional thriller plot but not make it too ‘out there’ so that it became pure SF.
But I took other risks with the tropes common in thriller fiction, by playing on the motivations, personalities and backgrounds of the four main characters. Two characters are mostly traditional, Simon Ashcroft a spy action hero type and the smart woman he is sent to Africa to protect, Casey Irvine. Simon eventually falls for Casey but he is also driven to return home and be a father to his children again. The third character is a secular Muslim and she is an agent for the U.S. Secret Service. The last is an investigative journalist risking his life to get to the bottom of the story’s mystery, who incidentally happens to be gay.
I did deliberately apply the Bechdel Test to my novel to include at least one conversation between two named female characters that is not about a man. Even though I met the criteria many times, in later drafts I changed several of the male characters to female to achieve a better gender balance. It’s paying off because a sizable portion of my fan base are women which I wasn’t expecting. I’m proud of that.
A large chunk of The Benevolent Deception was set in Africa, and those scenes really showcased your genuine love and interest for the setting… what experiences led to your fascination with this area of the world?
In my early twenties, I backpacked with a friend through parts of Eastern and Southern Africa and we did some pretty wild things over there. We hung out with journalists, UN workers, African business entrepreneurs, aid workers and NGO consultants. We did the usual tourist activities like safaris and visiting amazing scenery like Victoria Falls, the Island of Lamu and the Rift Valley, but I was also chased by an elephant, ended up in a rock concert with gunfire, met with the victims of brutal secret police interrogations, and watched as press got censored everywhere I went. It was a full immersion cultural tour like I haven’t experienced since.
I’ve travelled to many other parts of the world since but something about my experiences in Africa made me fall in love with the continent. I don’t think I chose to set my stories there, it choses me. I plan to return as soon as I’m able, for I have plenty more stories with African settings and want to get the research right.
What do you think are the key ingredients of a page-turning spy thriller? What do you look for when you read for your own pleasure?
There is no magic formula in writing a best seller otherwise we’d all be doing it, but I’ve learnt a few tricks along the way that might help me get there. Firstly, I try to develop characters with realistic motivations and human failings. Secondly, I aim to keep the characters whose eyes we see a story through to a minimum so a reader isn’t investing a lot of time jumping between characters and trying to work out who is important. Thirdly, I aim to keep dialogue snappy and keep lengthy backstory narratives to a minimum. Critical for thrillers, I know there needs to be an underlying sense of tension bubbling away at all times.
Perhaps not surprisingly, all the above is what I look for when I read for pleasure.
What do you think the future of publishing will be for independent writers like yourself?
I’d been coming to the conclusion for some time that self-publishing is going to be the only way forward for serious authors. It is a bit like the rock band that first makes a name for itself on the live performance circuit, so when they seek a record label deal they are in a position of power to negotiate their contractual terms. They have already proved they offer a unique sounds people want to hear. A self-published author who sells 50,000 copies in twelve months brings to the table a marketable literary product, whereas an unpublished manuscript runs the risk of not being read by anyone, no matter how good it is.
I know many authors want someone else to promote their books but I’m not even seeing that happening in mainstream publishing anymore. There is too much competition these days with over a million self-published books on Amazon. Each year it is going to become risker than the last for publishers to pick up an unknown author, especially one that doesn’t engage with the public and talk about what they are writing. I believe authors who produce engaging and unique novels, who knows how to promote their work and are savvy with their self-publishing and social media platforms are going to be the authors we remember in the future. And good luck to them all.
What’s upon next for you and your writing? Do you plan to stick with spy thrillers, or are there other genres you would like to tackle?
I’m busy working on the sequel to The Benevolent Deception which will be the second book in what will be a trilogy. That novel will be called The Benevolent Conflict and is set predominately in India and the Middle East. The mystery has been revealed in book one, so the second book explores what the group controlling the mysterious technology is going to do with it. The world is in for lots of surprises.
For now, I’m going to stick with espionage techno-thrillers. I’m having too much fun writing in this genre after the long path I took to get here. After I finish the Benevolent Series I plan on writing a series of standalone but connected espionage thriller novels about a driven CIA agent and a jaded Australian SAS soldier. Many of those stories will draw on my mining and oil and gas industry experience. So far have about five novels plotted out.
Any big travel plans on the horizon?
I’ve just returned from Indonesia where I was researching scenes for the third book in the Benevolent series, so my next trip might be a while away. If I do travel again soon I’m looking to return to Southern Africa where significant portions of my future novels will be set.
Any other projects or endeavors you’d like to highlight? How can readers find more information about you and your books?
You can find out more about me at my website www.aidenlbailey.com with links to my Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google+ pages.
I have a mailing list/readers group that anyone can sign up to here where you can receive updates on my books and receive a free copy of my Benevolent Series prequel novella The Assyrian Contraband (which is also available on Amazon). This is a story I was originally asked to write for an unofficial Canadian James Bond anthology, but the project got stalled. So I rewrote it in a modern setting with Simon Ashcroft from The Benevolent Deception as the hero. It takes place in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa and features what I have been told is a very unusual battle with a shark.
If you could be any hero of the spy thriller genre for a day, who would you choose and why?
Daniel Craig’s James Bond. I mean, who else has that much fun being a secret agent?