06th Sep2013

Interview with Chris Ewan

by Lloyd Paige


Chris Ewan has been best known for his wonderful Good Thief Guides but when his thriller Safe House became a huge hit, he found himself a brand new eager audience. So I caught up with Chris to find out a little bit more about him as a writer and his new book Dead Line.

1. Hi Chris, we nearly lost you to another profession didn’t we?

I was a lawyer for ten years, first in London, then working as a film lawyer in the Isle of Man. I always dreamed of being a writer but I knew the odds were against me and when I left university a steady job seemed like a good idea. I landed my first literary agent when I was still at law school, aged 22, but it took me until a week before my 30th birthday before I was finally published. Like so many people, I did a lot of writing in the early mornings, late evenings and on weekends, trying to learn the craft when I wasn’t at the office.

2. What was the main thing that made you switch to the less stable career of being a writer?

Well, I was made redundant, so that certainly helped! But the truth is my law firm had allowed me to work part-time from when my first novel, The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam, was published. Throughout the years that followed, I was searching for a way to try and devote more time to my writing. Eventually, the firm I was working for did it for me when I was in the middle of writing The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice. I’d always wondered if I might be able to write that elusive breakthrough book if I was able to work on a full-time basis and suddenly I had my chance. Safe House was the result of that, and luckily for me the book went on to become a success.

3. The Good Thief’s Guide series has been popular. Do you enjoy or get a sense of fulfilment from the amount of research that you conduct for them?

The Good Thief books are surprisingly research-heavy. The aim behind the series was to combine travel fiction with crime fiction, so it’s important to me that I accurately convey a sense of the cities I’m writing about. That means a lot of reading, and it also means I tend to visit each city I write about at least three times while I’m working on a book. I know that hardly sounds like a tough gig, especially as I’ve come to know and fall in love with all the cities I’ve sent my Good Thief to, but it did mean every holiday my wife and I took for many years had to be to a location I was writing about (including our honeymoon, which we spent in Vegas). Ultimately, I love the travel and the research, but I love sitting at my desk and writing the actual book a lot more.

4. Because the books combine fact with fiction is there quite a bit of Charlie in you somewhere deep down?

I guess there’s a part of me in every character I write about but Charlie is probably closer to me than most. We share a sense of humour. We’re about the same age. He even lived in the apartment where I was based when I lived in Amsterdam for six months. So yeah, we’re similar — apart from Charlie being a burglar and running into corpses.

5. Interestingly, you had to self published The Good Thief’s Guide to Berlin in the UK which wasn’t the case with the previous titles. As a writer do you struggle to make sense of a separation when it occurs with a publisher, or do you just put it down to a business decision?

I still struggle with it now. Let’s just say that I was enormously disappointed when S&S took a break from the series and declined to read The Good Thief’s Guide to Berlin. I’m fortunate that my brilliant publishers in the US, St Martin’s Press, have been very loyal to the series and see a future for it, just as I do. I’m also grateful that the critical reception to The Good Thief’s Guide to Berlin has been very positive. I still hope that one day Berlin will appear in printed form in the UK.

6. With self publishing, established writers in particular have another viable outlet but if you were starting your writing career again, would you choose that route first or would you still attempt the traditional path?

I respect writers who self publish and I can certainly appreciate its appeal, but speaking personally, my dream and goal was always to be published by a publishing house. If I was starting out now I’d still be hoping to be taken on in the traditional way. That said, I think it’s great that writers who have been unlucky with submissions or who opt to start out along the self-publishing route are now increasingly being snapped up by publishers.

7. You’ve mentioned Safe House as being your breakthrough book so when you wrote it were you worried about setting the location on the Isle of Man, or did you think that gave the story its uniqueness and an additional selling point?

I was initially concerned that the Isle of Man setting wouldn’t hold as much appeal for readers as the glamorous international cities I’d written about in the past, but I soon came to see the Manx setting as a very positive thing. The island is a fascinating place, and it’s somewhere that many people don’t know a great deal about. It seems to me that a lot of people have enjoyed reading Safe House because the book has introduced them to a new location and a fresh culture that they weren’t very aware of before.

8. The book did very well and helped to put your name out there even more. Did that create an extra level of pressure for your next book Dead Line?

The success of Safe House has been beyond my wildest dreams and I think if the timing had been different then it may have created pressure for me. Luckily, though, I’d finished Dead Line before sales of Safe House really took off. Mind you, I was busy working to a different pressure at the time — trying to deliver the finished manuscript before my baby daughter was born. In the end, I submitted Dead Line to my agent about half an hour before my wife went into labour. Now that’s pressure!

9. Dead Line is set in Marseille but I heard somewhere that it was originally titled Coercion. Is this true and if so, what prompted the change?

You’re right, the book was originally called Coercion. I really liked that title but Faber suggested changing it to align the book more with Safe House. I was happy to make the change, and I think Dead Line is an apt title for the novel.

10. Is it geared towards fans of Safe House or are you looking to tap into a brand new audience with it?

My hope is that Dead Line will appeal to fans of Safe House. The books share a number of characteristics — they’re both fast-paced thrillers with a lot of twists and surprises — but Dead Line has a different tone. It’s a darker, more linear novel, and I’m very pleased with the way the book turned out.

11. What do you think your fans will love about the new book?

That’s hard to say. I think the story has a strong hook — Daniel Trent is a hostage negotiator who convinces the wife of wealthy businessman Jerome Moreau to help her negotiate Moreau’s release from kidnapping without revealing his ulterior motive, which is that he believes Moreau may have been involved in the disappearance of his fiancee. Other than that, I hope readers will enjoy the pace and surprises that are packed into the book, as well as the setting of Marseilles.

12. After all this time, which part of the writing process do you enjoy the most and has it changed at all from when you first started out?

I love writing the first five or so chapters of a first draft. After that, I love the second draft. But really, it’s all great, and it certainly beats being a lawyer.

13. The business of writing has changed a bit over the years, in your opinion what does a new age writer have to do today in order to survive?

I don’t think there are any set rules. All you can do is work as hard as you can and try to always improve your craft. That’s the only bit you can control. You need to be blessed with terrific, passionate readers who are willing to recommend your work to others, and a talented publishing team with genuine enthusiasm for your writing. After that, so much of success in publishing comes down to luck that you’d drive yourself nuts if you tried to control it.

14. What’s next in the pipeline for you?

I just finished the first draft of my new novel, scheduled for publication in August 2014. It’s currently untitled but I can tell you that it’s set on the Isle of Man and that the action revolves around Hop-tu-Naa, the Manx version of Halloween. It’s been enormous fun to write and I have my fingers-crossed for how the book will turn out.


What do you do if your fiancée goes missing, presumed taken?

If you’re Daniel Trent, a highly-trained specialist in hostage negotiation, the answer is simple: You

find out who took her and you make them talk.

But matters are complicated when Daniel’s chief suspect is kidnapped. How does he get him back quickly –

and alive?

Set in Marseille, Dead Line is a fast-paced thriller that pitches the reader into Daniel’s world, as he

tries desperately to secure the release of Jérôme Moreau from a ruthless gang in order to interrogate him

on the whereabouts of his fiancée, Aimée. When things don’t go according to plan however, Daniel must

use all his skills and instincts to find the answers he’s looking for, but will he be in time?


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