Ellis Shuman Interview: “My first book was based on my years living on a kibbutz”

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Ellis Shuman, author of The Burgas Affair, discusses his work and how his experiences have shaped it.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?

I don’t know if I would classify myself as an author of crime fiction. I enjoy writing suspenseful novels, thrillers that keep you turning the pages. Invariably, in the stories I tell a crime has taken place and must be solved. This crime is central to the plot so maybe my writing is crime fiction after all.

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I wish I were able to write full time! I have had many careers and each of them has provided background to my writing. I worked on a dairy farm milking cows, and I was employed in a five-star hotel as a front desk clerk. For the past twelve years I have worked in online marketing and for a two-year period, my job was relocated from my home in Israel to Sofia, Bulgaria. Each chapter of my career has featured in my writing at some stage.

I still have a day job so finding the time to write is a challenge. I solved this problem and added an extra hour to my daily routine by sitting down in a coffee house each morning for an hour of writing before going to work. I find that I am the most creative in the early hours and by the time I report to the office, I have already accomplished quite a bit. Still, it would be great to be able to write full time!

Please tell me about your books. What defines your writing style?

My first book was based on my years living on a kibbutz—a collective settlement in Israel’s southern desert. The cows I milked and the tractors I drove to plough the fields feature in the short stories of The Virtual Kibbutz.

Living in Bulgaria introduced me to a fascinating country, rich with culture, history, and nature. When I returned to Israel, I found that I missed living in Sofia and I wanted to share my experiences in Bulgaria. I found that I could do this in my writing. My debut novel, Valley of Thracians, is set in modern day Bulgaria but also highlights the time when mysterious warlike tribes—the Thracians—ruled the region before they were conquered by the Romans.

Two years after my return to Israel, a terrorist bombing at Burgas Airport in Bulgaria took the lives of five Israeli tourists and their Bulgarian bus driver. Having grown up in Israel, I was quite familiar with terror attacks and suicide bombings but I had never imagined that something like this would occur in Bulgaria. As those responsible for the bombing were never brought to justice, I began to imagine a joint Bulgarian-Israeli investigation, and this led to my novel The Burgas Affair. It’s a fictional account of the aftermath of a very real event.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I enjoy writing short chapters that leave the reader reluctant to put down the book. Possibly this is because a lot of my reading is done during a train ride on my daily commute to and from work. As I speed through a book, I hardly notice my fellow passengers or the stations passing by. This is the experience I wish to share with my readers as well.
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What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I read a wide variety of fiction, but I am particularly drawn to novels written by Israeli and Bulgarian authors when they are translated and published in English. I enjoy reading suspense thrillers. The books I read definitely influence my writing. I write book reviews, travel reports of the places I’ve visited, and fiction that hopefully comes across as suspenseful and thrilling as the books that keep me turning the pages.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I have never yet collaborated with anyone on a writing project so doing that would really be a challenge for me! I have to admit that I enjoyed reading the novels of Dan Brown. I remember starting to read The Da Vinci Code when I boarded a plane in Tel Aviv and finishing it just as I got off the plane in New York. What attracts me to Dan Brown’s novels is the details that play background to the main story. I appreciate the amount of research Brown puts into his writing and in my opinion, the background didn’t slow down the pace of the story.

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

I am working on my third novel. Similar to The Burgas Affair, it is set in both Bulgaria and Israel, but it approaches its subject in an entirely different way. I have completed the first draft but the novel is far from finished. I will be going back to the manuscript soon to begin rewrites and revisions.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the New Year?

My tablet is full of books on my to-be-read list. Many of them are debut novels that attract me because they have unusual settings, or stories. And many of them would be considered classic crime fiction. I look forward to reading them all!

Anything you’d like to add?

In many ways I consider my novels to be travel fiction. The locations and settings are almost as important as the characters of the story. Many readers of Valley of Thracians were introduced to Bulgaria for the first time. I hope The Burgas Affair will similarly introduce readers to both Bulgaria and Israel.

Thanks for taking the time to tell me your thoughts, it’s been fascinating. You can learn more about Ellis and his work HERE.

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