Meet your new Non-Executive Director: Edwin Thomas

We sat down with Edwin Thomas, one of two new Non-executive Directors, to learn more about his career as an author and what he sees as the biggest challenge facing writers.

Can you tell us about your background?

I had a bit of a nomadic upbringing. I was born in Germany to British parents, then moved to Belgium, then America before finally arriving in the UK when I was 17. I studied history at university and left with a strong desire to write. I took a job at a pensions consultancy for a few years, and then entered a crime writing competition run by the Crime Writers’ Association. I ended up as runner up, and there were various agents and publishers on the judging panel. One of the agents got in touch with me and asked to see the rest of the novel (which didn’t exist). So I took a leave of absence from work and blasted out the novel as quickly as I could. The agent was then able to sell it, which was amazing, and since then I have been a full-time writer.

What was the process like of writing that first book?

I wanted to be a writer, but I knew all the horror stories. I psyched myself up for the idea that I’d spend a lot of time writing something, send it out, get a pile of rejection letters, and then get it out of my system and move on to do something “proper”. And so to get editors and agents writing to me saying they would like to see more was just incredible.

There was a sense of it being a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I just wrote that book with a wave of energy and hope. With your first book, you have a blank canvas with all of your accumulated ideas to pull from. I remember it as a really exhilarating experience.

Why did you want to be a writer and why historical novels specifically?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I remember when I was about eight years old telling my primary school teacher that that’s what I wanted to be. I also remember my mum asking me in a concerned parent kind of way what I saw myself doing after university, and me telling her “I want to be an author”. Like any wise parent she was anxious that this wasn’t a sensible career path. But it has always been in me and always been something I’m compelled to pursue.

History is also something that I’ve always been drawn to. Psychologically, growing up in an expat British family was odd because I was conscious of British history but also cut off from it. Reading historical novels was my way of learning and reconnecting with that part of my identity. There are also so many amazing stories in history, incredible feats of daring and bravery. As a writer, writing from a historical perspective allows you to do things you can’t do in contemporary settings.

Is there anything you’re working on at the moment?

For the last few years I’ve been collaborating with the South African adventure writer Wilbur Smith, co-writing with him to continue his Courtney series of historical epic novels. He sadly passed away about 18 months ago, and I’m working with his estate to finish the projects he set in motion before he died. One of those called Nemesis came out in April and another is due next April called Warrior King, which I’m just putting the finishing touches on now.

What interested you about ALCS and what do you think you can bring to the organisation?

I’ve been a member for as long as I’ve been a writer, and who doesn’t love an organisation that hands out money? Then about 10 years ago I chaired the Crime Writers’ Association, which really drove home the issue of how hard it is for writers to earn a living. ALCS is a fantastic organisation for helping authors achieve that, both with the money they distribute, and also the advocacy work they do on behalf of authors.

In terms of what I bring, I spent a long time in school governance and that gave me a very strong grounding in the principles of good governance, how boards operate and the importance of holding an organisation to account for its performance. I’m passionate about ensuring that organisations are constantly seeking to improve and working in the best interest of their stakeholders.

What do you think is the most pressing issue facing writers right now?

When I first met my agent in 2001, the first thing she said to me was “publishing is dire, bookshops are closing, publishers are cutting advances, and they’re all run by accountants”. What she said was true, but looking back it was actually a golden age by the standards of today. Pay for authors was much better, there were more high street book chains, publishers were more willing to take risks. In the following decades, it has just got harder and harder for authors.

Fundamentally, authors needs to earn a living. Today, at one end of the market, it has never been easier for anyone to publish a book on Amazon, and at the other end, those authors who are household names have never been doing better. But the middle, where most authors inhabit, has been completely hollowed out. That has massive implications for everyone and is also a big diversity issue. If people can’t earn a living from writing books, then it drastically limits the pool of authors to those who already have the means to sustain themselves financially. The industry needs to change and I hope ALCS will be at the forefront of driving that change.

You can find out more about Edwin and his work here.