Alex Shaw on writing Traitors and creating Sophie Racine

To celebrate the recent release of Alex Shaw’s new gripping series Traitors, we asked him to explain why felt the need to write this story and create his protagonist Sophie Racine.

Why I needed to write Traitors and create Sophie Racine.

I write the type of books I like to read – espionage, action and adventure thriller fiction. Generally, the authors whose work I enjoy, present me with a male protagonist. On occasion, there is a female antagonist or a love interest or a colleague. Rarely, however, is there a female character who could take over the operation and outgun our ‘hero’ if she deemed it necessary. This isn’t a criticism whatsoever of any of the books I have. I will continue to read and enjoy, but it is the reason why I decided to create Sophie Racine.

Inspired in part by Dame Stella Rimington, who was appointed director-general of MI5 in 1992, I decided in 1996 to appoint my own fictional, female head of MI6 as I started to write my first Aidan Snow thriller.

As my writing progressed, I realised that I too had not put the spotlight on my female characters enough. Yes, the head of MI6 was a woman, in three Aidan Snow thrillers. But I wanted to create a female lead who would be a match for any male ‘action hero’. Whilst, at the same time, feel believable and genuine to the reader.

I’ve no idea how it came to me. Perhaps it was the wine and sardines. But six years ago, whilst on holiday in Sardinia, inspiration struck. I suddenly realised that there was a way I could create a strong female character and have her instantly contrasted against a traditional male hero.

I knew I wanted to write more about the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Cold East, my third Aidan Snow thriller, starts with Aidan Snow escaping rebel-controlled Eastern Ukraine, but in that book, I never really explained in detail what happened on that mission and the situation in occupied Donetsk.

Enter Sophie Racine.

I wanted my character to be European, and I wanted her to be from somewhere that most readers can identify with, know of or have seen on television. And the showman in me wanted it to be somewhere glamorous. So, I made Sophie Racine a native of Nice, living in Paris.  

My overall aim was to create a situation in which Sophie Racine came face to face with Aidan Snow as his professional equal. In part, this would be a literary passing of the torch and although I plan more future Snow books, I wanted to signal to my existing readers that Racine was a protagonist they should be taking note of. Of course, I also hoped that new readers, who chose to read a female lead espionage thriller would become interested in my Aidan Snow thrillers.

I knew I had to be careful in my plotting, characterisation, and writing to maintain the integrity of both characters whilst focussing on my new creation and bringing her to the fore believably and sustainably.  

And then I started writing.

And then something I can’t quite explain happened.

For the first time, my character took on a life of their own. As I wrote Traitors, Sophie Racine became real to me. Out of nowhere, I knew her backstory, so I depicted parts of this – her childhood and adolescence – in flashbacks. And this told me what she wanted now and how the story had to progress. Writing Sophie, the child, enabled me to be naive, loving, and rebellious. Writing Racine, the woman, demanded I be curt, clever, cunning, occasionally obnoxious and always deadly.

Did I succeed? Did I manage to create a genuine, strong female character? I hope so, however, ultimately it will be you, the reader, who decides.

Traitors is available now and Sophie Racine will return in 2022…

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