Today I welcome thriller writer Liad Shoham, author of just released in the U.S. Asylum City. Liad Shoham is Israel’s leading crime writer and a practicing attorney with degrees from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and the London School of Economics. He lives in Tel Aviv. Liad Shoham has published 7 thrillers. A number one bestseller in Israel, ASYLUM CITY (Harper), his latest crime novel, follows a budding female police officer’s search for answers about the murder of a young social activist, painting a vivid picture of Tel Aviv and the refugee underworld of African asylum-seekers.
A year ago my five year old daughter sat in the living room of our apartment and wrote letters on a page.
“What are you writing?” I asked her.
“The Bible,” she answered simply. There are people who have literary aspirations even at a young age. Not me.
For many years I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. When I completed my time in the army, I went through the university course guide and rejected many subjects. In the end, I did what many people do as a default: I went to study Law. I completed my first degree in Jerusalem and then did a Master’s in London.
When I returned to Israel I began working as a lawyer. I went to work early in the morning, and returned, exhausted, late at night. While studying in London, I began to write about my experiences before going to sleep.
It was very unusual. I had never written for myself or for others. In any case, night after night, I wrote short stories. I enjoyed reminiscing and the act of writing - the pages piling up without anyone knowing.
When I finished, I looked at the pile of pages in disbelief. I wanted to show them to other people, but I was also embarrassed. I felt that I needed to do something with all those papers. In the end I found a solution. I typed them up, printed them out, bound them, and sent them off to publishers, feeling optimistic in the spirit of “anyway, nothing will come from it”.
And truthfully, nothing came from it. Publisher after publisher returned the manuscript I had sent with a sentence that always began with the word “regretfully”. I was thankful that I hadn’t shown the book to anyone close to me and that only strangers were sorry. I had already convinced myself that nothing would happen, until suddenly a big Israeli publisher said “yes”.
I was a lawyer, and for me a profession was something that came with a diploma. Writing was a hobby. I loved creating something out of nothing, telling a story, not speaking in someone else’s name and not representing anyone, but saying something that was mine. I wrote a book and another book: about the lives of singles, about life in Israel, short stories about the Bible.
And then, suddenly, it all stopped. Months passed and I didn’t have any ideas. Complete emptiness. In the end it was a hobby - I tried to encourage myself but didn’t succeed. I felt a physical need, not just emotional, to return to writing, but I didn’t know how.
Happily the same publisher who gave me that one “yes” didn’t give up on me so easily. In a meeting with the editor he suggested that I begin writing thrillers. The idea seemed unrealistic – what did a geek like me know about thrillers, and how did you write them anyway? But I was so desperate to go back to the hobby that had abandoned me - prematurely and without warning - that I immediately said yes.
It seems that the publisher was also skeptical about my ability to write thrillers, so they gave me a teacher.
It is not easy being a crime novelist in Israel: it is a small country and it’s very difficult to disappear. There is no “CSI Israel”. One of the most famous jokes in Israel is, “Why are policemen always in pairs? There needs to be one who can read and another that can write.” Ah yes, there are no serial killers, no basements or attics to hide bodies. I could go on and on.
Still, from the moment I started writing thrillers, I felt that I had reached the place that I was supposed to reach. From the start, thrillers weren’t only an opportunity to tell a story, but also a sphere in which I can deal with social issues, something that’s bigger than plot.
I’ve now published seven thrillers. Each time I finish one, my head is already preparing for the next. It’s true that no one gave me a writer’s diploma, but something in my attitude towards writing changed: I understood that I have to do it, and that I can’t do without it.