The Vet Turned Author Talks Crime, The Holocaust and The RNLI
“Reading has been the biggest influence in my life,” says author, Alan Jones (real name Alan Jeans). “I was always an avid reader. I was brought up in a very strict religious family. We didn’t have a tele, but strangely we were allowed to read books and we weren’t really censored.”
As a child, Alan would visit his local library in Bishopbriggs up to four times a week, reading a book a day from the age of seven and switching to adult books at just ten years old.
“There was a cracking librarian,” he recalls. “A tall guy with a shock of white hair. He was brilliant. He suggested a few authors… like Alistair MacClean and Nevil Shute. As I got older he would suggest different ones.”
Alan would also read his father’s newspapers and was fascinated by the unsavoury characters in his gran’s neighbourhood.
“My gran lived in the Red Road high flats. Before that she lived in Alexandra Parade near the centre of Glasgow. You just knew when someone was up to no good. Some of the characters in my crime books were based on them.”
He’s talking about his first three novels: ‘The Cabinetmaker’, ‘Blue Wicked’ and ‘Bloq’, self-published in 2013, 2014 and 2016 respectively. He’s the first to admit they are dark and brutal but, having read a selection of what he considered ‘dud’ books, he felt inspired to write one of his own.
“I was about 40. It took me five or six years to write the first one but the last three quarters was written in eight months.”
It sounds a long time but Alan was still working full-time at this point and was on call 24/7 at his veterinary practice, Alan Jeans Veterinary Services in Girvan.
However, encouraged by positive reviews and valuable feedback, he wrote two further crime novels, venturing into the world of social media to promote each of them once published.
“The main thing I discovered is that the book’s not going to sell if you don’t promote it. That was a whole learning process… the book bloggers and social media thing. I didn’t do much for the first book. For the second book, I’d lined up a blog tour. But the third book, that made a bit of a splash because it just seemed to catch on Facebook and with bloggers. It’s got nearly 200 reviews on Amazon.”
For his next project, Alan switched genres and wrote about the Holocaust.
“I’ve always been equally appalled and fascinated by the Holocaust. I’ve not got any connection to it in any way but the number of Holocaust survivors is now getting very, very low. Another ten years and there won’t be any. I think we can’t forget that.”
Originally, Alan had only intended to write one book. However, the more research he did, the more he learned and the more he wanted to include in the story. So one book became three and the Sturmtaucher Trilogy was born: a powerful and compelling story of two families torn apart by evil.
“I more or less began when Adolph Hitler came to power, right through to the end of the war, so 1933 to 1945.”
His research took him to Kiel in Germany and also to Denmark and he still plans to visit Nuremberg. Thankfully, he enjoys research as much as he enjoys writing, both of which are reflected in the total word count of 1.1 million words. Yes, you read that correctly!
The trilogy was written over a period of five years. Still working full-time, Alan was writing between five and six hours a day until retiring at 60 in 2020. Unusually, the three books were all published at virtually the same time. Having spent a year editing and publishing, working on the project up to 14 hours a day, ‘The Gathering Storm’ was published in August 2021 followed by ‘Flight of the Shearwater’ and then ‘The Turn of the Tide’.
“It was a case of starting again,” he reflects, considering the gap between the crime novels and the trilogy. “I was away for five years… but a few crime readers and bloggers read it and they really loved it.”
In fact, four book bloggers chose the trilogy as their book of the year in 2021 and a further six put ‘The Gathering Storm’ in their top ten.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that now, maybe, Alan might want to put his feet up and take some time out from what has been a pretty relentless schedule. But his job is not yet done.
“I’m doing about four or five hours a day on social media,” he tells me. “I started a blog and I need to do some videos. I’m not too comfortable with TikTok but it seems that’s what you’ve got to do.”
No plans to start a new book then?
“I’ve got four grandchildren and another on the way,” says Alan. “I want to write kids books for them. Not necessarily for publishing, just for them. Also, five years writing these characters, I really came to think of them as real people and I still haven’t got them out of my head.”
That’s understandable, I suppose. But I can’t help thinking as I look through Alan’s front window that it’s the perfect place to sit and write. With enviable views of Ailsa Craig, the Isle of Arran and the Mull of Kintyre, he has mountains of inspiration right there beyond Girvan’s sandy beach.
“These books are based around a family who sail,” he tells me, nodding towards the hefty trilogy on the table. “There’s a lot of sailing. The sea runs through them all.”
And Alan himself is a sailor, a pastime that led to him volunteering with his local RNLI.
“I’d always fancied being on the lifeboat,” he admits. “But I was a vet on call 365 days a year, 24/7, and I couldn’t be on call for both. And then I turned 55 which was the age limit for RNLI.”
He did, however, join the Institution in the role of Launching Authority, ensuring the lifeboat was ready to go as soon as the crew were.
“It’s not an onerous task but they asked me because I knew the sea… I knew the boats and had really good knowledge of the local area. Then they took me out on the boat – it might have been a set up, I don’t know – and they got me working on the deck and stuff.”
Unbeknown to Alan, the RNLI had increased the maximum age from 55 to 65 and within a week, he had joined the crew on the boat.
“Because I’d done my navigation tickets they fast tracked me to navigator and then fast tracked me to coxswain.”
Alan has been volunteering with the RNLI for six years but still finds time to play football, make furniture, sail and cook, in addition to the hours he spends promoting his books. He’s clearly a man of many talents. He’s also a popular member of Girvan’s community, having rarely strayed outside its boundaries since setting up his veterinary business in the town in 1990.
Sounds to me like he deserves a holiday. Nuremberg, perhaps?
You can purchase all of Alan’s novels (in ebook or paperback) from Amazon.