Al Qashtini wrote columns called 'Black and White' in an Arabic daily
If you’re someone who has been sitting on that unfinished novel for years, you can take inspiration from long-time Dubai expat Ken Maw; he took two decades to finish his first book, KV 66 - Siptah’s Legacy, that released earlier this year.
The businessman and debutant author - whose corporate life in Dubai took centre stage putting his writing ambitions on the back burner - now hopes to establish himself in the literary world with a book series that is somewhat (in his own words) akin to American author Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt adventures as well as English adventure writer and fabulist H. Rider Haggard’s work that includes the classic King Solomon’s Mines; however, Ken refrains from slotting his novel in a particular genre.
KV 66 - Siptah’s Legacy, self-published and currently available on Amazon, brings together ancient Egypt and twentieth century England in a thrilling adventure story that revolves around a mysterious alien woman, a tomb with a riddle and a code that protagonist George Drake along with hieroglyphics expert Sherifa struggle to crack while dodging assassins.
Ken moved to the city in the early ‘80s to work for a bank and eventually partnered with the Dubai government to build an insurance-brokerage business. After selling the business and getting back into consulting, he decided to pursue his unfinished novel once more and even found time to write a sequel. He tells us over a Zoom conversation that while he has now sold his consultancy and is dabbling in insurance broking once more, he is focused on his book series as well.
Ken, who grew up in Shrewsbury in the UK and hails from an illustrious family that owned the once largest tile factory in the world, Maw and Company, opens up about his years in Dubai, his writing journey, how Dubai has inspired him, and why he’s excited to begin his ‘George Drake’ series.
ON FINISHING HIS FIRST BOOK
It took me a long time to finish it. I started this book when I left HSBC over 20 years ago, and I wrote maybe a hundred pages. Then because I started a new company, I basically didn’t have the time to sit down and complete the story.
I sold my last company and got back into a sabbatical-type period, and during Covid, I had a lot more time on my hands; I suddenly zipped through it and I’ve since completed a second book. So the sequel is almost ready for publishing.
It’s extremely difficult to get published these days. So the self-publishing route is the easy route but there is no harm in checking out and seeing what’s out there, reaching out to people and seeing whether there might be a bite, before embarking on the self-publishing route.
A POSSIBLE DUBAI DISPLAY!
I met with Dubai Duty Free who work with Magrudy’s. I’ve given them KV66 - Siptah’s Legacy; they then have to take that and get it approved by the usual UAE authority for monitoring books, and hopefully I can give them some stock to put on the shelves of DDF in the coming months.
I would say it’s not a bad place to have it displayed because I categorize the book as something that you would probably pick up off the shelf when you are going on holiday. It’s a light read, it’s a story that you can read through very quickly, and hopefully it will spark some interest for the next book which comes along and takes the story further.
ON UNIVERSITY AND FINDING A CAREER
I left school in 1977. In those years university wasn’t really something that was a hundred per cent necessary and I think a lot of people went straight into work. And sometimes when you go into work straight from school you discover that maybe what you were going to major in at university was not actually what you wanted to do in terms of a long-term career and you end up going down a different path. So sometimes going down that route and tripping over a few times on the way would perhaps lead to a better long-term career.
When I left school I had an opportunity to go to university. My career path has taken me way from the sciences and into commerce and I think if I had gone into genetics and zoology I would probably have ended up in some form of research centre and discovered perhaps that it wasn’t really for me.
SIBLING RIVALRY, AND DUBAI IN THE ‘80S
A lot of my brothers and sisters have been in financial services and my father had a very substantial business; perhaps I was too late in the day to be able to join that business, but there’s always that competitiveness - sibling rivalry if you want to call it - you want to try and achieve something greater than what your brothers and sisters have done.
And pretty well all of them have worked abroad. So the first opportunity that I had to leave when I eventually got into insurance, to go abroad and work with HSBC here in Dubai, I just took it. In the early ‘80s when I came out to Dubai, I think my salary was Dh4000. And you could live on that and have change at the end of the day. It was a fantastic place - I loved it in those days. Everyone knew everybody, and I must say that those were perhaps some of the best days that I had. As a young guy coming to a country, it was exciting and you very quickly learned the ropes and met a lot of interesting people. I had a lot of interesting clients in those days in the insurance world.
BUILDING A BUSINESS
When I left the bank (I was with them for 17 years), I had a huge opportunity to start from scratch and build a new business. And I ended up partnering with Dubai World, a huge and very exciting organisation with assets all over the world. We built a good business. We formed an exit strategy around 2010 and started thinking about selling the business, and it was a good transaction at the end of the day.
I left with my head held high. I set up a consulting business to give me a foot on the ground and give me an opportunity to see if there was something that would excite me to continue doing what I did in the past. And in that period Covid came and it was in a way quite good to be on that sabbatical type status.
Now I’ve sold the consulting business to another organization and gone back into broking again, consulting with Al Masaood organization in Abu Dhabi who have a brokerage business.
I like to work with anybody and I like to have a happy team. And I don’t want them to stay in the office all day. I want them to have a life. So if you’ve got happy people, then you get a good business. And I was really happy to see that this (latest) business is run with those same principles. It’s quite a joy to get back into frontline again and doing what I think I do best.
THE ‘WRITE’ TIME
But of course the writing has come in between as well so I’ve learned (hopefully) a new skill. English was never my best subject at school. Believe it or not! I struggled with English. I must admit that the way teachers teach English in school - we used to do English language and English literature - and I was pretty useless at both (laughs).
Where my English has perhaps been improved is through business, a lot of report writing, stacks and stacks of correspondence, all that experience over the last 38 years here has really helped. Perhaps when you read the book you’ll see it’s not sophisticated in the way that it’s written but I think it’s getting to a level which should attract a reasonable audience, you know what I mean? As I said, it’s light reading. Hopefully it’s something they could read and complete in two or three days.
FIRST LITERARY INSPIRATION
I was inspired when I left HSBC and I wasn’t sure how life would continue because it took me almost a year to get the license for the new company. So I had a long period where I thought well, I’ve got to try and do something.
I’ve had this love for Egyptian history and I’ve been to most of the monuments in Egypt, and I formed this idea in my mind because a lot of the characters in the book - I’ve changed the names but they sort of have an implication in the characters that had been villains in the past. It was an opportunity for me to vent frustrations (laughs)! I started it in about the year 2000 and wrote the first two or three chapters during that period. And then it got lost on a floppy disk, and put on a shelf for almost twenty years.
But last year, it clicked for me that I wanted to complete it. I thought I need to finish a few things that I’ve started, and try and do something that I wanted to do. And once I completed it, with the support of my wonderful wife and three daughters, the idea for the second book came, as a continuation.
THIRD BOOK PLANNED, THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES…
My first book is set in the late 1980s. The second book continues exactly where it finished off, there’s more of a criminal scene to it. The George Drake character is still the key character. The arch criminal that’s in book one, he’s still around. I like to bring in some areas that perhaps people don’t know too much about - the Siwa Oasis which is towards Libya and the middle of the desert but it’s very fertile and there are some lakes there, and it’s a strange place to have these huge lakes in the middle of the desert.
The second book is not really too much about the tombs, it’s more the story of the characters and the trouble that they have to go through to continue with their role as an ambassador for the Egyptian antiquities department. The mystery will further unfold in book three!
I had to do some research on certain parts of the first book. Obviously things like some of the monuments, but I have been physically to all these places so I do know a little bit about them. And I do use my imagination for a little bit. But there is a lot of factual stuff there which I had to obviously research and make sure at least there is some credibility to it.
GENRE - A ‘CLIVE CUSSLER’ TYPE
Putting KV66 - Siptah’s Legacy into a genre is quite difficult because the fact that there is this alien being coming into it, you’d say, oh, is it science fiction? Well I don’t class it as SF, but more as more an adventure type novel. It’s (also) got some crime in it! If you want to try and pick up another author’s work that it would be like I would probably say maybe it’s a Clive Cussler type book. He had a particular character - Dirk Pitt - that featured in many of his books as a continuation. Clive worked for the National Underwater and Marine Agency and a lot of his books revolved around this character. George Drake could be another Dirk Pitt!
When you go back historically and you look at some of the other type of books around that genre, it could be like H. Rider Haggard’s work — who wrote King Solomon’s Mines. He was a 19th century writer who wrote a lot about Africa and the mountains and a lot of mysterious, adventure sort of stuff.
Everyone thinks, well is it an ‘Area 51’ type situation in my book? There’s a lot more interest in UFO news with the Americans releasing their latest findings… so in a way, it’s timely!
PLANS FOR THE SERIES
The first book is self-published. I am just holding back on the second one and doing the rounds with a few publishers to see whether someone would take it on. Because if that happens then I would pull off the other one from Amazon and maybe get a second edition done by the publisher. Like in any book, there are going to be a few small errors in it and (I would) clean it up, maybe release a second edition. I’ve started the third and I want to try and complete the third and target that for early next year. So I would release the second book towards the later part of this year.
DUBAI AS AN INSPIRATION
Your mind is fresher here than perhaps in England or elsewhere. Your energy is more charged, I think. I know many people who have left (the UAE) over the years and have suffered. You can almost say Dubai is like a bubble, in that it’s got so much to offer.
It provides you and your family with a very nice and relatively stress-free lifestyle. I have a tremendous number of close friends here and the support that you get from your friends is unlike anywhere else, I think. Everyone’s very helpful here. And everything’s become so automated and easy!
Al Qashtini wrote columns called 'Black and White' in an Arabic daily
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