Deja Vu All Over Again

I’m reading Whirligig and loving it! In fact, I plan to read my whole Shire’s Union trilogy back-to-back. How conceited is Buxton, you might be thinking, to read his own work and trumpet about it. But I’ve never understood those writers or actors who cringe at the idea of enjoying their own work. To be honest, I think most of them are putting on an act, self-deprecation or embarrassment judged a safer harbour than admitting they secretly read their back catalogue under the duvet with a torch. I’m having a ball, and I don’t care who knows it.

I do have a reason. The trilogy is on a blog tour so there are interview questions to answer, guest posts to write. The first book, Whirligig, was published in 2017 and I was drafting and redrafting it for many years before that. It helps to read it again and remember my inspiration at the time and some of the challenges. But I’d have read them all again anyway, because I adored writing them. To not do so would be like painting the last whisp of torn cloud above a stormy seascape and not step back and have a good look at what I’d wrought.


I’m old enough to suffer from a shaky memory, but it’s not always a curse. While of course I remember the essential plot, there are occasional walk on characters that I’d virtually forgotten and I get to smile and greet anew. Passages, paragraphs and dialogue that I can almost read afresh and enjoy. And there are particular pleasures that are only open to the writer: each and every chapter I get to remember the research as well as the writing. A few may have been entirely fashioned from the safety of my study, a synthesis of the history books on my shelves and the infinite rabbit warren we call the internet. But most were only completed after going to the setting, be it a battle site or a port, a river or a city. Reading it now brings to mind those places and the people I met. I’m prompted to remember moments of inspiration along the way. Some big, like finding my Whirligig in the Chicago Institute of Art, or standing in the Carter House basement in Franklin and realising for the first time the full story of the 125th Ohio, or holding a rough ingot of copper at the Ducktown mines. Others are tiny details worked into the novels, but delightful to rediscover. Like encountering a carpenter bee at Fort Donelson, choosing Matlock’s stolen china teacup in the basement museum at Woburn Abbey, or the shock of the cannon detonations passing right through me at the Resaca re-enactment.


And then there’s a further surreal interplay between my memory and the settings. Several times on research trips I’d encounter somewhere I’d not only read about but written about, so I had already tried to fully see it in my mind. The trip, in part, would be to make sure I’d understood the ground or the place I was describing. Sometimes that led to a correction, but other times I already had it perfectly. So it was like visiting a place I’d been too, similar to those weird déjà vu moments that we all experience that usually slide away or maybe you peg them to a dream. There’s a scene in Whirligig at the battle of Chickamauga where an army is in rout, driven in disarray up the side of a long open ridge. The battle site is almost entirely preserved in a national park outside Chattanooga. When I visited to check my draft and drove up to the viewpoint, I had such a powerful experience. As if I’d been there in some former life. There was no one around and I stepped out of the car and smiled and laughed. Now, in reading the scene once more, that memory waltzes with my earlier imaginings and my visits since. It really is déjà vu all over again.


Shire’s Union


The Copper Road

Tigers in Blue

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    John B. (Thursday, 13 June 2024 20:45)

    Certainly the joy and passion with which you wrote the first book ( and the subsequent volumes ) evokes the je-ne-sais-quoi that only the best fiction can produce. Plus a historical novel of such authenticity and accuracy and a poignant, involving human story……..ordinary, believable folk catapulted into huge historical events they can barely comprehend . I think you can understand how we other readers feel !!! Captivated…….

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