Why this particular era of American History?
Initially I was attracted by the scale and the geography; huge armies marching across half a continent or journeying by new railways or great riverboats. I guess it was the romance of it all but that's something of an illusion. It was such a harsh time. What I came to see is you cannot understand modern day America without understanding the Civil War. Imagine a person you meet as an adult and begin to get to know, but there is something dark or untold about them. Then one day they tell you about the trauma in their past. Only then do you really come to know them. The Civil War is America's trauma, almost inevitable from decades before due to the way slavery was accommodated in the constitution, and the echoes of the war are still being felt right up to the present. The war itself fascinates me, the characters, their ambition, the politics, all of it, but equally the story since. Almost all my short stories are set in different decades between the war and now but they all have some link back to the war. It's my way of understanding America.
What is your end goal once the second book is finished?
Simply put, the third book. From a writing perspective the second book is finished and I have already begun the third and final book of the trilogy, Tigers in Blue. I'd also like to publish my short-story collection. Where I go after Tigers in Blue, we'll see. I have some ideas about more Civil War related novels or I might try something else. It will be historical fiction though.
Which authors or books inspire you?
Top of the list is Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. Whirligig is heavily influenced by it. In essence there's a journey beset by adventure to get to the woman you love. Both are centered on the Appalachians. Both are a lowly private's story. All of Frazier's books inspire me. Bernard Cornwell is another inspiration. I read all of his Sharpe series and the Startbuck Cronicles which is set in the Civil War. For pure story telling and entertainment, Cornwell is great. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, about the Indian wars was the book that actually got me into the period and is still probably the saddest book I've ever read. For short stories my favourite writer is Tim Gautreaux and his collection Waiting for the Evening News. I love short stories that take their time and Gautreaux has a lovely languid style born of Louisiana, and that man knows his riverboats.
How long have you been a writer?
I dabbled as a teenager but only got back to writing about eight years ago. I needed to do something creative so took an evening class and then realised that this was good for me and I wanted to learn more. My father passed away and there was enough of money for me to take a year out and do a Creative Writing masters in Chichester. I wrote Whirligig at that time and then rewrote it with everything I'd learned.
What do you love about living in South Downs?
I love the space and the sky. I love that I can look out to sea from a warm sunny hillside. I love that Sussex is an ancient Celtic kingdom and I have a four and a half thousand year old fort where I can walk my dog every day. I love going to the centuries old sheep fair in Findon every year. I love that my eldest daughter was married in a Norman church nestled in the Downs and that we celebrated in a marquee on a village cricket pitch. I love the Adur and the Arun rivers, the castles, the windmills and most of all I love the country pubs.
Any particular event that influenced your writing career?
I think winning the Exeter Story Prize in 2015. They recently asked me to write up what this meant to me so have a look here.
How long did you study at Syracuse University?
I was at Syracuse for one calendar year (87). I crammed in an International Relations Masters by doing summer school as well. It was a great year. I'd previously also studied a semester at the State University of New York when I was just nineteen. Both experiences had a big impact on me.
Which awards have you won?
The three big ones are
- The 2015 Exeter Story Prize
- The 2015 Bedford International Writing Prize
- The 2016 Nivalis Short Story Award
Whirligig was shortlisted for the Rubery International Book Awards and given a Silver Medal by the Wishing Shelf Book Awards.
For a full list of writing credits see here.
Other than this I am a proud member of
- The Historical Novel Society
- The Alliance of Independent Authors
- The American Civil War Round Table (UK chapter)
- The West Sussex Writers