It was Christmas Day in 1860 and Lincoln, newly elected president but yet to be inaugurated, was at home in his reception room in Springfield, Illinois. The town was busy. Christmas was not a public holiday. He was trying to cope with a mountain of mail and a constant flow of visitors who were mostly there for their own interests rather than his. South Carolina had seceded five days ago. Civil War loomed, although the first shot wouldn’t be fired until the spring. Amongst the gifts he...
History is an escape, historical fiction arguably more so. Today, let’s stick to the factual and I’ll whisk you away from the culminating frenzy that is the US Presidential Election, away from voter suppression and a partisan press, to 1864, a time of honour and common decency in the conduct of a fratricidal civil war; a time of extreme crisis. Thousands of enlisted Americans were dying on the battlefields and in the army hospitals every week but, what do you know, it was an election year.
I’ve been away. For the last two weeks or so I’ve been sightseeing in Nashville…in 1864. It’s been great. I visited the Tennessee State Capitol, completed just five years back. I took in a show, The Married Rake at the New Nashville Theatre and downed a few drinks afterwards. I tried some of the street food: buttered corncob, apple cake and deep-fried pickle. It’s a cold November though, and there are more soldiers on the streets than civilians. The barricades are guarded. The forts...
Tigers in Blue is under construction. It’s the third volume in the Shire’s Union trilogy. I’ve talked in the past about how writing a second novel compares to writing your first, so what’s it like to be setting sail again? Do I want to change my approach or adapt my style? What themes might I want to draw out for this final instalment? To what extent does what has gone before steer what I’m yet to write?
It's not the easiest of times to be an American Civil War novelist. The subject has become heavily politicised and the simple equation for many readers, both in the US and the UK, is ‘Civil war = Bad. Avoid.’ Their internet attention moves swiftly to the next thumbnail cover. It’s a matter of some despair for those interested in the history. Approaching four-hundred-thousand Union soldiers died defeating the Confederacy. Their reasons for fighting were many: poverty, to preserve the...
It’s an odd experience, launching a novel. Maybe more so in a time where you can’t collect like-minded people in a church hall and spend an hour or two putting your new book, and yourself, in the glow of a small spotlight - real or imagined. Most of our crowds have become virtual. How strange it would be to try and make my nineteenth century characters understand that in today’s world we can gather and yet not be together.
How does writing a second book compare to writing the first? I’m beginning to build awareness of my second novel, The Copper Road, in advance of its release on July 26th, and one Goodreads follower has already posed this question. It’s got me thinking. Has it been easier or harder? Did I approach it differently? Do I like my second novel more than my first?
I’m reading Whirligig and boy am I enjoying it. That will sound very conceited given it’s my own novel. It’s not like I can be surprised by the twists and turns, the rising tension, the character progression. ‘Whoa! I didn’t see that coming.’ The story is my own invention as are most of the people. Even the ones I’ve borrowed from history are my own take. So why is it such a pleasure?
For me, as for most people who’ve been to see it, Sam Mendes’ World War I masterpiece 1917, was an experience as much as it was a film. The long immersive scenes, the raw action and the attention to detail all drew me in, so much so that it has stayed with me ever since. The story and lead character are based on Sam Mendes’ grandfather and, unavoidably, my mind turned to my half-uncle, Captain Richard Percy Buxton, who was killed in 1918.
Endings are tough to land; every story writer knows that. Beginnings? Most lines are a beginning of sorts. Many workshops or competitions might give out a starting line and soon you’ll have as many stories as there are imaginations. Quite often for me, a beginning is an intersection, a juncture, a convergence of ideas or places that might be experienced years apart. The point of intersection is where the story blooms, sometimes slowly, sometimes in a heartbeat.