It’s an unsettling time. The true meaning of that depends on where you live. For me, in England, every time I think about the news, my gut feels like it’s been dropped from the white cliffs of Dover. In Ukraine, it’s more literal. They are giving up their homes, losing their lives, facing bleak choices we’d believed consigned to the last century. It forces me to ask, why write about a war in America that started over one-hundred and sixty years ago? There is war now.
In modern, popular culture, the word soul is used at least as often in its musical context as it is for considering an eternal life beyond the earthly realm. The idea of a soul, the precious core of our being has, in many places, fallen out of fashion. But I would argue that, regardless of your religious outlook and what you write about, taking the time to consider the wellbeing of your character’s soul can lend extra depth to your writing.
It’s not easy writing battle scenes (as Kermit might sing). They are a crisis in the story; possibly the piece of history that inspired the book; the climactic moment of danger for the characters I’ve sent into the breach. I’ve reached this point once more while writing Tigers in Blue, my hands held anxiously above my keyboard, like a soldier with an itchy trigger-finger before the charge. Well, sort of.
I beg to differ. You don’t hear that term so much these days. A polite apology for having your own point of view and asking if you might offer it up. We’re more likely to stridently announce how someone else is a hundred percent wrong, or maybe never listen to what they have to say in the first place.
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.