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.
The truth is though, people do. In the same way we judge a plate of food before we taste it, a house by a front door, a company by a logo. Heck, when out walking my impeccably well-behaved Golden Doodle, Duffy (see The Dog Days of April) I’ll judge a dog from 80 yards by the tilt of its owner’s hat and reroute accordingly.
‘Tell me when you’re loaded,’ says Jeff. He’s training me on the job. Our Captain has us in skirmish formation, five yards apart in the woods up on Droop Mountain. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting us to get off the track. It’s rough ground to advance over; I’ve never scrambled across fallen trees in full civil war kit while carrying a heavy Springfield musket. Life hasn’t prepared me for this. Why would it? I’m yet to fire my first shot.
I’m sleeping between two Springfield rifles. Each would be as long as I am were the bayonets fixed, but that’s not a good idea in a civil war dog tent, so called because when the soldiers first saw them they said they were only big enough for a dog. There’s two of us in here.