Meet the Author
From an early age I have been fascinated by and had a love for books, especially historical novels and so it was perhaps inevitable that eventually I would take up writing myself. Fiction writing, particularly fiction laced with historical fact, has long held a strong attraction for me I delight in the rich tapestry of history that this Country [Britain] has and which in the modern world has just as much relevance to us today as it has always had.
I have a structure in place, the skeleton of the novel if you like, with a beginning, a middle and an end and once this is complete I then flesh out the bones by writing the novel from beginning to end. I tend not to write a section of the story before it is required if any part of the plot needs to be altered this may affect what follows and so I tend to write strictly in sequence from beginning to end until the first draft is complete. I then rewrite any parts that I am not happy with until it is as good as I can get it. Having said that I do not know any writer who is ever satisfied it is a perpetual search for perfection and that perhaps is one of the great attractions to me the desire to write as well as one can, to push the boundaries as far as possible.
Obviously characterisation is of paramount importance and a large part of my early thought processes focus upon deciding which characters to have in the novel, the parts that they will play, who the main characters are to be, which characters the reader is to have sympathy with (usually the hero and heroine) and who the bad guys will be. This latter part is very important in drawing the reader into the story so that they actually care about the characters and what happens to them. To achieve this the characters need to be sharply drawn to make them real to the reader.
Of course a strong plotline is crucial. If the reader is simply not interested in the plot they are unlikely to get beyond the first one hundred pages. In both of my two novels to date, Housecarl and Cold Heart, Cruel Hand the main events being depicted are fairly well known, and have a strong storyline, ie the Norman Conquest and the Fen Rebellion of Hereward the Wake. I saw my task as to bring those events alive to the reader and to add some human interest by way of subplots. Whether I have succeeded I leave the reader to decide.
I have heard some authors say that this adherence to a strong plotline prevents character development; that they prefer to allow their characters free licence to develop along with the story. I have to say that I disagree with that line of argument. Discipline is a major factor in good novel writing and unless the author has a strong plotline and sticks to it the novel will tend to meander all over the place with, occasionally, the novel ending in a completely different way to that originally intended.
Fortunately this is something that has not yet affected me but that is not say that it might not happen in the future! I think that all writers at some stage have doubts about what they have written or what they should write next, whether the plot is heading in the right direction and so on and this is something that I have experienced from time to time. My remedy has been to write and to write until I am satisfied that am back on track again. Someone once said that novel writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration and at times I would not disagree. On the other hand there are times when what I want to say is so clear, so transparent, that I cannot get the words onto the paper quickly enough. I wrote one of the battle scenes in Cold Heart, Cruel Hand from two am in the morning until dawn some six hours later. I leave the reader to guess which battle that was. Answers on a postcard please, or email me if you prefer. No prizes awarded.
I think that research is the keystone to any good piece of fiction writing and this applies just as much to historical fiction as to any other kind of fiction. Libraries are a good source of information of course and increasingly today, the use of the Internet. If it is possible I always visit the locations described in my novels. This is invaluable in giving the author (and hopefully therefore the reader) a sense of the place and of its atmosphere. Prime examples in my writing are the battlefields in Yorkshire and Sussex described in Housecarl and the Isle of Ely from Cold Heart, Cruel Hand.
I absolutely devour anything by George MacDonald Fraser, surely one of the most talented but underrated authors of the last forty years. His character of Flashman (originally seen in Tom Browns Schooldays) is in my opinion one of the great fictional creations of this or any age. I wholeheartedly recommend him to any schoolboy with a love of history and to any budding author as an example of how to blend (at times wonderfully comic) fiction with factual history.
I also enjoy reading Barry Unsworth, another underrated but extremely talented writer of historical fiction. I particularly recommend Sacred Hunger a novel of the Slave Trade and winner of the 1992 Booker Prize, together with Losing Nelson (a story of obsessional hero worship) to anyone wanting an introduction to Mr. Unsworths work.
On a rather different level (and here I mean no disrespect) I also enjoy reading Bernard Cornwell whose fictional creation of Sharpe has added wonderfully and entertainingly to our knowledge of the British Army under the Duke of Wellington.
Certainly. I am still at the planning stage with my next venture. More on this in due course.
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