Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing:
1.) What is the title of your book?
Or Fear of Peace
2.) Where did the idea come from for the book?
From the British viewpoint, the historical and fictional focus during the Napoleonic wars tends to be the Peninsular Campaign (fought under the command of the Duke of Wellington), the Naval conflict in which the Royal Navy led by Lord Nelson and others trumped the French, and Waterloo where the British and Allied forces–again commanded by Wellington–defeated Napoleon for good and all.
But those battles and campaigns, as outstanding and inspired and ginormous as they were, aren’t the biggest, the most costly, or the most devastating campaigns or battles of the Napoleonic era. Not at all. The big battles, the battles which determined the fates of nations, towns and millions of souls, were fought in central Europe–in modern-day Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia.
And it was there, in the heart of Europe, that the Russian Tsar and his indomitable and long-suffering troops (paid for by British subsidies of over £1 million) forged a final Coalition of forces–Russians, Prussians, Austrians, British and Swedes–who fought like stink to defeat Napoleon and his vast military machine.
It was the most extra-ordinary uprising by these–on the surface–fairly mediocre monarchs to throw off the enslaving yoke of Napoleonic tyranny which had destroyed their kingdoms, their empires in some cases, their economies, their populations.
Napoleon was a warlord. A monster of war, if you like. And his vast appetite for conquest, for military glory, for pillage, had consumed all of Europe. And these three countries–Prussia, Russia and Austria–all of which had been badly beaten and appallingly treated by Napoleon in victory, managed to pull themselves and their outmoded armies together to defend themselves and to defeat him in the years 1813-14. And I just think that’s so inspiring.
It transformed the way people thought about themselves, their national interest, their lands…
It’s a story that has everything: cowardice beyond your wildest dreams, monumental folly, courage and sheer bloody-minded determination, heartbreak, love, glory, treachery and triumph, love and defeat…and out of the ashes of that a European peace that would last nearly a century.
3.) Under what genre does your book fall?
Generic historical fiction, I’d guess. More specifically, historical spy thriller probably…I always have spies and I enjoy writing history with the pace of a John LeCarre novel.
4.) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is probably the most difficult question of all, because I don’t think in terms of modern actors. Not ever. I work from period portraits and miniatures. Then too, many of my characters are actual historical figures, so whoever played them would need to have their look. And mostly, I don’t even try to put together a face or imagine any actors in the roles when I’m writing. But I’ll give it a go.
Captain Shuster: possibly Rob James-Collier–he has the right colouring, he’s tall enough and I imagine he’d do very well with the extra-ordinary and harsh drive that propelled these men.
Boy Tirrell: Absolutely no idea! An unknown would be best, because that kid is a shadow…(though my view of the character has very much been influenced by the portrait used in the cover for Of Honest Fame
Laurent Picamole: A Frenchman in his mid-30s. Tall, and a good horseman.
Brundle: No idea.
Lord Castlereagh: someone who looks like him?
Sir Charles Vane Stewart: (Castlereagh’s younger half-brother) Again, someone who looks the part, but also someone who can play drunken wildness very well.
Lord Dunphail: A tall, dark-redhead of a Scot.
The main thing would have to be they’re all fighters…determined, steely, fighting men.
5.) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In a world engulfed in war, the only thing more fearsome than Napoleon’s army is peace–for when did peace with Napoleon lead to anything but ceaseless woe?
6.) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I expect that my current publisher, Diiarts, will publish it. They’ve given every indication that that is their intention…I have the contract which says so, somewhere…
7.) How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? And read the intro.
Since I don’t write a straight draft, not ever, that’s moot. I write a chapter at a time, editing and rewriting, until that chapter is perfect or as perfect as I can make it. That may take 3-4 weeks or even longer. And only when it’s complete do I move on to the next scene or chapter…
“Sat like a phasmid, still and wingless, his mouse-coloured coat no more seen among the tiles and slates and chimney-stacks than a heap of old sacking, for three days the boy had been watching the house on Mount Street. Watching from the leads beneath the summer moods of a fitful London sky, watching as the shadows and light trailed across the classical portico and fine brick face, patient under a patient sky, watching as the morning was bleached of colour and the linens dried white in the yard. Measuring out the hours from first waking to the lingering midsummer dusk which tarried like a dawdling gabey and counting the number of servants that remained within–the housekeeper, a maid, and two menservants.
“Clocking their comings and goings, from that time when the scullery sashes were thrown open to admit the day, until the hour of shutting in when the jowly steward went about locking the doors and checking that the upper windows were shuttered and barred. Perched beside an attic dormer or slouched against the flaunching of an adjacent chimney, the boy watched as the long hot hours dropped like weights, indifferent to the herring gulls and house sparrows which congregated near and far, chirruping and raucous, across the red tile ridges of the rooftops that stretched away in every direction.”
8.) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Dorothy Dunnett’s novels covered a vast array of themes, characters and plots and sub-plots against a backdrop of impeccable research…I’d like to think I follow in her footsteps, though in a different time period obviously. I’m told I write John LeCarre collides with Jane Austen in a Charles Dickens’ Sauce–is that a genre?
9.) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My last book, Of Honest Fame
, didn’t end the way I expected it to. I had intended for the third book I wrote about the Napoleonic wars to pick up the story of Ned Hardy, a character from May 1812
. And to begin with, I spent a lot of time trying to work out how I could combine the unfinished business from Of Honest Fame
with the stand-alone story and themes I’d been intending to explore in book three. But I eventually realised I couldn’t do it.
But I knew that I had to take the story of those characters from Of Honest Fame forward to the natural conclusion of the war–which is the Congress of Vienna in 1814…
And in the meantime, I’ve had readers–who were as surprised as me by the open ending of the previous book–nagging (it’s the only word for it and I love them for it!) me to carry the story forward…
Then too, there are all those men who pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and fought on against these incredible odds to beat the most powerful military machine the world had ever seen. They didn’t start out as anything special, these men, but through their tenacity in rising to the meet the exigencies of their age, they became magnificent. I have just untold admiration for every last one of them. They just go on inspiring me to want to get their stories out there.
10.) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I’d like to think readers appreciate the extent and depth of the research I bring to my work. I’d like to think too that the literary style is something quite special. Though probably the fact that I always write about spies and the intelligence networks and weave that through the narrative is what gets most people going.
But more important I think is this: that my aim is not just to maybe a little show the reader what things looked like, but rather to put them in the room. I don’t want them to read it. I want them to live it. To experience it. To breathe it.
At the end of the novel, if I’ve done my work correctly, the reader shouldn’t feel that they just read a great book about the last act of the Napoleonic wars, but that they were there. That they saw it. Heard it. That if they reached out–they could touch the crumbling walls of Leipzig or the pristine painted surfaces of the Hofburg…
Because that’s what the best historical fiction can do. It’s history that breathes.