Wednesday, 28 September 2011

History in the making

Just getting organised for tomorrow night's History in the Court event in London. Down on the train from Stirling at 10 in the morning, then back the following day after a breakfast meeting - at Fortnum and Masons no less - with Simon, my editor. Tickets: check. Toothbrush: check. Change of wotsits. What more do you need?

I'll probably try to work on the way up and down: a nostalgic return to the days when I wrote The Emperor's Elephant on the train back and forward between Bridge of Allan and Edinburgh. I didn't find it quite so easy the last time I tried it, but six hours in front of the computer with no internet access is just what I need at the moment. If I get fed up, I'll read one of the dozens of books in my ever-growing TBR pile.

Truth be told, I've always found London a bit intimidating. Too big. Too impersonal. Too many people. Too many bricks and not enough grass and trees. As the song says: I'm just a small town boy ... I can't breathe properly unless I'm within walking distance of the countryside. Last time I was down, I got  bit lost and had to ask directions. Three people ignored me, two just said 'Sorry mite' and walked past and the guy who eventually set me straight had a Scottish accent. What do you expect, I hear you ask? Well it wouldn't happen in Bridge of Allan or Jedburgh, or Edinburgh or Glasgow for that matter. It makes me uncomfortable to see so many people living their lives in self-imposed, self-satisfied blinkered isolation. Something quite 1984ish about it. If you dropped down with a heart attack would they help you, or just step over you?

Anyway I'll let you know how I get on in the next blog. With fifty-odd of Britain's best historical writers in one place at the same time there has to be something worth talking about.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Godfather of Historical Fiction

Thirty years ago I picked up a book in the local library that opened the door to decades of reading pleasure and a contract with excellence that has more or less been annually renewed ever since. That book was Sharpe's Eagle.

Sharpe opened my eyes to Wellington's Peninsular campaign in a way no teacher ever could. Here was the blood and guts of Talavera laid out before me through the eyes of a man destined to become an epic hero of literature. I loved, and still do, the meticulously researched history of the Sharpe books, but it is so much more than that. There are the wonderful, carefully woven fictional stories of love and death and betrayal, the heroines, heroes and especially the villains; who will ever forget the despicable Sergeant Hakeswill, the duplicitous Ducos or the odious Simmerson?

Yet Bernard Cornwell, surely the Godfather of historical fiction, is more than Sharpe. Take your pick from the Grail Quest, Redcoat, Starbuck or Uhtred, but for me the best of them all is the Arthur trilogy, an epic achievement by a remarkable writer.

And he's still going strong! On Monday Mr Cornwell begins a book tour to celebrate the publication of what is, by my count, his 49th solo novel, The Death of Kings. If you get the chance go along and say hello to a true legend.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Onwards and upwards

Had a chat with Stan, the agent, about future projects yesterday and came up with a lot of interesting possibilities. In true morale boosting fashion, he brought along a copy of last week's Bookseller which has The Doomsday Testament featuring at No. 5 in the Movers and Shakers chart, and, would you believe, down from No.1 the previous week.

It can't be bad when you're rubbing
 shoulders with Le CarrĂ©
Great to see James Douglas up there with some of the biggest names in fiction. I knew it had been doing well because it was pretty high up in the Waterstone's thriller chart, rubbing shoulders with Lee Child, James Patterson and John Le Carre, which is fantastic. It gave me a real thrill to be in the same league as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, because Mr Le Carre (aka David Cornwell and dad of my friend Tim) wrote me a letter full of encouragement when I sent him a proof copy of Caligula.

Stan loved my idea for a third Jamie Saintclair book, and I'm now putting together some thoughts for a fourth.

I've already put together a detailed plan for a further three Valerius novels. Avenger of Rome leaves him perfectly placed for The Year of the Four Emperors, in AD 69, when the Empire was torn apart by civil war and which provides the plots for two of the books. There are three possibilities for the third of the trilogy, but I especially like the one that allows me to finally reveal what happened to Rufus and Bersheba at the end of The Emperor's Elephant. Of course, it all depends on my publishers and how well they think Hero of Rome and Defender of Rome have done, but Valerius is growing in character with every book and I'd like to take him as far as I can.

We also talked about how e-books will develop and Stan has some great ideas in that line, and we mulled over the possibility of branching out into non-fiction at some point, although finding the time would obviously be the biggest problem.

AND finally, I took part in a wonderful Write to be Published event at Stirling's Tollbooth on Sunday, when Bob McDevitt of Hachette and I talked about our experiences to an audience of writers, before Nicola Morgan gave a workshop. Nicola very kindly said I was a great example for any writer. I must bear that in mind when I get stuck into The Isis Covenant next week!