A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Kingdom Come, the final book in Toby Clements‘ Kingmaker series. And Toby very kindly agreed to an interview for History…the Interesting Bits. Here it is:
Hi Toby, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview. The last time we chatted was at the Harrogate History Festival a couple of years ago and you had just released your second novel in the Kingmaker series, Broken Faith. Now you’re about to release the fourth in the series, Kingdom Come. What an amazing achievement. Congratulations!
And so, I was wondering;
Are you still enjoying the writing process? Do you still get that buzz when you type ‘The End’?
I am, but I am enjoying different aspects of the process. My first book – Winter Pilgrims – was a real labour of love, and the second book involved a painfully steep learning curve, but since then I have settled down a bit and I’ve acquired a bit more ‘craft’, if that makes sense. Moving from scene to scene with a single sentence, and that sort of thing. I’m still pretty pleased to be able to type The End, but I’ve learned there’ll be a hundred thousand really boring fiddly bits to address by the time my editors have been through it, so it is more like welcoming the lull before the storm.
How have you changed your writing routine since publishing your first novel?
Not really. I have to do other bits and bobs to earn a living, so the writing fits in around them. It does mean that when I am writing, I am really writing though. I HIGHLY recommend the Freedom App, by the way, which you can tailor to limit your time on the internet. (https://freedom.to/)
Who are your major writing influences?
They are a right old hotch-potch, I have to say. I steal from just about every writer I ever read, but my aim remains to tell a Bernard Cornwell style story in Hilary Mantel prose. Of course it never turns out that way, and if either knew that was my object they’d ban me from reading their books.
What was it about the Wars of the Roses that drew you in to the period?
I was a warlike child, to begin with, and I went to school near Tewkesbury, which we had to visit every school holiday, and we studied the period leading up to it so we could get some idea what we were looking at, but I think the real thing was the sight of the abbey’s sacristy door, reinforced with strips of plate taken from the battlefield. It is an example of the ingenuity of the times and I think its everyday re-application of something so momentous – plate armour in which someone would probably have met their end – being reused as something so ordinary made a clear link between the now and the then, between something I could understand and something I couldn’t. If that makes sense.
How many more stories of Kit and Thomas can we expect to enjoy?
I’m afraid Kingdom Come is the last! Their joints are creaking now they are in their thirties, and they need to rest in peace.
Do you have a story outline for the whole series of books, or do you just go where the story leads you?
One of the real pleasures of writing historical fiction is that the recorded events of the past provide a line of beacons in the darkness for the writer to aim for – more prosaically a series of pegs from which to hang your story – so you just have to come up with a plausible reason to get your character A to place B to meet person C, and have a personal stake D in what then occurs. Filling in the gaps, is how someone described it.
How meticulously is each book planned before you start writing?
Pretty closely, but a random word here or there can throw up all sorts of surprises, and send you in unexpected ways, so that the plot always seems to become more interesting than the synopsis.
Who is the best character you have created, which are you most proud of?
I liked the Pardoner in Winter Pilgrims, and was sorry he had to go, and Walter, also in Winter Pilgrims, while hardly an original sort, was at least reliable. In Kingdom Come, I very much liked scenes in which Wilkes appeared. It is a pleasure to write about someone who knows what they want, and how to go about getting it. Most of my other characters are ditherers, and reflect their creator.
How do you come up with the ideas for characters?
Are they ever someone you know, or pure imagination? I try to get friends in occasionally, and in Kingdom Come I have included four people drawn from the public arena, shall we say. I’d offer a signed copy to the first person who can identify them if that would be fun?
What is the most significant thing you have learned that made you a better writer?
I have learned to just get on with it, for the love of God.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to write their first novel?
I heard a poet talking on the radio the other day saying he learned to write quickly so that he had plenty of stuff to edit. I thought that was a gem: get a lot of stuff down. It doesn’t matter if it is rubbish because you can go through it all and make it better. Also, I’d say that unless they were really lucky, any would-be author should write down the latest date they’d imagine themselves being published, and add three years to it. It takes a long time. Like childbirth, mostly. And get the Freedom App!
After the Kingmaker series, do you have other projects in the pipeline?
I’ve one or two. One I am hopeful for, the other less so but very keen on, and the third I just can’t make work without it being identical to what I’ve already written.
Is there any historic era or topic that you would dearly love to write about?
The Wars of the Roses will always be my first love, but there are other moments – or characters – I’m interested in, about which I am hoping to write, as in my last answer.
Have you ever thought of writing non-fiction, if so what would you write about?
I’d like to try, I admit. I think it’d be a whole new grammar though, and I’d miss the little flourishes that enliven fiction. Having said that, one of my favourite sentences ever has to come from Edward Gibbon, who wrote in the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – incorrectly, I believe, but irresistibly – of Pope John XXIII that the ‘most scandalous charges (against him) were suppressed; the Vicar of Christ was only accused of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy and incest.’ So there is room for a little extra something.
Thank you so much for answering my questions Toby – it’s always great to welcome you to the blog. Good luck with Kingdom Come – I wish you every success.
No! Thank YOU!
Kingdom Come and the other 3 books in Toby Clements‘ Kingmaker series; Winter Pilgrims, Broken Faith and Divided Souls can all be found on Amazon.
My book, Heroines of the Medieval World, looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley on 15th September, 2017. It is now available for pre-order in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be available from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.
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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly
Great stuff, Toby! I’m glad you’ve managed to find the Wars of the Roses exit door – I’m still looking… Good luck with what comes next! I’m thinking of a prequel at the moment…