Book Corner: An Interview with Toby Clements

kingmaker for HWAMyself and Jayne Smith interviewed Toby Clements for The Review.
Toby Clements has kindly offered a signed copy of his book for a lucky winner.  Just leave a comment at the bottom of the blog or on our Facebook page. The winner will be drawn on 12th November.

While at the Harrogate History Festival Jayne and I tried to grab a couple of writers to do exclusive interviews for the Review Blog. Unfortunately, Toby Clements was always busy with panels, preparing to interview Stephen Church about King John – or on a really long bike ride. So we jotted the questions down and Toby was kind enough to reply by email.

Writing about the Wars of the Roses, Toby Clements’ first book in the Kingmaker series, Winter Pilgrims, earned him a place among the 5 finalists for the 2015 Historical Writers’ Association Crown for Debut Historical Fiction. The second book in the trilogy, Broken Faith, is out now and Mr Clements is working on book 3 as I write.

  1. What made you start writing? It is a terrible cliché and I am only telling you because it is quite funny, but I was always telling stories as a child, only I had a weird stammer, so that I se-e-ed things like tha-at, and I used to tell my older brother these terrible bedtime stories based on us having watched the HG Wells Time Machine film together with my father who described the Morlocks as ‘hairy buggers’ – it was the 1970s, so that was OK then – and so my early stories were all about the Hairy Buggers, told to my brother, punctuated by his six-year-old’s snores on the bunk bed above. After a while my mother suggested I write them down because I was getting pretty tired trying to stay awake to finish them.
  2.  Who are your major writing influences? I am a HUGE fan of Hilary Mantel’s writing, but also of Bernard Cornwell’s plots, so my literary influence would be an imaginary son/daughter of theirs.
  3. What first got you interested in writing history? Another terrible cliché: two enthusiastic teachers at my primary school: Colin Stoupe and Hugh Fairey, to whom I owe great thanks.
  4. Why choose the Wars of the Roses as you setting? I was always a warlike child, I suppose, and I was at school near Tewkesbury – one of the key battles of the Wars of the Roses – and I’d loved the Ladybird edition of Warwick the Kingmaker since before I could read. But what really got me into it was the idea of the Battle of Towton being fought in the driving snow, lasting all day, and during which more Englishmen were killed even on the first of the Somme. I thought: HOW did that come to pass, when their fathers and grandfathers had fought shoulder to shoulder with one another at Agincourt and so on…
  5. What made you choose a monk and a nun as your central characters? I wanted someone who would perhaps know nothing of the politics of the 15th Century world, and so could ask the right questions at the right time without me shoe-horning in a load of random exposition, and who could see things afresh and react to them, rather than that world being so ordinary they would not bother to describe it. That I have two heroes is a chance quirk of researching fate.

    B&W__6005086-1
    Toby Clements
  6. Who do you think is your best character? Who is your personal favourite? And why? Katherine is the greatest, because she always knows exactly what to do, even if her choices are often very hard. Thomas is more like me: a bit bumbling, just sort of going along for as quiet a life as possible. He is pretty affable, and doesn’t bother to say much, but when he knows what he is supposed to be doing, he is pretty good at it.
  7. What comes first, the storyline or the research? I change my mind about this every month. At the beginning it is all accuracy – a la Hilary Mantel – but as the month wears on and the money gets tight, I start to think this is a luxury I can’t really afford. One look at the bestseller charts will tell you which the readers prefer.
  8. Which do you find easiest to develop, the plot or the characters? I struggle with plot, I suppose. My characters are all quite modest and ordinary, so they come quite easily.
  9. Do you know how the book is going to end when you start it? Kind of. I know I have to get them somewhere at such and such a time, and the known history acts as a series of pegs on which to hang the skein of their adventures, so that is pretty easy to map out. As to who dies and who falls in love, and so on… yes, I think I do, but am open to changing my mind.
  10. How do you approach your writing day? I am at my desk by 8.30 and just try to bash away while I can. Sometimes I have to go off and do other jobs – I review books and am a sort of jobbing carpenter – but if I am at home, I try to chug through until about 6. Sometimes I get a load done, sometimes not much. It varies because I don’t really plan my writing very well in advance.
  11. If Ridley Scott was to approach you to make a film of your books, who would you want to play Thomas and Katherine? I honestly don’t know. I don’t watch enough films or telly, really. Sorry.index
  12. Have you ever changed your mind about killing off a character? I have, but no one major, and each time I am damn glad I did. A dead character is no use whatsoever. In Winter Pilgrims I had Sir John die at the battle of Towton, ‘unobserved during that afternoon’ but my editor insisted that was too sad, so Katherine saved his life with some revolutionary brain surgery.
  13. What is next in the pipeline, after the Kingmaker Trilogy? I have one more novel to write set in the Wars of the Roses, but this will be a more complex piece, from multiple points of view, and more of a political novel than a fighting novel. After that I have a slight idea for another series, but I am not sure how commercial it will prove, so it may never see the light of day. We shall see.
  14. Which other periods of history would you like to write about? I don’t have another period about which I am so interested, so I think it will be close to the 15th Century or maybe it will be a little later. I don’t want to choose another just because I have to. In a way I’d rather stop writing than it become something I must do.

 

A huge ‘thank you’ to Toby Clements for answering our questions! You can find Toby Clements on his pinterest page and his books are available on Amazon.

*

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

Book Corner: An Interview with Novelist Derek Birks

Whilst at the Harrogate History Festival last week I had the opportunity to do some interviews for The Review, with my Review colleague, Jayne Smith. The 1st interview was with the charming Derek Birks, author of the Rebels & Brothers series of books, which I have recently reviewed.junefeudcover

What made you start writing? I always wanted to write. I started at about 17, writing adventure stories, but they were rubbish. Then I got caught up with other things. 40 years later I wanted to find out if I could do it. looking back, I couldn’t have written the books I have when I was that age.

Why are your stories set in the Wars of the Roses? It’s always been one of my favourite periods. The characters are so fascinating – you couldn’t make up the characters and situations if you tried.

Who were your major writing influences? Bernard Cornwell and Alexandre Dumas. I love the Musketeers stuff. And Bernard Cornwell was a breath of fresh air – his writing was less polite than anything else around at the time.

How do you approach your writing day? I write almost entirely in the mornings, staring around 7.30. I can write for as long as I want, but usually finish about 1 o’clock and then have lunch.

If you lose track, do you give up or carry on? If I hit a snag, to clear my mind I go for a walk, or a swim and don’t think about it – then the ideas pop in my head. It helps to make for a better plot, usually. The same happens if my editor – my son- says something is not working; I’ll think about it and come up with something better.

How do you kill off your characters? I started my first book writing something direct and full of action, but that meant some characters would die. By the 3rd book my characters’ attitude to death changed. In the first 2 there was no fear of the consequences. By the 3rd I looked at battle weariness and regret and the characters look at it differently. I changed my mind about killing a character I had always intended to kill off – and killed off someone else instead. In book 4, someone had to die, it was just a matter of deciding who.

DSCN3985
Derek Birks,, Jayne Smith and myself.

Most books written about wars have women as peripheral characters, weak and helpless. Why did you write Eleanor as a fighter? There is an audience for a strong woman. I tried to have several different women’s roles, and Eleanor was the antidote to the traditional women’s roles. She’s a catalyst for control. She has an edge in that men don’t expect her reactions.

Do your characters talk to you? I don’t think they do. I sometimes go to bed thinking of the story line. But they do have specific theme music; Eleanor’s is Try by Pink and Ned’s is Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits.

Who do you think is your best character and who is your favourite? I would like to think Ned is my best character – and Eleanor is definitely my favourite. I can’t imagine Eleanor getting older. She was the hardest to develop through the book sand I hope she grew up.

If someone said they wanted to make a film, do you have an actor or actress in mind to play Ned and Eleanor? Ned would need to be someone with an amount of vulnerability – Sean Bean wouldn’t be right for it. Eleanor would be someone like the woman in Kill Bill – Uma Thurman?

Do you know how the book is going to end when you start it? Usually, yes. I wrote the end of Feud before writing the middle. With the 2nd and 3rd books yes. With the 4th I knew there was going to be an almighty clash, but didn’t know who would go – I was going to do a Butch & Sundance thing where everyone but 1 died, but decided that was less plausible. I hope the ending came across plausible.

shroud
Did you change any of  your characters halfway through? With my 3 main characters – the 3 siblings – I had a clear idea of what they would be like at the beginning and where they were going. But I did change Robert. At one point he could be viewed as an out-and-out villain, but he was more complex in book 4. Normally I don’t change whether or not they are essentially good or bad.


What’s Next? I wanted to do something like Dumas did with the Musketeers sequel, you know, Twenty Years After. So the next series is set 12 years after, in 1482/3. Some characters from the 1st series will be in it. I’ve only written 10,000 words so far, so its in the very early stages. It will be a series, but it may go on for a while. I have learnt from writing the first series, the first of the new series will be written as a stand alone, with few or no loose ends. 

A big thank you to Derek Birks for answering our questions.

*

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

The Harrogate History Festival – Indulging the History Geek

DSCN3984
The New Blood Panel of debut authors

Last year I went to my first ever History Festival; the Harrogate History Festival, hosted by the Historical Writer’s Association. It was amazing – a chance to indulge my inner history geek with fellow history geeks.

Last year I had a chat with Elizabeth Chadwick in the lunch queue, and got my photo taken with the greatest writer of historical fiction, ever – Bernard Cornwell.

So, of course, this year – I went back!

DSCN3982
Meeting Neil Oliver at the book signing.

And, dare I say it was even better than last year? The 2014 Festival was heavily in favour of historical fiction, whereas 2015 was more balanced between non-fiction and fiction. The Festival is a combination of highlighting the work of established writers, and shining the spotlight on the newcomers, with an award for this year’s Crown for Debut Historical Fiction going to Ben Ferguson .

The event is a combination of interviews, panel discussions and easy-to-listen-to lectures, all followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

The Harrogate History Festival is a roll-call of wonderful writers and historians; Manda Scott, Michael Morpurgo, Neil Oliver, Ken Follet, Melvin Bragg, Princess Michael of Kent, Kate Mosse, Imogen Robertson, David Ebsworth, Toby Clements and Edwin Thomas to name just a few.

Every session was followed by an opportunity to meet the authors, take photos and get your books signed.

DSCN3986
My Era’s Better Than Yours

The event is incredibly well organised, and yet very friendly and informal. Panelists and attendees mingle together in the restaurant, the bar the book shop – and everywhere else!

The discussions on offered catered to all historical  tastes, from the Greeks to the Second World War and everything in between, from fiction focussed on women, to a history of perfume.

There was so much to choose from.

DSCN3983
Meeting Michael Jones

My favourite panel discussion had to be My Era’s Better Than Yours where 4 historical writers argued the case for which period of history is best. Janina Ramirez was very passionate about the Vikings; while Ben Kane’s promotion of the Romans, of course, mentioned the aqueducts and roads; and SJ Parris enthused about the Elizabethan’s birth of modern espionage.

The winner, after an audience clap-o-meter vote, was the Ancient Greeks, with Edwin Thomas having the easy role of promoting the greatest civilisation ever (I’m not biased).

Tracy Borman gave a wonderful lecture  on the Real Wolf Hall, giving a wonderful insight into the real Thomas Cromwell and comparing him to how he was portrayed in Hilary Mantel’s novel.

DSCN3985
Interviewing novelist Derek Birks

I had a lovely conversation with historian Michael Jones, who tried to persuade me of the virtues of Henry V; discussing with him the similarities with Edward IV, Henry V’s military successes and his relationships with his nobles. Michael was even kind enough to sign my copy of his book – I got the last one on the shelf.

I even got to do my first ever piece of journalism; interviewing Wars of the Roses novelist Derek Birks for The Review Blog with fellow Review admin Jayne Smith – I’ll let you know when it is published.

DSCN3988
My Festival Hoard

From a wonderful presentation by Michael Morpurgo – who managed to keep children and adults entertained for an hour with stories of how he gets his inspiration for his wonderful books – to the wonderfully jingoistic 600 Years of Beating the French; the talks were fascinating, educating and enthralling.

Everyone who attended got a ‘goody bag’ which included an advance copy of Alison Weir’s Katherine  of Aragon: the True Queen.

And, of course, the bookshop was a ‘go to’ place for writers and book-lovers alike.

*

Be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button or liking our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/History-the-Interesting-Bits/1538254439779856