Book Corner: Interview with Toby Clements

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reviewing Kingdom Come, the final book in Toby ClementsKingmaker 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!

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Kingdom Come and the other 3 books in Toby ClementsKingmaker series; Winter Pilgrims, Broken Faith and Divided Souls can all be found on Amazon.

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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.

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

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

 

Book Corner: Kingdom Come by Toby Clements

The recent tensions between King Edward and his great ally the Earl of Warwick lie forgotten these past months, but even as winter tightens her grip on the land, the peace is shattered by a vicious attack on one of the King’s allies.

Long buried secrets are brought to the surface, and Thomas and Katherine must finally decide where their loyalties lie and to choose between fight or flight, knowing either choice will incur a terrible price.

From Lincoln to Bruges, from Barnet to the great battle at Tewkesbury, both must play their part in one of the most savage wars in history.

The wars of the roses.

Kingdom Come is the fourth and final instalment of Toby Clements’ Kingmaker series. And what a thrilling finale. The book keeps you on the edge of your seat from the first page to the last. Fast-paced and full of action, it leaves you desperate to get to the end – and yet it is so enjoyable you never want the story to finish.

throughout the series we have followed Katherine (who used to be Kit) and Thomas from their first meeting at the Gilbertine Priory of Haverhurst, in their adventures through the most violent and tumultuous years of the Wars of the Roses, carrying a secret that could bring down the Yorkist cause in a heartbeat. They have leaned towards each side in the conflict, as the winds and fates changed, but Kingdom Come sees their fate firmly tied to that of Edward IV.

The story opens with the Welles raid on Thomas Burgh’s house at Gainsborough – now called Gainsborough Old Hall, but then, of course, it was new. It was a pleasure to read about Thomas and Katherine’s life in Lincolnshire, their travels from Marton to Gainsborough and Lincoln, especially seeing as I did the journey myself the next day. Living just over the river from Gainsborough, I can attest that Toby Clements’ research was impeccable and he describes the Lincolnshire landscape beautifully.

Further on they meet the carrier, coming warily towards them through a long straight stretch of tree-lined road. He will know what is afoot, she thinks, since he travels from Lincoln to Gainsborough and back three or four times a week. He sits in his cart, rather than walks alongside, and behind him, unusually, come three men in helmets, thick jacks, two armed with bills, the other a bow. Up close they look unsure of their own military might, and Katherine supposes they might be recruited from the Watch on one of the city gates, and are more used to leering at nuns and warming their hands over a brazier than fighting off bands of robbers.

‘God give you good speed,’ the carrier greets them when he recognises them, and they return the blessing, and the carrier draws up his mule. Despite his life on the move, he’s a fat man, awkward in his seat, under layers of filthy russet, like a shuffling, shaggy bear that you see in poor fairs. He speaks with a strained three dun-coloured puppies in a wicker cage and a fierce-looking cockerel that hangs by his spurs from the back of the cart. He tells them business is bad, as he always does when you meet him, but that is to be expected at this time of year.

Gainsborough Old Hall

‘Have you heard anything further of the attack on Thomas Burgh’s house?’ Katherine asks.

The man sucks his teeth.

‘A bad business, mistress. A bad business. Though no one killed, praise the Lord, save a servant boy thrown from a window.’

‘Is it known who did it?’

‘It is well known , mistress,’ he says, tipping his head. ‘For the perpetrator never sought to hide his sin, unlike Eve when first she tempted Adam.’

He is that sort of man. He licks his lips and speculates on the costrel of ale on Thomas’s saddle. Thomas sighs and hands it to the man, who takes it with thanks and drinks long. A strong smell emanates from the yeasty folds of his cloth.

‘It was Lord Welles,’ he tells them when he has wiped his lips with the back of his hand. ‘Lord Welles and another gentle who goes by the name of Sir Thomas Dimmock.’

 

Toby Clements has created wonderful, believable characters who are caught up in some of the most momentous events of English history. Thomas and Katherine are entirely human, a couple who have grown to depend on each other and a close circle of friends, and who have learned the hard way that they can rely on nobody else – particularly the rich and powerful. One theme that has run through all the books, is that the participants of the Wars of the Roses changed sides as often as the wind changes direction, and it is interesting to see yet more divided loyalties raise their heads.

The other participants, from the powerful Edward IV and Lord Hastings, to the lowly companions of Katherine and Thomas, are interesting, colourful characters, each with their own story. A wonderful quirk of the novel is some of the names by which these characters go by, from John-who-was-stabbed-by-his-Priest, Robert-from-the-plague-village and the skinny boy. These characters have their own life experiences, secrets and passions, their own stories interwoven within the great panorama of the larger story.

The different threads of the lives of not only Katherine and Thomas but also the nobles and kings – and the war itself – come together in Kingdom Come, in a thrilling conclusion that sees them again forced to take sides and fighting for survival.

Kingdom Come and the Kingmaker series as one of the best retellings of the Wars of the Roses that I have ever read. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, it draws the reader in from the first page and takes you on a marvellous journey through the most turbulent era of English history. Full of suspense, action and danger it grips you from the first moment, leaving you desperate to read to the end – and yet not wanting this magnificent story to finish.

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Kingdom Come and the other 3 books in Toby ClementsKingmaker series; Winter Pilgrims, Broken Faith and Divided Souls can all be found on Amazon.

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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.

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

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©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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.

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    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.

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