One of the best things about being an author with a blog is that I get to chat with some of the best writers out there, about their books, writing, social media and anything else they are happy to talk about. It is a distinct pleasure, here at History … the Interesting Bits, to welcome Paul Fraser Collard, best-selling author of the Jack Lark books. Paul’s latest book, Fugitive, hits the shops today and it is awesome!
I last chatted to Paul about his writing 4 years ago, after the release of The Last Legionnaire, book no. 5 in the series. And time has moved on, Fugitive is the 9th book! In that time, an awful lot has happened. So, without further ado, it’s over to Paul…
Hi Paul, thanks so much for agreeing to do an interview. And congratulations on the release of Fugitive.
1. So, first question, have you always wanted to be a writer?
The short and simple answer is no! I never even contemplated writing anything at all until I was in my thirties. I was commuting into London at the time, and I was devouring books at a tremendous rate. I began to think about what it would be like to write something of my own. I made a start, but it took years to get anything finished. That first project died a death, but I had caught the writing bug and I was enjoying using my commuting time to try to write. So, I persevered and a few years later, THE SCARLET THIEF, was done.
2. Who are your writing influences?
It should be no surprise that I was inspired by the great Bernard Cornwell. I first read a Sharpe novel when I was 11 or 12 (Sharpe’s Honour) and I was hooked. My parents got me the rest of the series that year for Christmas and I worked my way through them all. I have read pretty much everything Mr Cornwell has written since. My other great inspiration was George MacDonald Fraser’s peerless Flashman books. I discovered the books quite late, I think in my twenties, and I tore through the whole series utterly mesmerised by the writing. I cannot think of another writer who writes with the same sheer panache. I would never try to mimic such a bold style, but it was the Flashman series that first gave me the idea of setting each book in a new location and against a new campaign or period.
3. What do you love about writing?
For me, it’s the planning and the research. I love learning about the period, and by moving Jack around the globe I’ve been able to learn so much about the different events that he experiences. I also find coming up with the plot and then planning it out a huge amount of fun. Maybe it’s the power, or just the thrill of constructing the story and imagining the trials Jack will have to endure, but I enjoy it immensely.
4. What do you hate about writing?
That first draft! When I have finished researching and plotting, I have a good outline of the whole story that runs to about 20,000 to 30,000 words. All the fun stuff is done and I have to plough through that long first draft that always takes me months. I do enjoy the feeling of getting it done though, and generally I love the next stage of going over and over the story trying to add the magic and make it as good as I can.
5. Social media – do you love it or hate it?
To be honest, its somewhere in between the two. I don’t find it easy to promote my books and I worry a lot about how I come across and what people must think of me. But at the same time, I have met some absolutely wonderful people through social media. I know that’s become something of a cliché, but I don’t care as its absolutely true. I am constantly gobsmacked at the help and the support I receive from a wide range of people all around the world. It is both humbling and delightful at the same time.
6. What advice would you give to someone starting on their writing career?
Just sit down and do it. I get this question a lot and I always say the same thing. Just start writing. It doesn’t matter if its good or if it’s absolutely bloody awful. Just get words down, build the story, get the characters going then write and write and write. You can always go back and make it better, but you can do nothing with a blank page.
7. What attracted you to setting your stories in the 19th century?
I have to blame Sharpe and Zulu. Both captivated me at an impressionable age. The choice of the Crimea for the first book in the series was more pragmatic. At the time, few writers had tackled the Battle of the Alma or the Crimean War and I had a feeling I had to start with something a little different. It was also the perfect jumping off point for the next adventures.
8. Did you ever expect to be still writing about Jack Lark 9 books later?
Honestly, no. It seems pretty incredible to me, especially as there must be over 1 million printed words that I have written now. I always think back to an English exam I took when I was about 14 or 15. I got some awfully low mark, and for a while it quite put me off reading and writing. Yet now here I am, with nine novels and four short stories to my name. It just shows, you really never know what you can do.
9. Jack Lark has become one of my favourite literary characters, how did you create such a complex character development?
That is very kind of you! I think my aim all along was to create a character that was both believable and relatable. When I started writing Jack’s stories, it seemed to me that a lot of other heroes in historical fiction were really rather good chaps, who generally did the right thing and although they had a tough time, their experiences never really seemed to linger with them. I have always read as many first-hand accounts as I can, covering any period of warfare, and I want to convey something of that universal experience of war through Jack. If I have done a half-decent job of that then I am truly happy.
10. Jack Lark is a bit of a globetrotter, how do you research the various societies and lands he has visited?
Thankfully, most of the campaigns and battles in the Jack Lark books are well-covered (sometimes too well covered!) I always start by reaching for the relevant Osprey books first and there is no better way to begin a new project. From there, I search for as many first-hand accounts as I can find, so that I can get the view of the ordinary soldier on the field of battle. That is what I find fascinating. Grand strategy and the calculated movement of troops are certainly interesting, but I want to know what it was like to stand on the front line and trade vollies with the enemy, or how men felt as they were ordered to charge directly into the fire of a well dug in defender.
11. What comes first, the research or the story?
Research for sure. It is only when I have a pretty good idea of the event or battle that I plan to cover, that I can start to work out how to weave Jack’s story into that timeline. More often than not, the research inspires me, and for quite a few of the books, the half-baked notions I had for the story before I started, get completely forgotten when I learn what really happened and how it happened.
12. How do you decide where Jack goes next?
This is the tricky bit. A lot was happening in the world in the mid to late 19th century, and it has often been really difficult to decide where Jack goes, especially as I can look globally. Usually something jumps out at me, and I definitely prefer something less well known to a famous battle or campaign.
13. With Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series, we’ve known, almost from the beginning, that the books will end at the famous Battle of Brunanburh, does Jack Lark similarly have a final battle that will be his swansong?
To be honest, I have no idea where or how the Jack Lark series will end. I think that’s rather exciting. If I have no idea, then neither will a reader!
14. Will Jack ever find love and settle down, or will he always be a drifter?
Never say never. I think Jack may well find someone he wants to settle down with. I just don’t know if I will let him! There is something of The Littlest Hobo in Jack (if you remember that kid’s TV programme!). It’s his lot to always be moving on to where he is needed next. I certainly don’t see Jack settling down to become a farmer or something equally innocuous.
15. What will come after Jack Lark, do you have other projects on the horizon?
I have so many ideas! I have two outlines for books set in London in WW2, as well as a fully completed manuscript that tells the story of an SOE agent in the middle of the war. I also have some half-formed thoughts for a serial killer book and another for a story set in a dystopian future. The recent events have also given me a terrific idea for a pandemic novel (well, I think it’s terrific). The problem is how to fit everything in, as I still work full-time. I don’t know when I will get to some of these ideas, but perhaps at least I will have an interesting and busy retirement when I eventually get there!
Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. Such wonderful answers. And now I can’t get the theme tune to The Littlest Hobo out of my head! I wish you every success with Fugitive. Jack Lark is such a wonderful character and I urge everyone to take a look at his latest adventures. Look out for my review of Fugitive sometime next week!
About the Author:
Paul Fraser Collard’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. This fascination led to a desire to write and his series of novels featuring the brutally courageous Victorian rogue and imposter Jack Lark burst into life in 2013. Since then Paul has continued to write, developing the Jack Lark series to great acclaim. To find out more about Paul and his novels visit www.paulfrasercollard.com or find him on twitter @pfcollard.
Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword, Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.
Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:
Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon, Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.
Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.
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