Well, that's all from me until after Christmas. I hope you all have a great one.
I took the picture below from across the Thames a few years ago. The building is Ham House, built in 1610.
Friday, 15 December 2017
With Christmas falling on a Monday this year, I think most people are going to be taking an extended break for the winter holidays. That means that this will be the last "proper" blog post of 2017 (if these ramblings constitute a "proper" blog post). I usually post on Friday and next Friday everybody will be far too busy thinking about trees and mulled wine and mince pies and Christmas pudding. At least I hope you will be. It's been a funny old year, but if you're reading this you're still here and I hope that you're going to be able to enjoy Christmas with your loved ones.
It's been a particularly strange year for me as an author with six published books, none of which have been available in the UK for the past six months. This is because I've been changing publishers, a process which takes rather longer than I had realised. Accent (who used to publish my books) were amazing in getting me to sit down and write and their editorial team were great, but there have been a lot of changes there and both my editors have moved on and the company is being restructured. It seemed like a good time for somebody else to take responsibility for getting my books out. I have been very lucky to get taken on by Endeavour Press. Endeavour come highly recommended by writer friends as a new and exciting press with a lot of historical titles. I particularly enjoy Sally Spencer’s Inspector Blackstone books, set in the London of a few decades after Back Home.
I'm hoping that Endeavour will be able to get my books to a larger audience. They are republishing all six novels, starting with Burke in the Land of Silver on 5 January – so by the time you see the next blog from me, the book should be available. I had hoped it would be on pre-order by now, but some things are not to be, so I don’t have a buy link yet. I do have a cover, with a brooding Argentinian rider wrapped against the weather. It could be James Burke about to set off across the Andes, as he does in the story.
It does look vaguely familiar from our own trip where, like Burke, we faced snow covered passes and the joys of a night at 3,000 metres without electricity or gas. There’s not much in the way of shrub at 3,000 metres and what there is burns to ash in minutes, so it was a cold night.
I’m hoping that the final version of the cover will highlight Paul Collard’s comment: “James Bond in breeches.” (You can just about read it at the bottom of the page.) James Bond in breeches was pretty much what I was aiming for, so I did appreciate that comment from an author I admire.
In celebration of my new publisher, I've got a fancy new website. It's a work in progress at the moment, but here's a screenshot that gives you some idea what it's going to look like:
This blog will transfer there, hopefully early in the New Year, but don't worry – existing posts will still be available here and I'll be sure to let you know the new address.
So here we are at the end of a busy year with a pause for festivities after which I'll be rushing around promoting my books to an audience who haven't had the chance to see them yet. Given that I know far more people read this blog than have ever bought my books, I'm guessing that includes some of you. You have a treat in store. I'll be letting you know full details of the when, the way and the pitifully small cover price very soon. All I can say at the moment is that come 5 January, if you check out Amazon, you should find the e-book of Burke in the Land of Silver. The paperback will be along soon.
Until then, have a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year, with lots of great reading ahead in 2018.
Friday, 8 December 2017
People often ask where writers get their ideas from. In my case, they can come from almost anywhere but, because I write historical novels, my starting point is often a person or an incident that catches my eye in a work of non-fiction. I've been lucky in that I haven't had somebody sitting over me and demanding that I produce a book straightaway so I can usually be quite relaxed waiting for something to strike me.
The James Burke books, though, came from a straightforward search for a commercially viable historical character to write about. I mentioned to a friend that I was struggling and she said that I should look for inspiration in the lives of Europeans living in the area that is now Argentina during the period of Spanish rule and immediately afterwards. She had met me in Argentina and knew I was interested in the country and its history and she told me that there were fascinating lives amongst the early pioneers.
I started reading books about South America, looking for people who were doing exciting enough things to be worked up into a novel. I think my friend was hoping for a serious tale of exploration and triumph over hardship – something like Elizabeth Morgan’s Ticket to Paradise, a brilliant story about early Welsh settlers in Patagonia. What I found instead was the story of James Burke: soldier, womaniser, spy and a crucial figure in the little-known British invasion of Buenos Aires in 1806
There is very little that is definitely known about James Burke, but the little that there is forms the basis for a wonderful story. Starting his military career fighting for the French, he changed sides and worked as a spy for the English. It seems likely that his lovers included a queen, a princess, and the mistress of a Spanish viceroy. He travelled extensively around South America, riding across the Andes in the snow and gathering vital military intelligence throughout the area. It's likely that the information he obtained was crucial to the British invaders in 1806. (He can hardly be blamed if the occupation was so badly handled that they were soon driven out again.)
With such gripping raw material, the first book about James Burke, Burke in the Land of Silver, sticks pretty closely to the facts – at least as far as we know them. The story takes Burke from the West Indies to Argentina, Brazil, and Spain. There are devious plots, thrilling fights, wicked women and a villain all the more deliciously evil for being a real historical character. Buckles are swashed and bodices are ripped. I had huge fun writing it and I hope you’ll have fun reading it. And at the end, you will find you have painlessly acquired a basic understanding of Spain’s role in the Napoleonic Wars and some of the early history of Argentina.
Burke in the Land of Silver will be republished by Endeavour Press on 5 January, to be followed by the other two books I have written about James Burke. Two new James Burke books are all ready to follow if all you lovely people buy the first three.
Tuesday, 5 December 2017
In my last blog post I reviewed a couple of historical fiction books by authors I enjoy. In this post, with the republication of my books drawing ever closer, I’m going to take the opportunity to mention some of the things that other reviewers have said about my efforts.
Burke in the Land of Silver
"James Bond in breeches" - Paul Collard
"A well-crafted adventure yarn with exotic settings and plenty of suspense." Historical Novel Society
Burke and the Bedouin
“A “Boys’ Own” adventure (but also very suitable for ladies who like a little derring-do!) … at its best in the vivid action sequences and set pieces, such as the Battle of the Pyramids and the climactic Battle of the Nile.” Historical Novel Society
“An entertaining light read, set in a corner of the Napoleonic Wars which is often neglected.” The Review
Burke at Waterloo
“Historical fiction as it should be written.” – Paul Collard
The White Rajah
“An involving tale of adventure, intrigue and unlikely love.” Historical Novel Society
“This book works on so many levels.” The Review
“It's ages since I've started reading a book and then been 100% annoyed at the world that it won't let me just sit there and finish it all in one go, but The White Rajah by Tom Williams has totally been that book!” By Slanted Light
"An interesting tale, well told." Bloomsbury Review
“All that historical fiction should be: absorbing, believable and educational.” – Terry Tyler in Terry Tyler Book Reviews
“For anyone who has a love for this period, Cawnpore is probably one for you.” Historical Novel Society
Back Home was runner-up for historical fiction in the awards that Rosie Amber’s book review team give out following an on-line vote.
"I enjoyed every word of this novel. It's so cleverly written, with low-key humour in parts, the research used subtly and unobtrusively." – Terry Tyler in Terry Tyler Book Reviews
“It is perfectly paced and has an authentic voice which gives a real sense of time and place.” Whispering Stories blog
Save the date
Burke in the Land of Silver will be republished on 5 January and should be available for pre-order before that. I'll let you know the date as soon as I do. The other books will be coming out every couple of weeks, until early March.
If you live in North America, all my books are currently available through Simon & Schuster. Can I mention that they make excellent Christmas presents?
If you want to check out other books on these blogs, here are some useful addresses:
The Review: http://thereview2014.blogspot.co.uk
Terry Tyler Book Reviews: http://terrytylerbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk
Historical Novel Society: https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews
Whispering Stories: http://whisperingstories.com
Friday, 1 December 2017
The Last Legionnaire by Paul Fraser Collard
This is the fifth Jack Lark story. It starts with Jack coming back to his childhood home and takes a while to get into its stride with the return of Ballard, the spymaster from Lark's earlier adventures. Ballard, for reasons he refuses to explain to Lark, is determined to find a man who is serving with the French Foreign Legion in Italy and to bring him back, by force if necessary, to his home in England.
The plot rambles a bit, with some implausibilities here and there, but the point of it is to get Lark to the Battle of Solferino. Never heard of it? Neither had I, but I should have.
Ballard's summary of the politics behind the battle (basically the French and the Sardinians were trying to drive the Austrians out of northern Italy) neatly provides the historical background that you need. From then on it's just a matter of manoeuvring Lark into a situation where it seems perfectly natural for him to disguise himself as a French legionnaire and join the fighting.
Lark finds his man, who is duly returned to England, but the story does not quite resolve itself. I think there is supposed to be a shock revelation toward the end, but I doubt it will come as that much of a shock to many people and the end of the story leaves Lark very clearly set to start straight into another adventure.
One thing I have always respected Collard for is that he does not flinch from the brutality of 19th century warfare and, if there is a certain repetitiveness as Lark thrusts his bayonet into victim after victim, that probably represents the reality of battle. Solferino was, as Collard’s usual useful historical note explains, a battle that left nearly 40,000 casualties. For Lark, it represented his first contact with the reality of what we might think of as modern warfare, with rifled artillery enabling whole units to be mown down before they even engage the enemy. The historical note explains that the horror of Solferino led eventually to the formation of the International Red Cross.
This is far from the best of the Jack Lark books, probably because it is really about a single battle rather than a campaign, so much of the book is filled out with sub-plots, some more engaging than others. Still, it told me a lot about a battle that I had not known anything about before. Solferino did mark a development in the way that men wage war and it deserves to be better known. Collard has done us a service by writing about it, and, if the book does not entirely work on its own, it has set the characters up well for the next in the series. If you are Jack Lark fan, you will enjoy The Last Legionnaire, but if you have not read him before it's probably not the place to start.
Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson
It's always disconcerting to pick up a book and discover that it's the fourth in a series where you haven't read the first three. I would definitely have enjoyed the book more if I had started at the beginning of the Crowther and Westerman books, but Robertson provides enough background to the characters and their history for you to get along even if you are, like me, starting in the middle.
Circle of Shadows is a mystery set in late 18th-century Germany. Germany at the time had many tiny independent states where the rulers compensated for their relative obscurity, as rulers go, by building ever more elaborate palaces filled with courtiers who took part in ever more elaborate ceremonials. This fictional state is about to celebrate a royal wedding, so the amount of ceremonial has been dramatically ramped up. The last thing anybody wants in the middle of all this is a mysterious murder, let alone the series of mysterious murders that confront Crowther and Westerman when they arrive from England to sort all the confusion out.
Although the killings are ritualistic and quite unpleasant, this is essentially a traditional "cosy crime" story, albeit with a well realised historical background. I am generally irritated when books present 18th-century women doing things that they would be unlikely to have got away with in real life, but readers clearly enjoy female detectives and, in Harriet Westerman, Robertson has produced a credible character. Harriet is a widow – a position that gave women of the period a degree of independence. She is also presented as an unusually feisty lady and would probably be even more convincing if I had read the first book in the series. In any case, it is the background that is historically well observed. The story is not intended to be wildly realistic and there is a definite hint of magic about the resolution.
If you enjoy detective stories and you enjoy historical novels, this nicely written combination of the two should serve well for Christmas. But you might like to start with the first book in the series: Instruments of Darkness, as you ask.
A word from our sponsor
What of my own books? If you look at the next blog post, you will see some of the nice things people have said about them.
If you are living in North America, you can buy my books either as e-books or as paperbacks (because paperbacks always look better under the tree) from the Simon & Schuster website. If you are in the UK, you will have to wait until January when Endeavour will start republishing the book series, to be followed by the John Williamson Chronicles in February. Make a note in your diary!