Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Day 2 with Author David Ebsworth

We are so pleased to introduce you to author David Ebsworth! Today is Day 2 of our interview:

You live “across the pond” from our American readers. Can you tell us what the publishing/book world is like in Europe? Do most prefer the digital venue or are bookstores still popular?

To be honest, I don’t think there’s a generic European picture. Here in the UK we’ve lost many of our retail book chains although Waterstones still have a presence in most towns, while a few of the W.H. Smiths stores specialise in book sales, and there are Foyles or Blackwell shops here and there. But overall there’s been a huge surge in digital book sales that has wiped out all the other large retailers of my youth. Despite this, there’s also been a recent resurgence of smaller independent bookstores in most places – many offering good quality coffee and cake, reading space, facilities for author events, children’s story-telling, friendly advice, etc. Elsewhere in Europe, the market is still a couple of years “behind” (in the best possible way) the UK situation, in the sense that it’s much easier to find old-fashioned bookshops in, say, Spain, France or Italy. The digital market is growing there too, naturally, but I think it will all settle down shortly and there will be room for both aspects of the book world. People will always want "real" books and, on the other hand, the digital revolution has allowed many authors (like myself, I hope) to blossom who would never have had the chance through traditional publishing. The big question is... what comes next?

Good question, Dave. :) If you could be a character from any novel, who would it be and why?

Oh, no question about this one! I’d be Lucky Jack Aubrey from the Patrick O’Brian novels. A bred-in-the-bone love of sailing and the sea. More gauche on land than on the water. An insatiable lust for life and living it to the full. An inveterate swimmer. A penchant for bad jokes. Inseparable best friend (wife, Ann, in my own case, rather than Stephen Maturin). And a hearty appetite for good food and wine.

Researching for a historical novel can uncover some amazing details. Are there any that stand out in your mind as being the most interesting?

As it happens, it’s the surprise details and non-conformist perspectives of history around which I try to base my novels. So… in Jacobites, the huge support for Bonnie Prince Charlie from the Catholic merchants and tea smugglers of 1745 Manchester, England; in Assassins, the scale of battlefield tourism introduced by General Franco while the Spanish Civil War was still raging; in the third novel, The Kraals of Ulundi, the fact that one of the main characters had unrevealed “previous form” when he was court-martialled; and, in the fourth (work in progress) the untold story of those women who fought within the French regiments at the Battle of Waterloo.

Can you tell us about your upcoming release and when it will be available?

Yes, this is The Kraals of Ulundi: a Novel of the Zulu War. It’s set in 1879 and picks up the story of the Anglo-Zulu War where the films Zulu Dawn (Burt Lancaster) and Zulu (Michael Caine) leave off. Fingers crossed, it should be available in May or June. The tale’s told largely from a Zulu perspective, though there is also an American dimension to the final chapters – but you’ll have to wait for that one! I’ve recently spent some time in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, checking out location details, and we got home from that wonderful country just a few days before the sad news of Nelson Mandela’s death. It was very poignant because I'd just finished the Historical Notes to help readers understand the direct thread that connects Kraals to the more recent journey of the South African people.

What would you like readers to gain from reading your books?

Above all, just the simple pleasure of literary escapism and a well-written page-turner for leisure reading. Second, a sense of surprise that a possibly familiar story might still hold some secrets. And, third, perhaps a better understanding about the piece of history against which the story is set.

What advice would you offer aspiring writers?

Hmmm. This feels like a Top Ten Tips list, but here goes…
  • If you read no other “how to write” book, make sure you read Stephen King’s On Writing.
  • Establish a daily writing routine. It doesn’t matter if it’s only half an hour but pick a time that you can do it every day. (Yes, that means Christmas Day and birthdays too!)
  • Make sure that you have an “ideal reader” – somebody who will read your chapters as you write them and give you a critique that’s both honest and constructive.
  • Take no notice of all that “only write what you know” nonsense. Instead, write the book that you wish somebody had written for you but which doesn’t yet exist. If it’s slightly unfamiliar territory, research it.
  • Don’t get bogged down by your research – and make sure that research time never impinges on your writing time.
  • Find a space where you can privately “mull over” your work – your plot and character development. I usually do this at the swimming pool. (Ah, that's another one. Get plenty of exercise!)
  • Find places to write that suit the mood you need for whatever you’re doing. I normally do my first creative drafts in my own room, door closed, total silence. But when I’m re-writing or revising, I like lots of noise and atmosphere – usually a favourite coffee shop. But we’re all different!
  • Remember that, for the vast majority of writers, getting to the end of the novel is the start of a process, rather than its finish. You’ll end up spending almost as much time editing and marketing your book as you have on the writing. And most people won’t be satisfied with writing just one book but will want to make space for a second, a third, and so on.
  • Remember that much of what you think about traditional publishing is a myth. There are few decent advances, nor publishers who will “sell” the book on your behalf, nor pay you generous royalties. But avoid “vanity press” options like the plague. However, there are some great ways to self-publish out there – just take lots of advice and shop around.
  • Finally, remember that all this means that “writing” is much more akin to setting up a small business than anything else. Somebody has already dubbed lots of us as “authorpreneurs” – and I like that!

Sounds like great advice! Any final words?

Just to say thanks again for the chat. I’ve really enjoyed it. And if any of the readers want to keep in touch, I have a monthly e-mail newsletter that I send out securely to anybody who might like to receive updates about my books. Either contact me through the David Ebsworth website or by e-mailing me direct…

Dave, thanks so much for joining us at Novel PASTimes! It has been our pleasure.

Readers, in order to be entered in the drawing to win a copy of The Assassin's Mark, leave a comment with your e-mail address and answer the author's question. Here it is:

What was the name of the International Brigade battalion in which 2,800 American volunteers fought for the Spanish Republic during the 1936-39 Civil War?