David Ebsworth is the pen name of writer, Dave McCall, a former negotiator for Britain's Transport & General Workers’ Union. He was born in Liverpool (UK) but has lived for the past thirty years in Wrexham, North Wales, with his wife, Ann. Since their retirement in 2008, the couple have spent about six months of each year in southern Spain. Dave began to write seriously in the following year, 2009.
Twitter handle: @EbsworthDavid
Welcome, David Ebsworth, and thanks for joining us at Novel PASTimes! We’re glad to have this chance to learn more about you and your books.
Well, thanks very much for inviting me to the blog. It's great to be here and have the chance to talk about Assassins. It's set in 1938, towards the end of the Spanish Civil War, and follows the trials and tribulations of reporter Jack Telford, stuck on a tour bus with a very strange mixture of other travellers as he tries to uncover the hidden truths beneath the conflict – and about his fellow-passengers, of course.
I must say, I found a brief excerpt from your book GRIPPING! What inspired you to write about this particular era in history?
The Spanish Civil War still has some important lessons for us. It was basically a dress-rehearsal for Hitler and Mussolini in their preparation for the slaughter of the Second World War, yet very few people spotted the warning signs. All the same, 32,000 volunteers from all over the world understood its importance and went to Spain to fight alongside the Spanish people in their struggle against rebel General Franco and his Nazi allies. They thought - and I believe they were right - that if fascism could be stopped in Spain, it might halt its spread elsewhere. So I was researching a novel about those International Brigade members when I came across a paper on the Battlefield Tours that Franco launched – mainly for British tourists – as a propaganda tool before the war was even finished. It was too good a story to ignore. A strange one, but perfectly true. Tourists took part in large numbers – from Britain, Italy, Portugal, France, Germany – even some Australians. It’s thought that there were around 42 tours in 1938 and 88 tours each year between 1939 and 1945. And I suddenly knew that those tours would provide perfect background for a good old-fashioned political thriller – but one that would also carry the story of the Spanish Civil War to a new and wider audience.
You have an amazing background. Can you share some of it with our readers?
Amazing? I guess I never thought of it that way. I was brought up in Liverpool during the ’50s and ’60s, and was then privileged to spend most of my working life as a union negotiator and organiser – so there was certainly never a dull moment! I know some people have a strange notion about unions, but most of the time I was just using our collective knowledge and advocacy skills to help folk who were getting a raw deal at work. But I was particularly lucky to do quite a lot of international stuff for the union too – particularly with sister unions in Spain, Nicaragua and Colombia. I’m a Spanish-speaker who'd always had a love of political and people’s history but my work gave me a chance to live it and breathe it. I met some extraordinary people – many who had themselves fought in the Spanish Civil War; others who had been victims of Pinochet’s thugs in Chile; lots of indomitable characters whose families had been threatened or killed by death-squads in Central America and Colombia – but were still struggling against repression. That’s all meant to say that I’m no great fan of “Kings and Queens” historical fiction (with a few notable exceptions) but prefer tales of our "everyday" heroes and heroines.
Have you always had it in the back of your mind that you wanted to write novels or was this interest sparked suddenly? Tell us about this writing journey.
I loved reading when I was a kid and my passion for books has never left me. I think that everybody who loves books must have thought, at one time or another, about writing one. So yes, it had been in my mind for a long time. But I also knew, almost instinctively, that writing a novel requires daily discipline, daily application, even if the word count each day may only be modest. Well, the truth is that the demands of my job meant that such a daily commitment wouldn’t be possible – at least, not until I was coming up to retirement and looking for a new challenge. It soon became clear to me that writing novels – and particularly historical fiction – might “tick all the boxes.” I started researching my first effort, The Jacobites’ Apprentice, while I was still in work and then began writing every day during 2009-2010. I spent a lot of time in 2011 unsuccessfully looking for a trade publisher but also wrote novel number two, The Assassin’s Mark, during that year. That set the pattern for my writing journey.
Do you feel that there are other authors who have inspired your style or choice of genre? If so, who are some of your favorites?
As I said earlier, I just have a passion for books – anything from the classics to Science Fantasy or contemporary fiction. But over the years, I suppose it’s been historical fiction to which I’ve returned most often. I was a huge fan of Rosemary Sutcliff when I was a teenager. Then it was John Fowles and Timothy Mo. More recently, my main influences have probably been Steven Pressfield, Hilary Mantel, Patrick O’Brian. And I’d have to add Bernard Cornwell to the list, naturally. Yet I'd still put Dickens right at the top - simply because I feel like I grew up with him. My dad was in the Royal Navy for most of his life, was entirely self-taught and had always carried pocket versions of Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield or Great Expectations with him through many circumnavigations of the world and the dark days of the Second World War. So if we ever needed to be given a lesson about life or morality, it was usually through the medium of a verbatim rendition from one of the Dickens novels - and it's Dickens that I still "hear" most frequently, chiding me when the writing gets a bit sloppy.
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 read David's answer to this and more, come back tomorrow for Day 2 of this intriguing interview!
To be entered in a drawing to win a copy of The Assassin's Mark, leave a comment with your e-mail address and answer our guest 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?
This will test your knowledge of history for certain! Be sure to come back tomorrow for Day 2 of David Ebsworth's interview.