1: Thank you so much for being here, Charles. First up is the obligatory question. When did you first begin writing?
When did I begin writing… well, I wrote my first novel when I was eight. Thirty-two single-spaced pages carefully printed (because I knew books were always printed) with a remarkably blunt pencil, complete with illustrations. I can still remember it very clearly: each of the six chapters was actually a short story (very short), complete in itself. The heroes were an intrepid frog called Freddy, a shy and nervous lizard called Liza and a fearless gopher who rejoiced in the name of Diggy. The entire concept was shamelessly stolen from Kenneth Graham’s Wind in the Willows, although the story lines were my own. The pages were bound with string threaded through holes I made down the left-hand side. My mother kept it until it fell to pieces.
Throughout my career in post-secondary education I wrote no end of non-fiction in the form of reports, papers, proposals, plans and so on, but I did manage to complete a novel in my spare time about twenty-five years ago. I shipped it off to a legion of publishers where in all cases it achieved instant oblivion. I promised myself I’d try fiction again when I retired, which I did ten years ago, and I’ve been at it ever since with better results, I’m pleased to say.
2: What inspired you to write?
Well, from childhood I always loved reading good stories set in past eras. I have always had a great love of history, and historical fiction seemed to me to bring alive those past eras. I found that fascinating and I feel strongly motivated to give my readers an opportunity to share that fascination, which I very much hope they do.
3: What do you like the most and least about writing?
What I like the most is the creative process that enables me to take a story idea and turn it into a short story or novel through initial research and on through plotting, character creation and development, dialogue and description. It’s the process of re-creating a past world and bringing it to life for my readers.
I’m not sure I can identify something I like the least. Some of my writer friends say they dislike the hours and hours of revisions and re-writes, but I enjoy that process: refining, improving, sharpening up the dialogue, adding a clue here or a small red herring there. If I dud have to identify the thing I like least, I suppose it would be the eye strain from hours of staring at a computer screen.
4: What do you do for fun and relaxation when not writing?
I work in our garden for one thing. We have a fully landscaped garden which occupies just under half an acre, and there’s always something that needs doing. In the winter I love playing classical and flamenco guitar which I began to do at the age of about fourteen. I also team up with a long time friend of mine and we sing and play old English, Scottish and Irish folk music.
5: Which authors do you like to read?
I like reading those that write historical fiction of course, particularly Patrick O’Brian, Bernard Cornwell, Ellis Peters, C. S. Forester and others of their reputation, but I also enjoy Jeffrey Archer, John Gresham, John LeCarré and Michael Crichton. Dan Brown is interesting, when he isn’t too farfetched, which I confess I find him to be some of the time. I enjoy a good mystery and a well-paced and intriguing adventure tale, imaginative use of language and authentic characters. The most significant problem I have in finding books to read is that being only partially sighted, I have to rely on audio books. If a book I want hasn’t been produced in audio form by a publisher or other organization, I’m out of luck. Thankfully, this problem is easing significantly as more and more audio books are becoming available via the internet. Production quality varies greatly, however.
6: What’s the one thing you’d most like people to know about you?
That’s a tough one you know. I guess I’d have to say I’d like people to know I’m a dedicated story-teller and I want to bring history to life in my stories and books for the enjoyment of my readers.
7: Tell me about your current novel, where I can find it and your website/blog.
My newest book is called The Devil At My Heels, and it’s just been accepted for publication next year by Museitup Publishing in Montreal. We don’t have a cover yet and I’m in the process of building a website. The URL, when it’s uploaded, will be http://thedevilatmyheels-novel.tripod.com. It’s a contemporary murder mystery, which is to say the crime itself is committed in the present day, but the murder relates to an eight-hundred-year-old secret which can only be revealed by studying the illuminations in an ancient manuscript created in the thirteenth century in England. The book tells the story of a history professor who searches for the manuscript in order to learn the secret and also discover the killer’s identity. Attempts are made on his life and the life of his daughter, but everything comes together in the end, and you’ll forgive me if I don’t tell you how. The book also contains flashback sections which trace the history of the manuscript in question and the stories of those who come into contact with it going back to the thirteenth century and forward to Nazi Germany via the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
My first novel Jade Hunter is an adventure tale which also takes place in the present but has an historical thread running through it, and is available from Double Dragon Publishing at http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-467-7. You can find out more about the book, see many images from China and elsewhere relating to the story and read the Prologue and Chapter One at http://cmossop0.tripod.com.
8: Do you have any tips for aspiring authors?
The only way I can answer that one is to remember the things that experienced writers told me when I was starting out: believe in yourself and tell your stories with all the passion and enthusiasm you can. There is also the time-worn but still vital old adage about practice making perfect. The only way to be a writer is to write. Practice your craft and learn all you can. I was advised to join some writers’ groups, which I did, and that was very sound advice as well. I learned an enormous amount by having my work critiqued by other writers and hearing about their experiences.
9: Do you base your characters on real-life people?
Yes I do, but each of my characters is a blend or amalgam of real-life people I’ve come across or know about. Thus, a character may look like someone I once met, talk like somebody else I knew, and so on. I’m constantly observing people around me, watching how they speak and act. I take a lot of notes as character ideas come to me.
10: Where do you get your ideas and what inspired you to write this book?
As a writer of historical fiction, I tend to get most of my ideas from history itself. One of my favorite themes is to examine the ways in which the ebb and flow of historical events affect different people: those who are powerless to influence those events and also those who directly shape them. That’s to say, the powerless and the powerful.
11: What are you currently working on?
I’ve got three projects on the go at the moment: two short stories and a third novel. The two short stories are mysteries starring the two protagonists I created some years ago, and about whom I’ve written several stories. One is an eighteenth-century English naval captain named Sir John Square, and the other is Lin Jiang, a fifteenth century Magistrate from the Ming Dynasty in China. Both of them share one common feature, and that is that wherever they go, someone always seems to get murdered, but fortunately they are there to find the culprit.
The novel is still in the planning stage, but will tell a story of treason and treachery during the Second World War. The working title is The Eiger Conspiracy.
12. Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you?
Well, perhaps it’s that I’m always anxious and interested in receiving feedback from those who read my novels and stories. I love bouquets of course (who doesn’t) but I welcome constructive criticism as well, because that’s how I learn.
Thanks again for having me here, and here’s the Prologue to The Devil At My Heels:
England: The Present Day
Dr. Michael Stuart, red-bearded and in his early fifties, closed the door behind the last of his dinner guests and sighed in satisfaction. Thank heavens they've gone, he thought. He went quickly to his study, opened the small, fire-proof safe he kept under his desk and withdrew a plain brown file folder. Relocking the safe, he put the folder on his desk and sat down. This is it, he though, looking at the sheet of yellowing parchment the folder contained. The first definite proof in eight hundred years. That stuff will be worth a fortune, and the publicity will be incredible. Could get me a knighthood. When I publish this we'll have to re-write the history books. Thank you so much, good King John.
He looked up and frowned as the sound of a footstep reached him. He rose, walked out of the study and stopped abruptly at the sight of a man in dark jacket and slacks standing in the hallway.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded. “How did you get in?”
“Easy. You left the front door unlocked after you saw your guests off. Very careless of you.”
Stuart heard the cold menace in the intruder's voice and suddenly realize the danger he could be facing. He strove to keep his voice steady as he tried to take control of the situation.
“Get out. Now.”
“I want that parchment back. I only asked you to authenticate it; I didn't give it to you.”
“I've told you. I've got it in safekeeping. I can look after it for you.”
“Bollocks. You just want the glory. That document belongs to me, and I want it back.”
Cold-fisted fear squeezed Stuart's vitals as in the dim light of the hallway he saw the intruder carried the heavy iron poker from the front room fireplace.
The man brandished the poker and took a step closer.
“Give me that letter, Stuart. I'm through playing games.”
A bead of sweat snaked down Stuart's spine. There's a phone in the study, he thought. If I can get in there I can lock the door and call the police. They'll believe me, not him.
He spun on his heel and made a dash for the open study door. He heard a yell of anger and felt his shirt rip as a strong hand tried to hold him back. He stumbled, half turned.
The heavy poker struck the side of his head and its thunderous impact was the last sound he heard.