Today I’m talking to Tom Williams, the author of six historical novels which are being republished by Endeavour Press this year. Details of release dates follow our chat.
Hi, Tom. Tell us a little about your writing to date.
I write historical novels. There are two distinct series of books. The first are the John Williamson Chronicles. These look at issues around colonialism in the mid-19th century. They start with a young John Williamson sailing to Borneo with the real-life character James Brooke (The White Rajah) and continue with Williamson’s experiences in India during the Mutiny (Cawnpore). In the third book in the series (Back Home), he returns to London to find the divisions between rich and poor, rulers and ruled, as sharp as anything he saw in the Far East. Back Home completes the cycle and it is unlikely that there will be any more John Williamson books.
The books about James Burke, although solidly historically based, are much more escapist fun. Burke (based on a real man) was a spy during the Napoleonic Wars. The three books published so far see him in Buenos Aires (Burke in the Land of Silver), Egypt (Burke and the Bedouin) and at Waterloo (Burke at Waterloo). The idea of the books is to take a James Bond type figure and have him defeating the evil villains (and getting the girl) against carefully researched historical backgrounds.
Where does your inspiration for characters come from?
Basically they are real people. The White Rajah is based around the life of James Brooke, who I first came across on a visit to Borneo. Most of the characters in Cawnpore (except for John Williamson himself) are real people. Back Home is the exception in the John Williamson books, as the only historical character in it is Karl Marx.
Burke was a real person and his adventures in Burke in the Land of Silver are close to the historical facts. Having established Burke in my own mind, it was easy to write about him in fictional adventures, but the stories have to fit round the history. There are hardly any historical characters in Burke and the Bedouin, but he could have met Captain Hardy (of ‘Kiss me, Hardy’ fame) in Alexandria and the sight of Napoleon addressing his troops is also real. Burke at Waterloo has a mixed cast of real and imagined characters, but, again, the plot is driven by the history of the run-up to the battle and the incidents at Waterloo itself.
Is there another historical period you’d like to use as the basis for a novel or series?
Historical writing is amazingly hard work because of the amount of research you have to do. If I was going to start another series, I’d be very tempted to go contemporary.
Personal writing choice: pen or keyboard?
Keyboard every time. I edit as I go and I rely on word processing.
When do you know a novel is complete?
My stories are generally plot driven, so basically when you get to the end.
What is the best part of being an author?
Doing historical research.
And the worst?
Doing historical research.
Who are your writing heroes?
There are so many. Because of the sort of stories I write, I’m in awe of George MacDonald Fraser and his Flashman stories.
If you had to be stranded on a desert island with three fictional characters, who would you choose, and why?
Robinson Crusoe, because he really did know how to survive on a desert island. Jack Reacher (from Lee Child’s excellent series), because he’s a good man to have your back. Bernadita who first appears in Burke and the Bedouin but who will definitely be back. I wrote her as a feisty young woman who is both sexy and a useful person to have in a fight. She can ride, she can sail, and she’s fun to be around. And if I’m going to be stranded on a desert island, I’d like some female company. (Though I suspect she’d end up going off with Jack Reacher.)
I have already written two more books about James Burke (one set in Spain and one in Ireland), which Endeavour will publish if they sell enough of the first three. It used not to worry me that lots of people pirated my books (and I know they do) because it’s not like writers expect to make much money anyway. I think we need to be much more serious about piracy these days, because the level of piracy means that publishers are unable continue providing a platform for new books if they can’t make any money out of the old ones. So bear in mind that when you steal a book by somebody you enjoy reading, you really are making it less likely that there will be any more in that series.
Indeed! Thanks for answering my questions today, Tom. Good luck with the new editions!
JAN 5: Burke in the Land of Silver
JAN 19: Burke and the Bedouin
FEB 2: Burke at Waterloo
FEB 16: The White Rajah
MAR 2: Cawnpore
MAR 16: Back Home
Tom Williams lives in London where he has spent far too many years writing very boring things for money (unless you’re in Customer Care, in which case ‘Dealing With Customer Complaints’ is really, really interesting). Now he writes more interesting books like ‘Burke in the Land of Silver’, which has just been published by Endeavour Press. Most of it is set in Argentina, which was convenient for him as his main interests are tango and street skating and Buenos Aires turns out to be a really good place to do both of them.
Tom writes about 19th century history, Argentina and tango on his blog at https://thewhiterajah.blogspot.co.uk. He also reluctantly accepts that the 21st century means that he has to have a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/AuthorTomWilliams/) and he tweets as @TomCW99. He would be delighted to hear from you through any of those media or, better yet, by a message tied to the leg of a carrier pigeon.
‘Burke in the Land of Silver’ buy link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Burke-Silver-Majestys-Confidential-Agent-ebook/dp/B078TGFSZT (Available through Simon & Schuster in North America.)
You can pre-order ‘Burke and the Bedouin’ at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Burke-Bedouin-adventure-Napoleonic-Confidential-ebook/dp/B078PKKNBD