Interview with David Ebsworth

David Ebsworth

Dave began to write seriously in the following year, 2009, and maintains a strict daily writing and marketing routine – though he still manages to find time for a regular morning swim, as well as for sailing.

Apart from that, he still does some voluntary work for the TUC (Britain’s union confederation), representing them in the organizations… Migrant Workers North West, Justice for Colombia and the Manufacturing Institute.

Dave is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the International Brigades Memorial Trust, the Anglo-Zulu War Historical Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

Praise for David Ebsworth’s debut novel, The Jacobites’ Apprentice – critically reviewed by the Historical Novel Society who deemed it “worthy of a place on every historical fiction bookshelf.”

David,  thank you for chatting with me today. Please tell me a little about your book, The Assassins Mark.

Thanks, Steph. It’s really great to be here – another stop on the book tour for Assassins. And a bit of an irony too, since the book itself is a political thriller, following the trials and tribulations of some eccentric travellers taking part in a factually-based battlefield tour towards the end of the Spanish Civil War, while the war was still raging. It’s a bit Christie-esque, a bit Graham Greene.

The Assassins Mark

What was your inspiration for this story?

Mainly my own interest in the Spanish Civil War, I guess. Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of people who fought there between 1936 and 1939. Lots of historians see the Spanish Civil War as the prelude to World War Two. Or worse, that it was a major cause of the Second World War, since Germany and Italy used Spain both as a military training ground and a source for much of the raw materials that helped them build their tanks and guns – while Britain and France effectively sat back and watched. So it’s a key bit of history, but one largely neglected by fiction writers, with a few honourable exceptions.

Please tell me about your character, Jack Telford. What are his strengths and weaknesses?

Well, Telford was born in the early 1900s. His father, a banker, committed suicide rather than return to the trenches of the Western Front, and this helped to deeply engrain pacifism into Jack’s psyche. But like most of his characteristics, his pacifism was both a strength and a weakness. His beliefs cost him several good jobs in his early career as a journalist, for example, before he finally landed on his feet as a correspondent for Reynold’s News, the well-known Sunday weekly of the 1930s. It was Jack’s editor, Sydney Elliott, who sent Jack to Spain in ’38 to cover the bizarre but true tale of the battlefield tours established by rebel General Franco, as a propaganda tool, while the war was still raging. It was a good testing ground for Jack’s language skills (French, Spanish and Esperanto) but the pressures of that strange trip sometimes triggered the worst of his traits – his occasional arrogance and his double-edged, cat-killing curiosity. His most troublesome characteristic, however, was always an abiding juvenile self-deception that any woman showing him the slightest interest must, somehow, be smitten by his charms. Famously, Jack appeared in the late-Seventies, towards the end of his life, on Desert Island Discs – and many of these characteristics were still evident, even then.

(A transcript of the programme was featured earlier during David Ebsworth’s book tour on the Lily Lives Indie blog last Saturday –

What was some of the research involved and how long did it take to write your story?

There are always at least two separate blocks of research for Historical Fiction writers, I think. The first involves all the “big” factual subjects – in this case, the background to the Spanish Civil War itself, the battlefield tours that took place in Spain between 1938 and 1945, and the detailed progress of the war along Spain’s north coast. The second requires a real understanding of all the “small” stuff that gives a book its sense of period and location. So, in Assassins, for example, one of the ‘characters’ (for me, at least) is the yellow Chrysler 14-seater Dodge bus that carries my travellers on their journey through the story. But what did a 1938-vintage Dodge bus sound like? How did it smell? Could they keep the inside cool in all that Spanish heat? How? What was it like to drive? What road conditions could it cope with? It’s the sort of research that you undertake as you go along, maybe when you’ve finished the first outline draft. Because otherwise you’d never get the book written. I now always allow a year for each novel. That’s usually a couple of months planning and doing the “big” research. Then up to eight months for the main writing. And a couple more months for re-writes and polishing.

I do not know a whole lot about the Spanish War. Could you give me some insight?

You have to remember that, in 1930, Spain was still largely stuck in the Middle Ages – a state controlled almost entirely by an autocratic monarchy, the Catholic Church and feudal landowners. The country finally tried to throw all this off by declaring itself a Republic in 1931, and this triggered further turmoil, with power and control swinging violently between Left and Right. Then, in February 1936, a Popular Front Coalition Government was democratically elected. This was intolerable to the Right-wing establishment and, in July that year, one of Spain’s leading army generals, Francisco Franco, launched a coup in an effort to establish a military dictatorship. But he badly under-estimated the spirit of the Spanish people – ordinary workers and campesinos – who resisted him. Franco called in support from his fascist friends, Hitler and Mussolini, and a bitter civil war waged until 1939. Franco finally emerged victorious, largely due to German and Italian involvement. Poor Spain paid the price by remaining a Dictatorship until 1976, after Franco’s death.

Is this your first published novel? What book project are you currently working on?

No, Assassins is my second. I published my first novel, The Jacobites’ Apprentice, in 2012. My third, The Kraals of Ulundi, is due to publish later this year and it’s a novel of the Zulu War that picks up, basically, where Michael Caine left off. My current project is a story about the Battle of Waterloo – but told from the French perspective and centres on the women cantinières who were formally part of Bonaparte’s battalions and went into action alongside the troops. Their exploits were legendary and almost unbelievable.

Where is your favorite place in your home to write? Do you have a favorite coffee or tea by your side when writing?

We have an old box-room that’s now basically been commandeered as my “office”. Computer, of course. Work desk. Wall to wall books. Lots of bric-a-brac – old clay pipes, 18th century tea caddies, 1930s cameras, antique maps. But, oddly, I very rarely drink tea or coffee (or anything else) up there. Instead, when I’ve done my first block of writing, between 7.00 in the morning to about 9.30am, I take myself off for a long swim, then head to Caffè Nero to revise and write my next batch of word-count. So my favourite drink there? Espresso Macchiato normally – with a decent piece of cake, naturally.

Who are your favorite authors?

This is really difficult. 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, and 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.

Is there a message you would like to give to your readers?

Mainly to thank them for all their support. I try to make sure that each book is unique, written as well as I can manage, and each better than the one before. I also appreciate all the feedback I get from readers – particularly through my monthly e-newsletter. This just keeps family, friends and supporters updated so, if anybody wants to receive the newsletter, just drop me an e-mail:  Alternatively, I also post it on my website:

Where can readers buy your book?

They’re stocked in quite a few Waterstones and Foyles stores but, if you can’t find them there, any bookshop will order them for you. Otherwise, they can be ordered online, either in paperback of eBook formats through sites like…

And thanks once again, Steph, for organising this stop.

Thank you, David!



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