I’d like to welcome David Cook today to talk with me about his Historical Fiction writing. David has been interested in history since his school days, and developed a love for the Napoleonic Wars era from his father, who painted and amassed a lead model army of the Battle of Waterloo. From there David became fascinated with The American Civil War, The English Civil Wars and English medieval history, particularly the legend of Robin Hood. David is writing a novel entitled The Wolfshead, a story of Robin Hood, but based on the original medieval ballads as the source.
What are the periods of history focused on for your writing?
I write about anything historical that I fancy. What I’ve self-published, so far, are the years 1793-1815; the Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars.
It all started in 2006 when I began to write about a British expeditionary force being sent to Egypt in 1801 to *remove* the remnants of a French army there. It is the start to a twenty volume series I’ve outlined. I finished the book, titled The Desert Lion in 2008. I immediately started to write the second and all these years later I’m 50% of the way through. What brought on the long pause was that after the first was completed I sent it out to try to get a literary agent interested. After some initial rejections I was also advised that it was an ‘unpopular era’. So I put it on hold.
I started to write something different. A different genre and told in a different style. Robin Hood has always captivated me and so I spent the next few years researching and writing the legend but based only on the known medieval sources.
Then I got married and became a father and things slowed down. In 2014, I decided to self-publish the Soldier Chronicles series which started out as back stories to the twenty volume series I had begun in 2006. Each story is a standalone and are companion pieces.
I’ve written about the Roman period, the Norman invasion, the Tudor era, the English Civil War and the American Civil War. I’m not sure if I’ll publish them, but if I do, it’s not for a few years.
Why Historical Fiction?
Simply that I just love history. I find it so interesting. I love reading about subjects I don’t know much about. I find nothing more rewarding than research. To some it might be tedious. I don’t. With Tempest, the sixth story in the Soldier Chronicles (out in April) I found immense joy in debunking myths and finding out the truths. I just get a buzz out of going back in time.
When did you know you wanted be a HF writer?
When I was a teenager I was on holiday with my parents and we went to a museum about Roman finds in Somerset. I was interested in Roman soldiers and spent ages drawing imaginary battles and writing character names. When I was sixteen I was reading a lot about the Crimean War and the American Civil War and wrote about an Englishman involved in both conflicts. I thought it would be a good idea to show a man forged by battle and come out of one war to be thrusted into another. I suppose it was then that I was first interested in writing.
How much time do you spend on research? What sources do you use?
It really depends how busy I am. With the novellas of the Soldier Chronicles, it can be 3-6 months. With the novels, six months to a year. I mainly use books. I do use sources on the internet. I have visited museums. Whatever I do use, I make sure they are notable and reliable. I take pride in trying to write accurate historical stories.
What do you feel is the importance of historical fiction?
As I said above, I take pride in portraying the people and the times. I feel a great responsibility for making sure it’s as accurate as possible, as well as thought-provoking and enjoyable. Sometimes too much historical detail can ruin a story. Some will say you cannot achieve complete accuracy in the storytelling. I do know this, but as an author it’s my choice. Can I write how English people spoke during the time of Robin Hood? No. Even if I spent years researching that, I’m not sure anyone would understand it or want to read it.
I don’t want the story to sink under the weight of all the detail, but neither do I want to write an historical piece with nothing in it. There’s a fine line. There has to be a balance. There is also no right or wrong. However, if I do take artistic liberties, then I will explain my reasons for doing so and the truth in the note section at the back of the book.
Who are your influences?
There are lots to be honest. For me the number one is Bernard Cornwell. He is responsible for taking up far too much of my book shelves. I’m a big fan of his Richard Sharpe series and his Saxon stories.
Simon Scarrow, Sharon Kay Penman, George. R.R. Martin, Jane Austen, J.R.R Tolkien, Philippa Gregory, Alison Weir, Ken Follet and Elizabeth Chadwick to name but a few.
How do you feel the genre has progressed in the last ten years?
It’s a niche market. Well there’s more of it available now (thank God) and so there’s more choice. It’s certainly and still very popular with readers, but some time periods are lacking. Some are saturated. As long as it’s supported and marketed well, it will continue to grow.
What are the important steps in writing HF?
Showing the reader your great enthusiasm in the story you’ve created. Believe in it. Trust it and love it. Make the research count. All the hours put into it, use them wisely. Make the characters interesting, believable, and human. We all have flaws. Don’t be afraid to show them.
What must you not do writing in this genre?
Try to show the times in the story. One example: I had to write about a character beating his wife and I hated it. But it was during the mediaeval period when a man was entitled to. Disgusting, but it’s the truth and I wanted to show that. There are lots of examples. I think you have to immerse your readers of the times, be honest and hopefully it won’t disappoint.
When writing, do you use visuals to give you inspiration?
I use photographs, paintings, portraits. I visit places where and when I can too. I think its vitally important to visit the place I’m writing about and at the same time of year. You can get a better sense of it. When I went to the Waterloo bicentennial last year, I was on the battlefield and stayed there nearly all day. I felt something that day. The June crops, the weather, the skies, the animals scampering into the woods, the air and the very ground. There’s something special about it that I can’t really explain.
Thank you, David!