Characters in Motion with David Cook

David Cook II’d like to welcome back David Cook to talk with me about the characters in his stories. 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.

David, what are the common movements your characters make?

“England expects that every man will do his duty” Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson signalled from HMS Victory when the sea battle of Trafalgar was about to commence and I think it’s entirely relevant to this question. My protagonists are always beset (in some way or another) a task that they will try their best to achieve. It’s about going up against something required of them, almost a test, and it could be perceived a ‘life lesson’. Will it make them? Break them? Whatever happens at the very start of the story they will have changed by the ending.

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I think of Lorn Mullone in LIBERTY OR DEATH. He is an Irishman working for the British government during the terrible Irish rebellion of 1798. His sympathies aren’t really for the Irish who want to break away and become self-governing, but the ordinary people caught up in this. Mullone is loyal to God, to King George and to Ireland. He is tasked to find a murderer when the spark of rebellion rips through the country changing it forever and what he witnesses do change him.

What are the habits of your protagonist?

I like to make them as human as possible. Perfection? In my opinion there is no such thing. I can’t stand it when you read about someone so ‘perfect’ that it’s sickening. So I start by making the protagonist someone who you would like to have a drink and chat with. It’s that simple. Give them a back story so the conversation would be interesting, but I make each one individual. Captain of Marines Simon Gamble from HEART OF OAK is someone who (said is a Richard Sharpe-esque character which I think is unfair) was designed to be a man at ease in warfare, a warrior-like soldier, which many seem odd to some people. I wanted Gamble to be ruthless, daring, steadfast and because of this, he was also suffering from it. He is disfigured from battle wounds and emotionally scarred.

Who are your five top antagonists?

MARKSMAN by David Cook II

#5 Pierre Helterlin, a French Dragoon Colonel from MARKSMAN. Hell-bent on eliminating Spanish partisans, he is a hero of the French Empire, decorated because of his bravery fighting Austrians and Prussians at the time when Napoleon Bonaparte was at his prime, he meets his match in Spain. War breeds horrible men and Helterlin is a result of that.

#4 Andrew Clements from BLOOD ON THE SNOW. A British officer who is devious, spiteful and corrupt. The epitome of self-serving officers of the time and I enjoyed writing Clements because he is the polar opposite of Jack Hallam, the protagonist.

#3 William Tate, an American Colonel introduced in TEMPEST. He might be the antagonist but has a devotion to his cause, an honour and that is completely recognised and understood by Lorn Mullone, the protagonist.

#2 Colonel Black from LIBERTY OR DEATH. A shadowy figure and I think if I ever remade the novella into a story I have lots of ideas to flesh him out. Black is a creature born of horror, panic, fear and bloodlust.

#1 De Marin, a French spy and nemesis to Lorn Mullone. Appears in LIBERTY OR DEATH, MARKSMAN and TEMPEST and he will ultimately be around until Mullone can stop him for good. His real name is unknown but nicknamed the Spider-King, which is vague but designed to be mysterious. He operates throughout the French Empire and will see its enemies destroyed.

What is the mood or tone your characters portrays and how does this affect the story?

The Soldier Chronicles are standalone stories set against the backdrop of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars 1793-1815, so the tone is already set. The protagonists are (hopefully) not as bleak as the setting.

How are your characters influenced by their setting?

By just doing what is expected of them but they all have ideas on how to achieve that.

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Jack Hallam in BLOOD ON THE SNOW carries out his duties as an officer during the horrendous British retreat in the bitter winter of 1794 and apart from the death, starvation, drunkenness and dishonesty, he just wants to get home so he can see his wife. It’s all he cares about.  Simple things, pleasures of the heart, but very human.

Often times the best inspiration comes within us. How do you flush out your characters to drive the plot?

I just use instances of times when I have let myself down or others, been hurt or caused pain, been lucky, wealthy and happy and put that all into the stories. Good and bad.

What are the emotional triggers of your characters and how do they act on them?

There are many and it plays on who they are. Lorn Mullone is having nightmares about his dead twin brother and it’s the manifestation of guilt. Guilt because he let him go during the War of Independence and he was killed. Lorn blames himself. Simon Gamble blames himself for a friend’s death but he could not have prevented it. They act with the job at hand but they are very different so the outcomes are different. Mullone realises that, as a Catholic, his belief has been shattered by his twin’s death and looks at the signs to renew his faith. Gamble, using his anger, just wants to annihilate every Frenchman.

Self-image is important in characters, how is this important to your characters?

It’s very important. It has to be. They have to be individual with all their little idiosyncrasies. It’s what makes them believable. They also believe in what they see as right and wrong, as we all do, even if it’s not entirely correct.

How do you/or talk about how you flesh out the moment of greatest sorrow in your characters?

It goes back to using moments of time in my own life when I have been scared, depressed and sad. I just think about how it affected me and write it. Usually I don’t write the scene until I shed a tear. It may sound corny but several death scenes in all of my works, (unpublished and published) have been re-written until I feel the tears come.

Talk about the courage and strength of your character -and possibly the isolation your character may feel with these attributes. 

tempest by david cook resize 200Mullone is the sort of man who doesn’t buckle under pressure. He shows his worth and courage by challenging other people or situations that are wrong (I wish I was more like him) with a wonderful remark. Here’s an excerpt from TEMPEST:

Mullone kicked the beast forward with a stab of his heels to its flanks and rode off down towards the impatient colonel.

Knox saw his approach but pretended that he hadn’t. ‘Major Mullone,’ he said wearily.

‘Order your men back!’ Mullone told him. ‘You are disobeying a direct order!’

‘Who is this man?’ said a voice beside the colonel.

Mullone saw that it was an officer wearing an expensively tailored coat with gold lace and buttons. His belts and epaulettes gleamed, his buckles and gorget dazzled, and yet Mullone knew this man had never fought in a battle before.

‘This is Major Bowen of the Newport Volunteers,’ Knox said.

Bowen glared at Mullone with pale, unfriendly eyes that seemed lost in a large, fleshy face. ‘Colonel Knox tells me your some sort of government man? Chasing shadows and the like. Not real soldiering is it?’

Mullone gave the major a look that would have killed. ‘Tell me what is?’

Bowen was not impressed either. ‘Be gone with you, sir. Leave the fighting to Welshmen. We don’t need foreigners to fight our battles.’

‘You needed one in the fort,’ Mullone retorted. ‘Where were you?’

Thank you, David!

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Historical Fiction & Meaning with David Cook

David Cook II’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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Author Links:

Twitter @davidcookauthor

Facebook

Blog

Website

Amazon UK