I’m so pleased to have an exclusive Q&A with the lovely Andrew Swanston to bring you today. Andrew was such a professional regarding this Q&A and answered all my questions and returned them to me immediately which was such a help for a busy mum!
Beautiful Star will be available on the 11th January in ebook and paperback here.
Before I get to the Q&A with Andrew here is a little bit about his book Beautiful Star which I can’t wait to read!
History is brought alive by the people it affects, rather than those who created it. In Beautiful Star we meet Eilmer, a monk in 1010 with Icarus-like dreams; Charles I, hiding in 1651, and befriended by a small boy; the trial of Jane Wenham, witch of Walkern, seen through the eyes of her grand-daughter. This is a moving and affecting journey through time, bringing a new perspective to the defence of Corfe Castle, the battle of Waterloo, the siege of Toulon and, in the title story, the devastating dangers of the life of the sea in 1875.
Q&A with Andrew Swanston:
Hello Andrew and Welcome to Over The Rainbow Bookblog! Can you Tell Us A Little About Yourself?
I live in Surrey, near our three children and two grandchildren. At school I was a classicist and read Law at Cambridge, having no idea of what I would do in the real world and being not at all keen on the prospect of having to extract a living from it. After a bit of messing about, I found a niche at WH Smith in the book marketing division, and later became a director of Waterstone & Co (as it was then) and chairman of Methven’s plc – both bookselling chains. If there is a common thread through my sixty-nine years, it is books.
What Do You Do When You Are Not Writing?
I spent much time as a young man playing games, although now only golf. I like gentle gardening (no heavy digging, thank you), go regularly to the gym and am learning Italian. And, of course, reading.
Do You Have A Day Job As Well?
Absolutely not! Although I have done some English and Latin tutoring and might again if asked.
When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?
I remember at the age of about five spending my pocket money on pencils and notebooks and filling them with goodness knows what. I always had the urge to write, although it was not until I was sixty that I had the time to complete a full length novel. I have now had five novels published. Beautiful Star is my first collection of short stories.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
I have always read a lot of history and historical fiction, so it seemed natural. I like the discipline an historical context demands and the intricacies of mixing of real characters and events with imaginary.
Where do you get your ideas?
Such a difficult question. Reading mostly – footnotes are a productive source – and combining ideas from different places. For example, in The King’s Spy, my first novel, Thomas Hill, the protagonist, is a cryptographer who finds himself unwillingly in royalist Oxford in 1643. Travel, too. A visit to Malmesbury resulted in ‘The Flying Monk’ and another to Corfe in ‘The Castle’. Happily for the scribbler, there are stories everywhere.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Not yet, touch wood!
Do you work with an outline, or just write?
I always write an outline and a brief summary of all the main characters first. Quite often, however, the story refuses to stick to the outline and goes off in a different direction altogether. Then one is faced with turning back or battling on in the hope that the final destination will still be reached.
Is there any particular author or book that influence you in any way either growing up or as an adult?
As a boy, I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories (still do) and CS Forester. Horatio Hornblower is my favourite literary hero. A little later, Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene. Now all good narrative historians and historical novelists. Happily, there are many.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
I went about it in an unusual way. First, following the usual ration of rejections from agents and publishers, I self-published The King’s Codebreaker, which later became The King’s Spy. The Codebreaker fell into the hands of Emma Buckley at Transworld who liked it enough to commission three books in the series. Then, having secured a contract, I persuaded the wonderful David Headley at DHH Literary Agency, to represent me for future books. Publisher first, agent second. Bit odd, I know.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
All the stories in Beautiful Star are based on real events and real people and it is impossible, even if one wanted to, not to base some characters on people one knows. There are also times when one inevitably draws on one’s own experiences to try and get at how a character might behave in a particular situation. I don’t know why but I find this to be so particularly when writing about a journey.
What was your hardest scene to write?
Having been advised, long ago, to ‘write about what you know’, I avoid tricky things like sex. (I did try once to ‘sub-contract’ a sex scene out to the wife of a friend, but she couldn’t do it either). In ‘A Witch and a Bitch’ I had to try and get inside the head of a young girl whose grandmother is falsely accused of being a witch and is sentenced to hang. I found that difficult.
How did you come up with the title?
When researching the fishing disaster upon which the title story is based I soon discovered that Beautiful Star was the name of one of the boats involved and that she was on her maiden voyage. It seemed perfect.
What project are you working on now?
The sequel to Incendium, which was published in February 2017. It is set in 1574 and features Dr Christopher Radcliff, intelligencer to the Earl of Leicester. I would also like to write another collection of shorter stories.
What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?
I hate being told that I have got some historical fact wrong, even if I haven’t and even if it is trivial. As to compliments, modesty forbids…..
Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to write. I want my stories to be read and enjoyed and I really, really, hope that they are.
Huge thank you to Andrew for taking the time to answer my questions. I wish you all the best with Beautiful Star!
About The Author:
Andrew read a little law and a lot of sport at Cambridge University, and held various
positions in the book trade, including being a director of Waterstone & Co, and Chairman
of Methven’s plc, before turning to writing.
Inspired by a lifelong interest in early modern history, his Thomas Hill novels are set during
the English Civil Wars, and the early period of the Restoration.
Andrew’s novel, Incendium, was published in February 2017 and is the first of two thrillers
featuring Dr. Christopher Radcliff, an intelligencer for the Earl of Leicester, and is set in
1572 at the time of the massacre of the Huguenots in France.
The Dome Press will publish Beautiful Star, a collection of short stories documenting a
journey through time, bringing a new perspective to the defence of Corfe Castle, the battle of Waterloo, the siege of Toulon and, in the title story, the devastating dangers of the life of the sea in 1875.
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