It is a historical novel set in Liverpool during the American Civil War and is based on real events that happened in the city – and could have radically altered the course of the conflict.
The novel was named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 10 Best Historical Indie Novels of 2015 and been positively endorsed by Professor James M McPherson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom.
I am journalist who has spent 30 years reporting on major events and interviewing front-line British politicians and business leaders.
In addition to Liberty Bazaar, I have co-written High Seas to Home, a non-fiction book about the Battle of the Atlantic. I live with my family in Greater Manchester, England.
What inspires you to write?
Without creative writing I might well be dead. I began doing it on medical advice, as part of a successful strategy to overcome alcoholism. The introduction to the movie Trainspotting is spot on: fuelling a chemical dependency is serious hard work. When you stop doing it, there’s an enormous void in your life and the doctors told me it was vital to find a replacement activity if I wanted to stay sober – and alive.
Almost 25 years later, it’s still working – but there have been major complications. Three years after I had my last drink I developed oral cancer in 1992, probably as a result of spending my twenties in a haze of drinking and smoking. Major surgery and radiotherapy cured the cancer – and did nothing to dent my resolve to carry on writing. As if that wasn’t enough, twenty years later – in 2012 – I developed another oral cancer, this time caused by the radiotherapy I’d had for the first one. This was a devastating blow after all those years living a healthy lifestyle. Nonetheless, the cancer was successfully removed and my prognosis is encouraging. Again, creative writing proved a crucial therapy. Not only did writing a novel demand time and focus that would otherwise have been wasted on worrying, but it also gave me a long term goal to aim for.
So in a very real sense, I owe a great deal to writing fiction.
Tell us about your writing process.
I am a control freak, which makes me an outliner or member of the ‘organised school of writing’, rather than the seat-of-your-pants or ‘organic school’. I do a lot of research and work out a fairly detailed chapter-by-chapter plot outline as a Word doc before I start writing. Producing the outline is a chore, but also a great route map. I rarely stick to the detail and sometimes discard big chunks of plot. Some relatively minor characters can evolve into major players, while others are left out altogether.
Having said that, knowing the general direction of the narrative is essential because, although I often end up on side-streets, I can always return to the main road.
I write, edit and polish one chapter at a time, rather than producing a first draft of the novel and reworking it – though I still sometimes have to go back and make significant structural changes to a completed manuscript. Sometimes I write chapters in numeric order, and at others I’ll do a strand of narrative that’s out of sequence and involves many chapters, for example from the point of view of one character.
But there’s no right or wrong way of writing a novel – it’s whatever works for you.
For Fiction Writers: Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I imagine how they would respond or heave in certain situations. Often they take on a life of their own in the writing process. At other times, they remain inaccessible. When this happens I pretend to be that character and write a memo requesting information about themselves (such as what do I want most? What to I fear most?). When I reply to the questions in this notional memo, the character becomes much more fleshed out and tangible.
Who are your favorite authors?
Authors whose books I most enjoy are: George Orwell, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Harris, John le Carre, Mary Stewart, Barbara Vine, James Ellroy, Lee Child, Tom Wolfe, Cormac McCarthy, David Mitchell and William Boyd.
How did you decide how to publish your books?
A London agent made a valiant attempt to sell my book to the big publishers but they weren’t interested. So I approached some independent publishers and was offered a book deal very quickly by Aurora Metro. The advance was modest, but my editor was great and allowed me a lot of control over the cover design and marketing.
What do you think about the future of book publishing?
It has never been more fluid. Big publishers are risk-averse and self-publishing has quality control issues. Some self-published novels blow you away, while others have stunning artwork on the cover, but are poorly edited (or even worse, not edited) and badly written. Small publishers can compete on quality, but don’t have the deep pockets for marketing that the corporates enjoy. Sadly, marketing is (almost) everything when it comes to generating sales.
What genres do you write?
Historical fiction, political thriller, crime thriller, romance.
What formats are your books in?