I’m always delighted to welcome another 17th-century author to my blog – there aren’t too many of us around! Philip’s novels are a brilliant reconstruction of the English Civil War and the psychological, emotional, and physical duress this wrought on the nation. I particularly enjoy that Philip is bringing to life lesser-known people and events, and weaves these into a compelling, fast-paced, historical adventure. Thanks for visiting, Philip, and best of luck with your new release! First, a bit about your novel:
(The Hacker Chronicles, Book 2)
By Philip Yorke
Saturday, the second day of July, in the year of our Lord, 1644, will be a day long remembered by the men and women committed to ending the reign of a tyrannical King. For on this day, the forces of Charles the First were crushed on the bloody fields of Marston Moor.
The calamitous defeat forces the increasingly desperate Royalists to intensify their attempts to bring about the immediate demise of their Parliamentarian enemies. This includes devising an audacious plan to assassinate the man they believe is key to the war’s outcome.
With the plotters ready to strike, Francis Hacker, one of Parliament’s most loyal soldiers, becomes aware of the conspiracy. With little time to act, he does everything in his power to frustrate their plans. But, alas, things start to unravel when brave Hacker finds himself pitted against a ruthless and cunning mercenary, a man who will resort to anything to achieve a ‘kill’.
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Great to have you here today, Philip. Tell us a little about yourself. Does writing energize or exhaust you and how do you wind down / recharge?
It is definitely the latter! I find writing, no matter how I feel mentally or physically, is reinvigorating. I quickly get into the groove and, before I know it, I can have bashed out 1-2,000 words and lost myself in the seventeenth-century England. And when I find myself in need of rejuvenation, a cup of nice coffee helps.
As for relaxation, I like to crash out on the sofa and watch Nordic and French detective dramas (The Bridge, Spiral, etc). They are gritty (and possibly not everyone’s choice of the perfect relaxation partner), but they are well written and the acting is first rate. And I also play tennis four times a week, in a bid to retain some degree of fitness!
If you could go anywhere for a year to be inspired for your next book, what setting would you choose and what would you write?
Without a shadow of doubt, it would have to be the Highlands of Scotland and the wild country of Ireland. Both places are unspoilt and relatively undeveloped, which is as I like it.
What does literary success look like to you?
Success is something that people ask me about quite a lot, and my answer often leaves them baffled.
For me, it’s not about selling thousands of books (although Rebellion – the first book in the Hacker Chronicles – continues to do well). No, it’s about having the ability to write an authentic account of the period I am focused on and have readers understand what I am trying to convey.
I turned down the offers of three publishers because they wanted to hijack my work and turn it into something they could exploit commercially. This was a huge turn-off. I am not writing to make money (albeit I wouldn’t be unhappy if my work made untold riches). I do what I do because I love stories, and something within me is propelling me forward so I am able to write a faithful account of events that really happened, albeit I do introduce some significant embellishments.
On a personal level, receiving really positive feedback from the US-based descendants of Francis Hacker, the principal character in Redemption and Rebellion, was the best possible payback. Their comments are more valuable than anything else that has come my way while I have been on this particular journey.
To be honest, finding people who want to read this kind of work and ‘get it’ is the only form of “success” I am interested in.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I started out life as a journalist and was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on Fleet Street and enjoy a variety of roles, including that of ‘Investigations Editor’ for one national Sunday broadsheet newspaper.
Being a reporter/editor gives you access to resources and knowledge denied to most people. It also helps you ask the right kind of questions that yield the right answers. I have put this experience to good use in recent years and it has enabled me to create lots of historically rich content by tapping into the archives of places like museums, records offices, the national archives and developing important relationships with people and/or organisations that share my passion for the past.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Most certainly. Writer’s block afflicts all of us at one time, or another. I certainly found it hard to concentrate and write for periods during the preparation of the manuscript for Redemption.
The only way I was able to overcome the ‘block’ was to persevere, and not give up. Even though it was a struggle at times, I got there in the end. And when the story started to flow again (as it did), I quickly got back into the groove and was able to churn out the necessary chapters.
My only hope is that as I write the next book in the series (Regicide), the time I suffer writer’s block is significantly reduced. For this time round, I think I lost as much as three weeks.
Tell us more about your latest book, Redemption: What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
I am sure every writer would answer this question slightly differently. In my own case, staying authentic is critical – even if that means you address some of the flaws and less admirable qualities of the principal character. There needs to be integrity in what I write, therefore it must be accurate as far as the depiction of the character is concerned.
This is something that alarmed me about some of the publishers I dealt with at the beginning of my writing journey. They were less concerned about remaining faithful to the people I write about; all they seemed to want was a ‘crash, bang, wallop’ account crammed with action scenes and a dab of romance. And that certainly wasn’t something that floated my boat.
How do you select the names of your characters?
The names of my characters are largely drawn from history – they were real people living at the time of the British Civil Wars. But some are pure creations, so when I need to use my imagination, I find the names of people like Guillaume de le Croix or Abijah Swan just come to me without much thinking on my part.
It’s not very scientific, I know, but it’s the truth. I wish I could say something that had a bit more gravitas!
What was your hardest scene to write?
Without giving too much away, the most difficult scene for me to write in Redemption involved the death of one of the key characters. The person had been an integral part of the first book (Rebellion) and was playing a leading role in the sequel. I had spent a long time developing their character and had become quite attached to them, albeit they were a figment of my imagination.
So, when they died, I found the experience quite an emotional rollercoaster. My eyes welled up and I really felt a sense of loss. My hope is those feelings have been converted into words that resonate with the reader. Early indications are positive in this regard, but the fullness of time will reveal whether I have been successful, or not.
How long did it take you to research and write this book; were there any “wrong turns” along the way?
I spent just over 18 months researching and writing Redemption, with a six-month period sandwiched in-between where I was unable to do any writing due to a house move and the pandemic.
I like to spend a decent amount of time preparing strong foundations; this is when I do my research (sourcing texts, eyewitness accounts and read other books) and build my plot lines and chapter structures. These are the cornerstones of my work. Without them I would be completely lost. Once these are completed, and I am satisfied with the flow, I begin work on the novel.
My output can fluctuate, depending on my mood and schedule. Some days I generate up to 5,000 words, while on others my output can be down to as little as 1,000 words.
At all times, I am checking the text to ensure it flows and it is compelling and credible. On occasion, it doesn’t meet the standards I have set myself, so I simply delete the original text and start again. There is no point trying to “polish a turd” as Edward the First succinctly put it!
Give a shout out to a writing buddy or fellow author; how did they help you with this book?
During the last couple of years, I have got to know a wonderful lady called Catherine Pincott-Allen (and her husband, Richard), who is an author in her own right (using the pen name of Emmaline Severn). Catherine has helped me with some of the research for Redemption and by sense-checking the novel. She has been a great support and deserves a big ‘thank you’ from me for her continued kindness and selflessness.
Philip Yorke is an award-winning former Fleet Street journalist who has a special interest in history. His Hacker Chronicles series, to be told in five fast-paced historical fiction novels, tells the story of Parliamentarian soldier, Francis Hacker.
Redemption, the second book in the series, is set during the period 1644-46 (during the first English Civil War), when events take a significant turn in favour of Parliament.
Philip is married, and he and his wife have five children. He enjoys relaxing to classical music, reading the works of Nigel Tranter, Bernard Cornwell, Robyn Young and CJ Sansom, and supporting Hull City FC and Leicester Tigers RFC.
He lives in Leicestershire, England.
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