Today on Author Chats we enter the mysterious world of Elizabethan spies as Paul Walker takes us to 16th century London and we encounter Walsingham, Foxe and Hawkins as the hero races to uncover a plot to expose the queen.
William Constable is a scholar of mathematics, astrology and practices as a physician. He receives an unexpected summons to the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham in the middle of the night. He fears for his life when he spies the tortured body of an old friend in the palace precincts.
His meeting with Walsingham takes an unexpected turn when he is charged to assist a renowned Puritan, John Foxe, in uncovering the secrets of a mysterious cabinet containing an astrological chart and coded message. Together, these claim Elizabeth has a hidden, illegitimate child (an “unknowing maid”) who will be declared to the masses and serve as the focus for an invasion.
Constable is swept up in the chase to uncover the identity of the plotters, unaware that he is also under suspicion. He schemes to gain the confidence of the adventurer John Hawkins and a rich merchant. Pressured into taking a role as court physician to pick up unguarded comments from nobles and others, he has become a reluctant intelligencer for Walsingham.
Do the stars and cipher speak true, or is there some other malign intent in the complex web of scheming?
Constable must race to unravel the threads of political manoeuvring for power before a new-found love and perhaps his own life are forfeit.
Thanks for stopping by, Paul. Let’s talk about your writing career – inspirational, for sure. And everyone needs a good writing shed!
What does literary success look like to you?
I’ve been writing for less than five years and can remember a jumble of senses; surprise, joy and satisfaction when, out of the blue, I received an offer from a publisher. The next sensation was one of relief, when the books were well-received and had mainly positive reviews. The closest to a feeling of achievement and success I’ve had, was delight at receiving feedback from readers describing enjoyment received from reading the books and asking for more.
If you have pictures on your writing desk or desktop, what are they and why did you choose them?
I have a writing shed at the bottom of my garden; a place to seek refuge from a busy household and DIY. It’s a cozy and welcoming space with insulation, heating, an easy chair and exercise bike as well as the writing desk. On the wall by the desk, I’ve unfolded and pinned a map of Tudor London. It’s a large map, roughly 5 feet wide by 4 feet high and I referred to it constantly while writing the William Constable books set in London – State of Treason and The Queen’s Devil. But it’s also a decorative object and I’m fascinated by maps, generally. Maps have been part of the research for every book I’ve written, fueling ideas for action and plot development.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
With my first historical novel the research took twice as long as writing. I’m not a historian, so had to start by reading at least 20 second-hand hardbacks from my local bookshop on the Elizabethan period. But research doesn’t stop while I’m writing. I would guess I research every day I’m writing, to check a fact or unearth a new possibility. Of course, the Internet is a great source and who doesn’t use Wikipedia as a quick lookup from time to time. I’ve also found online academic theses, dissertations and lectures very useful and they can contain little-known but interesting nuggets of information.
The decision on when enough research has been done to start writing is a tricky one. I would always tend to start writing underprepared. Too much preparation can stifle creativity and also be used as an excuse to postpone writing.
About State of Treason:
What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
It’s difficult to give a quick and neat answer to this one. The dilemma in basic form is that sticking to historical facts too closely can make the story tiresome for the reader. On the other hand, too much fiction denies history. It’s OK to write historical fiction as long it doesn’t masquerade as history and the balance between fact and fiction is ‘acceptable’. Not getting the balance right and the writing could be regarded as unethical.
It’s a subjective assessment and personally, as a reader, I’m not precious about facts. If a good story needs to bend these a little, I’m OK with that. After all, we know that history is written by the victors. The Tudors, for example, were keen to justify their right to the crown and wouldn’t hesitate to distort ‘facts’ to that end. And in 50 years, how will historical fiction portray facts and fake news from Trump’s White House?
In the William Constable books, I haven’t strayed too far from generally accepted historical facts or understanding about the character traits of historical figures. There was enough intrigue, peril and fascination in the period without having to be reckless with history. At least, that’s my opinion, but others may have a different view.
How do you select the names of your characters?
Names are important. A good name can conjure up an image to help the reader with characterization and story. Dickens was a master in bestowing memorable and descriptive names on to his characters. Family and given names change with the period, so it’s important to check a name isn’t out of place or time. There’s also a difference in names I would give to heroes and villains due to resonance and associations. Sometimes names just pop into my head and feel right. ‘Darby Wensum’ is an odd name I gave to a character in State of Treason for no reason that I can rationalize.
Give a shout out to a writing buddy or fellow author; how did they help you with this book?
I’m a member of a couple of creative writing groups. Writing is a solitary business and I welcome interaction with other writers as a source of ideas and for mutual support. I could mention half a dozen names as those who have helped with their analysis, criticism and encouragement, but I’m sure others won’t mind if I mention two with recently-published titles. Len Maynard mybook.to/touchingthesun and Keith Stuart mybook.to/piedpiper
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/State-Treason-William-Constable-Thriller/dp/B08VNWFDPT
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/State-Treason-William-Constable-Thriller/dp/B08VPZWGR4
Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.
Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first three books in the series are State of Treason; A Necessary Killing; and The Queen’s Devil. He promises more will follow.
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