My blog runneth over this month. I’m so pleased to be able to add a bonus interview with historical novelist, Bill Aitken.
Thanks for joining me, Bill. Tell us, what are you currently working on?
At the present moment, I am working on the sequel to my first novel – Blackest of Lies. Again, it is set in the middle of the First World War and follows the progress of my two main characters – Hubert and Banfield – as they deal with German espionage, this time in the US. The book is called Sweet Sorrow and explores an outrage largely unknown outside the US – the Black Tom explosion in New York harbour. At that time, the German Embassy was supporting a large number of undercover agents intent on disrupting America’s support for the Allies, despite her neutrality. Without the explosives and horses bought from the US, the Allies would have found it very difficult to prosecute an effective war. The Germans, on the other hand, had no such help and it caused them a great deal of trouble. They felt, therefore, that they more they could interfere in the “special relationship”, the better. One of the results was the explosion at Black Tom in July 1916 which, thankfully, caused few deaths.
How interesting. How much research do you need to do for a project like that?
A frightening amount – too much, really – but not because the book demands it. Simply because I am sucked in to the period and just have to know more about this person or that event. If I can infect my readers with the same passion, I count myself successful. These days, of course, it is relatively easy because of the internet but when I took the first steps in planning my first novel, it was back in the early 90’s and most things were paper-based. Much tougher.
I can imagine. What drew you to this genre?
I’ve always been a fan of historical fiction, especially the slightly off-the-wall variety and I have tried to replicate this in the two books. I’m not really looking for the sort of history you can find in any text book but rather the strange, out-of-the-way stories which involve real individuals doing their part to affect the broader, historical canvas. You can empathise with that sort of storyline better, I feel.
When did you decide to become a writer?
Since the early 80s, really. I wrote military histories and then went on to produce a dozen, or so, textbooks on IT-related subjects. Blackest was my first foray into fiction and it was traumatic, to say the least. I discovered that it was a whole new craft, meaning that much of my experience writing straight history and IT stuff was of little use. But it was such fun coming to grips with the genre that I don’t regret it in the least.
Do you write full- or part-time?
Part-time. I live and work in the Middle East, designing competency systems for the oil and gas industry so I’m pretty busy most of the time. Weekends and the odd evening are about it.
Where do your ideas come from?
They come from my historical research really. I’ll see something interesting which may not be directly related to the plot in hand but I’ll note it down for a future storyline.
Do you work with an outline or do you prefer to see where an idea takes you?
A bit of both, really. I’ll start with the idea but then the rigour of developing an outline helps me explore it further. I also use mind-mapping a good deal.
How long would you say it take you to write a book?
That depends on the type of book. Straight history and historical fiction depend a great deal on the availability of source material. On the other hand, IT books are already in my head and only require the occasional glance at reference manuals.
Any tips on what to do or not do for aspiring writers?
Keep going. A little bit most days will see you complete a novel inside a year. But then the real work begins – editing it. Have a circle of trusted friends who will look at early versions of your manuscript. Encourage them to be open and honest. Take their feedback in the spirit it is intended – constructive criticism. It worked for me – I re-wrote the early parts of Blackest several times as the result of that sort of help.
Do you have time for hobbies or other interests?
I paint in watercolours and write a large amount of code – some for fun and some to help me at work.
Thanks again for taking the time to chat with me, Bill. Best of luck with your upcoming projects.
Blackest of Lies is available at Amazon.
Sweet Sorrow will be available December 2016.