To coincide with the release of his second novel The Maharajah’s General (20th November) I am delighted to present an interview with Paul Fraser Collard.
First off let me congratulate you on the success of The Scarlet Thief and the release of The Maharajah’s General, I have to say I have loved both so first off I want to ask……
How did you find writing the dreaded 2nd book?
To be honest, I found it relatively straightforward. I know second books are supposed to be angst-ridden affairs but I must say I thoroughly enjoyed creating a new adventure for Jack. I had the story in mind from the very start and so I was able to plough straight on as soon as I finished THE SCARLET THIEF. For me, writing is a great escape, and one that I enjoy immensely. It doesn’t feel at all like work and so I find I can charge along pretty nicely.
When did you know you wanted to write a novel?
It happened on the spur of the moment after a particularly difficult day at work. I had my laptop with me and I so I simply started to see if I could write something. That first attempt grew and I started writing and researching on my daily commute to and from work. I found I thoroughly enjoyed it and blasted way, letting my first novel grow in a very organic way. Needless to say this attempt never went anywhere (perhaps I will revisit it one day!) but I had caught the writing bug. I resolved to try again but this time I wanted to do it properly. So I started researching and planning a second novel and it is this attempt that became THE SCARLET THIEF.
Where did the idea of Jack Lark come from?
I decided early on that my second attempt at a novel had to have a strong character at its heart. So I set out to think of a new hero who would be his own man and not a carbon copy of an existing character. The idea for Jack was initially my wife’s and it gathered pace when I rediscovered a book that went alongside a BBC television series that was broadcast in the 1980’s called THE MONOCLED MUTINEER. The series followed the life and criminal career of a young lad called Percy Toplis. Toplis was a true rogue and he spent a great deal of his time impersonating British army officers. If an uneducated, northern, working-class lad like Toplis could carry it off, then surely I could find a character that could so the same and so the idea of Jack was born.
You have an interesting writing day, could you describe it for us?
I work full-time in London so I have to fit my writing around that. Luckily I have a long commute to work and so I have two hours a day, every day, when I am free to do whatever I want. I now use this as my main writing time. It is not always easy and finding a seat can be a tricky, especially on the way home, but I can generally find somewhere to perch my laptop, even if it is just in the luggage rack. I then stick my headphones into my ears and get on with it, writing furiously until I have to get off.
Do you have a plan for where the series will lead?
In a word, YES! I knew that I wanted each story to be set in a new environment and against a new campaign or battle. I picked the mid-nineteenth century, as there is so much going on all over the world. This gives me, and Jack, a wealth of possible places to visit and battles to fight.
I have Jack’s third and fourth adventure planned (and mainly written) and I know where I would like to set number 5 and number 6! I even have plans for Jack that will stretch far into his future and I am confident I can write as many books as I am asked to do
What made you want to write about the British Army in the 19th Century?
I have been fascinated with history for as long as I can remember. As a small boy in the seventies I grew up with comics like Warlord and Commando, which were full of stories about military history and with WWII in particular. Then, as I grew older, I discovered Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels and the simply wonderful Flashman, series by George McDonald Fraser. These fueled my desire to learn more about the years when our soldiers fought all over the world in their famous red coats. This fascination has never gone away and so, when I came to try to write a novel, it was the first period that came to my mind.
How much of the novel is real and how much is from your imagination?
As a writer of historical fiction most of what I write has to be based on real events. I thoroughly enjoy the research and I try incredibly hard to get as many of the details of the period correct. The first novel in the Jack Lark series, THE SCARLET THIEF, is set against the Battle of the Alma and so I am basing the entire story around real events. The sequel, THE MAHARAJAH’S GENERAL is set in a fictitious Maharajah’s kingdom but I have still based the story around what was happening in India at that time.
I always try to remember that I am, first and foremost, a storyteller. I will never be able to match the great historians and, to be honest, I wouldn’t want to. What I do want to do is to write pacy and thrilling novels that capture a reader and lead them on a whirlwind adventure from the first page to the last. If I succeed in doing that then I think I am doing my job
and how much research do you do for each book?
More than I ever thought I could! There is an element of anxiety in writing historical fiction. When you set a story in the past then there is an almost never-ending procession of experts who will look at your novels and be able to spot any errors that you have made. So I have to get as many details right as I possibly can. Quite often I find myself researching for hours just to have a single word correct in my novel or a simple detail confirmed.
Research can be surprisingly hard. Some events, like the Crimean war, are relatively straightforward as there is a wealth of material available. Other campaigns are somewhat harder. I have set book three against a lesser-known battle and, without mainstream texts available, I have had to find more primary sources than usual to find the details of the campaign.
What kind of novels do you read to relax?
I read anything and everything. By necessity I spend a lot of time reading non-fiction as part of my research but I do really enjoy good legal thrillers and in particular the books by John Grisham and Mark Gimenez. Of course I read a lot of historical fiction. Most recently I have discovered the work of Christian Cameron who I think is one of the very best writers of historical fiction working at the moment. I will admit that I find it hard to read other work set in similar periods to my own. When I do, I cannot help but make comparisons to my own work (usually unfavorable ones) and that does not make for a relaxing read!
This there any other historical period you would like to set
Oh yes. I can think of many. I have already started work on a new series set in WWII. This period fascinates me but it is a daunting one to tackle. There is so much information available that it can seem overwhelming and of course, for a great many people, it is a period still in their memory, or at least, one to which they feel strongly connected.
But I have the idea and the characters are now in my head, and so I simply cannot resist giving it a go. Who knows where it will end up but it has been really refreshing to try something new. Like everything in writing, you never know what will happen if you don’t give it a go, so, just like I did when I sat down to write that first novel a few years ago, I will get on with writing the best story I possible can.
Review of The Scarlett Thief is here.
Review of The Maharajah’s General is here.
More on Paul and his books here