I’ve been lucky enough to have been to take part in a Book Blog tour for Andrew Swanston’s new book, Beautiful Star.
Beautiful Star is a series of short stories bringing the history we know about to life, in a way that we might not know about. Andrew very kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about the book and the life of a writer in general.
1) The Beautiful Star isn’t a straightforward novel, in the fact that it is seven stories in one book. Where did the idea come from?
In the little church of the Fife village of St Monans there hangs a cutting from The Times of November 1875. It is a letter from Sir Robert Anstruther describing the disaster that had recently struck the village and appealing for donations to a fund for the stricken families. Much taken by the story, I researched it further. The result is Beautiful Star.
I found that I enjoyed the challenges of writing shorter stories and there followed, over the course of a few years, others which I stumbled upon – Eilmer, the Flying Monk on a visit to Malmesbury, The Castle on a visit to Corfe, for example – and wrote them while working on my Thomas Hill novels and their successors. Put together, they make up Beautiful Star and Other Stories.
2) What made you select the periods of history selected in the book?
They selected me in the sense that these are the stories I discovered and found interesting. They range in time from the years 1010 to 1875. They are connected otherwise only by being little-known historical footnotes, some to larger events of great significance, others not. The Tree is something of an exception, being a whimsical slant to a very well known story
3) In the book you give a voice to those people not normally heard in the history books, was this deliberate?
What most interests me is how events great and small affect ordinary people. Social rather than political or military history, if you like. What did Londoners think, for example, when they heard horrifying stories of Huguenots being massacred on the streets of Paris? Years after the notion of witchcraft had been largely consigned to the dustbin of history, how come an old woman could be tried for the crime in an English court and sentenced to hang for it. How did the news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba reach London and how was it received? Those are the sort of questions that I enjoy thinking and writing about.
4) How difficult was it to research seven different periods of history.
Not difficult. I love researching stories and digging into periods unfamiliar to me ( I knew next to nothing about pre-Norman England, for example) was an added bonus.
5) During the process of writing the stories, did any of them make you want to write a longer story?
I think they are all best told as shorter stories, being based on particular incidents.
6) Can you describe a ‘typical’ day writing?
Not really. I have no particular routine and just write when I want to. I do find that the pre-drinks hours of 3pm to 6pm are the most productive!
7) If you could give one piece of advice for aspiring authors what would it be?
When I was 13, my headmaster asked me, as headmasters do, what I wanted to do when I had to fend for myself in the world. I told him, truthfully, that I wanted to write. It took nearly fifty years, but eventually I became an author. So my advice to others is to never give up, even if you have to keep at it for half a century.
8) Which authors/writers inspired you to start writing?
As a boy I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories and still do. Horatio Hornblower is my no. 1 literary hero. So Conan Doyle and CS Forester must take the blame!
9) What kind of novels do you read to relax?
Oddly perhaps, I prefer to relax with non-fiction and have a hard core of‘must-read’ authors, including: Jared Diamond, Ben Macintyre, Michael Lewis, John Gribbin, Tom Holland and Anthony Beevor. All brilliant in their own way
10) What is up next from you?
I am writing the sequel to Incendium, a Tudor thriller set in 1572, which was published last February. I would like also to write another collection of shorter stories.
Andrew read a little law and a lot of sport at Cambridge University, and held various
positions in the book trade, including being a director of Waterstone & Co, and Chairman
of Methven’s plc, before turning to writing.
Inspired by a lifelong interest in early modern history, his Thomas Hill novels are set during the English Civil Wars, and the early period of the Restoration.
Andrew’s novel, Incendium, was published in February 2017 and is the first of two thrillers featuring Dr. Christopher Radcliff, an intelligencer for the Earl of Leicester, and is set in 1572 at the time of the massacre of the Huguenots in France.
The Dome Press will publish Beautiful Star, a collection of short stories documenting a
journey through time, bringing a new perspective to the defence of Corfe Castle, the battleof Waterloo, the siege of Toulon and, in the title story, the devastating dangers of the life of the sea in 1875.