Today in the Library we have Tom Williams, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into his life as an author.
Tom used to write about boring things for money. If you wanted an analysis of complaints volumes in legal services or attitudes to diversity at the BBC, then he was your man. Now he writes much more interesting books about historical characters and earns in a year about what he could make in a day back then. (This, unfortunately, is absolutely true.) He also writes a blog (http://thewhiterajah.blogspot.co.uk/) which is widely read all over the world and generates no income at all.
Besides making no money from writing, Tom makes no money out of occasionally teaching people to tango and then spends all the money he hasn’t made on going to dance in Argentina.
Please save Tom from himself and buy his books.
Did you read much as a child? Are you an avid reader now? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?
I was a near obsessive reader as a child. I would walk along the pavement reading, the way that people walk and text on their phones nowadays. When I was a young teenager I could read a book a day. I don’t read nearly as much now, which is probably all for the best.
I do enjoy historical novels and I like to read the odd serious work of literature, but the sad truth is that most of the time I’m reading trashy thrillers with the occasional rom-com thrown in for good measure.
Are you self-published or traditionally published?
I’m published by Accent, which is one of the new breed of independent publishers who still produce books like a traditional publishing house.
Which genre do you write in and why?
Historical fiction (Napoleonic wars and mid-19th century colonial). The first book I wrote was historical fiction and agents and publishers have told me to stick to one field – although I may branch out into something contemporary soon.
My son claims that I write historical fiction because I don’t have the imagination to make up plots for myself, and there is possibly some truth in this.
Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?
Given that I write about the Napoleonic wars, I can’t help but be influenced by Bernard Cornwell. There’s also a touch of George MacDonald Fraser, but his books are straightforwardly funny and mine aren’t.
Has your country of origin/culture influenced your writing?
I’m English and I write from an English perspective. An Italian friend asked why I don’t write about wars in Italy and I explained that I don’t understand Italian history or politics and it’s much easier to write about things I know.
Writing books set in the Napoleonic wars gives me lots of opportunity to be rude about the French. As an Englishman I take full advantage of these.
My wife’s family are Belgian and you might notice that in Burke at Waterloo I do acknowledge the extreme bravery of some of the Belgian troops who fought alongside the British. The Belgians at Waterloo are often dismissed as cowards in the same way that we played down the Prussian contribution. This started as a straightforwardly propagandistic exercise boosting British prestige in 1815, but the myth continues to this day.
What part of the writing process do you find most difficult? How do you overcome it?
Putting words on paper. The actual mechanics of writing are horrible. For anyone who hasn’t done it, imagine just copying out the whole of a novel. It’s no fun at all. Dictation software helps.
Do you have a favourite time of day to write?
In theory I start in the morning and write all day. In practice I fiddle about playing games on the computer, doing housework and doing things like answering these questions until late in the afternoon, and then I panic and write something.
What is the best thing about being an author? And the flipside – what is the worst?
The best thing is that I get to tell stories, which I’ve always wanted to do. Because I write historical novels I also spend a lot of time on research which is always interesting and can be amazing fun. For Burke in the Land of Silver I rode almost to the top of the Andes with snow on the ground. It was a stupid time of year to attempt the climb, but my hero did it in the snow and I wanted to know what it would be like. It was amazing.
The worst thing is having to sell books. I’m told that once upon a time writers wrote and then handed the books to publishers who did all the sordid commercial stuff. If this was ever true, it certainly isn’t now.
Is social media an essential chore or something you enjoy? Which forum do you prefer?
It’s an essential chore. I have a blog (http://thewhiterajah.blogspot.co.uk/) which I really enjoy writing and I would almost certainly carry on with this even if I were hugely successful and didn’t have to. I’d probably still put the odd post on my Facebook author page (https://www.facebook.com/AuthorTomWilliams/), but I’m pretty sure that I would abandon Twitter. I’m not really a fan of Twitter, although it generates a lot of interest in my blog, so I do keep doing it. And it gives me somewhere to show off photographs. Some people obviously like it and so might you, so don’t let me put you off. (@TomCW99).
If you weren’t an author, what would you be up to?
I’d be dancing tango in Buenos Aires. Or street skating in London. Or skiing in France.
It’s the last day and the earth is facing oblivion – what book would you read?
I’m all in favour of people doing a lot of reading, but I do worry that sometimes we fetishise books. If it’s the last day, you should be spending it with friends and family doing something you love together. It’s unlikely that this will be a reading group.
Please tell us what you are working on at the moment.
I am working on the next book about James Burke, which will be set in the Peninsular War. It’s on pause at the moment, though, because I’m preparing a talk on James Brooke of Sarawak, the hero of my first book, The White Rajah. I’ll be speaking at the Llandrindod Wells Victorian Festival on Friday (26 August). It would be lovely if you could come along.