Following on from my review of Mr Collard's novel, THE LAST LEGIONNAIRE, I manage to catch up with himself to ask him a few questions about his writing and whats next for Jack Lark. Please follow this Link if you'd like to win a copy of the book and to read my review
1) I’d just like to say Hi Paul and welcome to the Review Blog. Thank you for agreeing to be our guest and answer a few questions. I’ve recently read the 5th in your Jack Lark series, and I have to say, I was very impressed by your knowledge of the era, the various armies and the battles in Europe in 1859. You must have done a lot of research. Can you tell us how long you studied the period before you started writing the series and have you had to research more as you write each book?
I thoroughly enjoy researching each of the Jack Lark novels. I generally spend a couple of months researching each novel before I start planning the plot, but to be honest, the process never really stops and I will still be researching all the way up to the time the proofs are finalised. A lot of that is fact checking, but you never know when you will come across something fascinating that can add even more flavour to the story. What is interesting is that the amount of research really does change with each book. I am always very pleased when there is a good amount of carry over between novels. For example, I had to research a lot for Jack Lark 6 which is set at the start of the American Civil War, but happily a lot of that research will support the storyline of book 7 which means I can get plotting and writing a lot quicker.
2) What was your favourite aspect of research or what was the most interesting feature of the Victorian period to investigate?
For me, it is always the first hand accounts that fascinate me the most. I am much more interested to know what it was like to be a soldier on the battlefield than I am to find out which regiment carried out which manoeuvre at what exact time, or what the generals were thinking when they flung their troops at the enemy. I try to convey that in Jack’s stories and I concentrate on his small part of the battle rather than try to convey an epic portrayal of the battle as a whole.
3) What were your earliest influences that you can remember and what books do you like to read for your own pleasure? Do you have a favourite author?
Anyone who knows me, or has read any of my books, will have an idea how much the novels by Bernard Cornwell have influenced me. For me he is the master of the craft and I can still recall the feeling of being utterly captivated when I sat down and read my first Sharpe novel when I was eleven. Sadly, I struggle to find time to read much fiction as all my free time is spent researching. I do love post-apocalyptic fiction and thoroughly enjoyed the Dust series by Hugh Howey. I do occasionally indulge in reading historical fiction, but I am careful to avoid anything written in a similar period to my own as I think that may well make me feel horribly inadequate. Right now I am both reading and collecting all the books written by Christian Cameron as I think he really is one of the very best writers working today.
4) I know that you have a full-time job. How do you manage to find the time to write and fit in family life as well?
I try to be very disciplined in finding time to write. I always use my commute to and from work as this gives me the best part of two hours a day I can dedicate to my writing. The rest I fit in when I can, using weekends and time off to get the rest of it done. So far I have found this works pretty well and I can write one to two books a year plus all the other associated work that comes with being a writer. It also helps that I love writing. I never had a great ambition to become a writer, I just thought I would give it a try and I am still amazed to have got so far. Except for a few, rare occasions (usually when I have foolishly started to catch up on a box set like Game of Thrones) I thoroughly enjoy escaping into Jack’s world. It is a treat at the start and the end of the day that I really look forward to.
5) How did you come to develop Jack’s character, did you base him on anyone in particular and how has his character changed in the years that you have been writing his story?
When I started to try to write a series, I knew I would need a character who could stand out and make a name for himself. The idea of an imposter was actually my wife’s and I love the freedom it gives me to keep moving him into new settings and new campaigns. It is this ability to set each novel in a new setting and with a new cast of characters that really is at the heart of the Jack Lark series. Writing a series also gives me a great chance to develop Jack’s character. He starts out as a very naïve, and impressionable young man who is driven to better himself and to seize an opportunity for a life that he could not hope to achieve in any other way. The experiences he endures will change this ambition greatly. Through the novels we can see how Jack hardens and the doubts he has about himself slowly disappear as he understands who he is and what he has become. My editor, Frankie Edwards, helps me a great deal with this and she offers a very different perspective when it comes to developing Jack as a character. I think this is one of the best parts of writing a series and I hope that my readers will be able to see how, and more importantly why, Jack has changed into the man he is in each of the novels.
6) Discounting Jack himself, who is, or who are your favourite characters to write and why?
I have a huge amount of fun creating Jack’s supporting cast. Apart from one or two exceptions, each character will only feature in a single novel and, although this gives me a bit of a headache as I need to keep creating new characters, it gives me a great deal of freedom to bring in all sorts of different types of character without being forced to bring along a whole ton of back-story baggage. I am currently planning and writing book 7 and I am having a blast creating this book’s cast.
7) I understand that Jack is going to be joining the American civil war is his next adventure. The American Civil War has always been a fascination for me, though I don’t know that much about it. What made you decide to send him there and what’s been the most exciting aspect of the civil war that you have found in your studies?
I always knew I wanted Jack to go to America and I thought that, with five books done, it was time to reinvigorate the series and have him arrive in Boston just as the American Civil War begins. I am hoping that featuring the ACW will broaden the appeal of the series and I was very keen to avoid it getting “stuck” in the British Empire. I didn’t really know very much about the civil war apart from having watched a few war films at some point. The research has been fascinating, especially as I set the book at the very start. The book features the First Battle of Bull Run which really is a unique battle with neither side really knowing what they were about – making it the perfect place for an experienced soldier like Jack to play an important role.I have especially enjoyed reading the first hand accounts of the soldiers who fought at the start of the war. Their voices really do echo through the years and there has been quite a few occasions when all ideas of research are forgotten as I get swept away in one man’s account of his experience of that battle.
8) How many much more of Jack’s story will you be giving us, before you decide to retire him and will we be seeing any more of his old love Mary?
I have no plans for Jack to retire! The poor fellow has a lot more adventures left in him and I think it will be a long time until I put him to rest (in one way or another). I do have the idea that the very last Jack Lark novel will have a cover image that shows Jack facing the reader for the very first time!
Mary’s return is quite possible, although I think it might be more interesting to see her son Billy feature again at some point. I really enjoyed bringing Mary back into Jack’s life in The Last Legionnaire along with Major Ballard, “the devil” and his ne’er do well enforcer, Palmer. I am not sure I’ll try that trick again, at least not for a while.
9) Have you thought about anything else you’d like to write about that doesn’t include Mr Lark? If so what era or genre would it be?
Funny you should ask that! I have written the first novel in what could be new series. It is set in WW2 and features a new lead character. My agent has seen it and wants me to re-write it. So as soon as I get time I will get that done and who knows, perhaps I can have two series running at the same. It is still very much historical fiction but the character could not be more different. Let’s see where this one goes!
Well, many thanks to you, Paul, and good luck with your writing, and I look forward to reading Jack’s adventures in America, but first I might just have to go to book one and read about his story from the beginning.
You can read my review of The Last Legionnaire here
Learn more about Paul and his upcoming projects at his Website
Purchase his books here