Saturday, 14 January 2017

Diana talks to... Jacqueline Reiter

Jacqueline Reiter has a PhD in late 18th century political history from the University of Cambridge. Born into a diplomatic family, she has long looked upon history as a fixed point of reference in a peripatetic life. A professional librarian, she lives in Oxford with her husband and two children.
Her exciting book about John Pitt has just been released by Pen and Sword books The Late Lord and is available from them now or is available to pre order from Amazon.
"John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham is one of the most enigmatic and overlooked figures of early nineteenth century British history. The elder brother of Pitt the Younger, he has long been consigned to history as 'the late Lord Chatham', the lazy commander-in-chief of the 1809 Walcheren expedition, whose inactivity and incompetence turned what should have been an easy victory into a disaster. Chatham's poor reputation obscures a fascinating and complex man. During a twenty-year career at the heart of government, he served in several important cabinet posts such as First Lord of the Admiralty and Master-General of the Ordnance. Yet despite his closeness to the Prime Minister and friendship with the Royal Family, political rivalries and private tragedy hampered his ascendance. Paradoxically for a man of widely admired diplomatic skills, his downfall owed as much to his personal insecurities and penchant for making enemies as it did to military failure. Using a variety of manuscript sources to tease Chatham from the records, this biography peels away the myths and places him for the first time in proper familial, political, and military context. It breathes life into a much-maligned member of one of Britain's greatest political dynasties, revealing a deeply flawed man trapped in the shadow of his illustrious relatives."

Hi Jacqueline, I am so delighted you have agreed to talk to me! and I am equally sure that you are tired of being asked the usual interview questions, so hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have come up with some unusual questions!

First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it! Gosh. Ask the hard ones first, why don’t you? All right. Could you ever see yourself writing something other than history? – Honestly? No. I’ve always written stuff, but was pretty aimless and random until history dropped on me like a ton of bricks at the age of 11. I spent three happy years reading about the English Civil Wars and Charles II until I discovered, in quick succession, the 18th century and political history. That was over twenty years ago (gah) and I frankly can’t see me moving on any time soon.

If your latest book, The Late Lord: the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (Pen & Sword History, 2017) was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role? It would have to be a documentary, unless someone decided to make a biopic รก la “The Duchess” or “The Imitation Game”. Either way, Lord C would have to be played by someone tall, thin and dark. Matthew Goode would be a pretty good fit, if he is capable of playing “anti-hero” adequately. (Eddie Redmayne has been “cast” as Chatham’s brother William Pitt the Younger in my head for a long time now.)

What made you choose this genre? I’ve always written both fiction and non-fiction in tandem: I have written four dissertations over the past fifteen years (one 70k, two 30k and one 10k), all while attempting to hammer out a novel or two. When I finally finished my novel, I submitted it to a publisher at the recommendation of a friend. The publisher told me they liked it, but didn’t publish fiction: if I was willing to turn it into a non-fiction book, however, they would consider it. I wrote up a proposal, they liked that too, and the rest is – quite literally – history.

I often say I don’t think there’s much difference between good historical fiction and good historical non-fiction, apart from the referencing. Both should be built on the same sources, both should tell an interesting story, and both should be relevant and instructive. Both require leaps of faith and calculated guesses: the non-fiction may, however, use “perhaps” a little more often.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters? I read until something or someone grabs me by the lapels and shouts at me to write. I can’t really explain what it is that attracts me. I have to have that “zing” or it simply won’t work.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind? I’m quite happy to stick in the history non-fiction genre, and I have a list of subjects I’d like to work on as long as my arm. A return to historical fiction would be an obvious one here. Perhaps a timeslip novel: as someone with a foot in both present and past, I do feel an affinity with those.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously? I already kind of answered this. Writing very definitely chose me. I can still remember covering reams of paper as a child and stapling them together into booklets. I wrote my first novel when I was 11. It was really, really, really bad. I tried to get a historical novel about Charles I published when I was 14, also pretty bad, although much better than the one I wrote when I was 11. My second attempt to get published was at the age of 18. I’ve finally got there at the age of 37.

Marmite? Love it or hate it? I’m indifferent. Wouldn’t choose it, but if offered a slice of bread with marmite on, I will happily eat it.

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...?? I have small children, so have learned to write wherever/whenever. I get up at 5, make myself a great deal of coffee, drink it, and write as much as I can till 7 or the kids get up (whichever comes first). On writing days I then return to writing at 9:30. I’ve learned not to listen when my muse tells me he’s not in the mood: I kick him in the shins and usually he then behaves. It can be a drag, but hey, I wrote a book like this, so it works. I have no rituals as such, but, when I’m editing, I mark up my MS in pink pen. That’s the only real ritual I have.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters? I won’t lie – it’s always a wrench to tear myself away from the writing after I’ve spent so long immersed in another world. But if the house were burning down, I’d save the kids before my laptop. Probably.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job? Historical interpretation/living history. I’ve done it before and it’s so much fun.

Coffee or tea? Red or white? Both coffee and tea, although not simultaneously. By red or white, I presume you mean wine? I don’t drink, alas.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way? With “The Late Lord”, I had to write up a synopsis and a set of chapter headings for my proposal. That was pretty much the only plan I had. I did sketch out each chapter before writing it though.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose? Something with serifs.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be? OH MY GOD. You can’t ask a historian this question. It’s cruel. If I must answer, then let it be Lord Chatham’s correspondence with his wife. I know it existed once.

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!? Not exactly, but I’ve often found Lord C saying and doing things he really shouldn’t be, according to the accepted historical record. Some of it I didn’t like much. Hey ho, the sources don’t lie (… or do they?).

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips? Research isn’t quantifiable, but as my biography is the first ever written of Lord Chatham, we’ll go with “I had to do quite a lot”. Research trips are the best thing about historical research. This particular project took me to archives all over the UK, including London, Belfast and Edinburgh. I spent a week in Gibraltar (take me back!), and cycled twice with my husband to Holland to visit relevant historical sites.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters? Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have totally succumbed to “biographer’s Stockholm syndrome”. (I hope I’ve been balanced in my writing though!) I refer to Lord Chatham as “John” or “my boy” and have stopped worrying about it now. When he was four, my son announced, quite seriously, “John lives in our house. He’s Mummy’s friend and he’s dead.” Am hoping he never told his teacher about this interesting domestic arrangement.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure? Anything historical, really, either fiction or non-fiction.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book? Lord Chatham would recommend claret or sweet sherry. I wrote it fuelled by coffee, so that might give you a better flavour.

Last but not least... favourite author? Sharon Penman, Lindsey Davis or Terry Pratchett.

 Jacqueline, I have really enjoyed this. Thank you !!

© Diana Milne January 2017 © (Jacqueline Reiter, 2017)









  1. Great interview! Really enjoyed reading this.

  2. Me too Louise, a fabulous interview. I was lucky enough to have met Jaqueline at this years HNS conference and it was a pleasure to chat with her. Thank you to both if you for this interview