1 October 2012

Please welcome; Tim Vicary

My guest this month is Tim Vicary, an author and a teaching Fellow at the University of York. I met Tim through our mutual friend Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics, who designed all the wonderful covers for my books, and for Tim’s too.

What sort of books do you write, Tim?
I’ve written a variety of books. I currently have four historical novels and three legal thrillers published as e-books, and I’ve also written about twenty graded readers for foreign learners of English, which are published by OUP, as well as three textbooks and a couple of children’s novels.

What are your historical novels about? 
Two of them –The Blood Upon the Rose and Cat and Mouse – are set in the period immediately before and after the First World World War; the same sort of period as the TV series Downton Abbey. A third, The Monmouth Summer, is set during a rebellion in the West Country in 1685, when Charles II’s illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth, tried to take the throne from his uncle, James II. And the fourth one, Nobody’s Slave, follows the adventures of two young boys – one English, one African – who are caught up in Sir John Hawkins’ slave-trading voyage in 1568. 

Why did you choose those subjects?
The first two came out of my interest in Irish history, which I used to teach. The more I read about it, the more fascinated I became; it was a subject that was completely ignored when I learned history at school. The Blood Upon the Rose is about a British attempt to assassinate the IRA leader Michael Collins, and it’s also a tragic romance between a wealthy young Anglo-Irish heiress, Catherine O’Connell-Gort, and a young Irishman of much lower social class. I wrote a rather cheeky blog recently about my Catherine and Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey, who elopes to Dublin with the Irish chauffeur. The two young ladies would have a lot to talk about if they were ever to meet!
Cat and Mouse is also partly about Ireland; it’s set just before the war in 1914, when it seemed that there might actually be a civil war in Ulster, fomented in part by Germany. The main story is about suffragettes, and begins with the true incident of a suffragette slashing the beautiful painting The Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery (An incident which also featured briefly in Tom Stoppard’s  recent TV adaptation of Parade’s End)

So both of these novels are about the early years of women’s emancipation: Catherine in The Blood Upon the Rose is one of the first women in her generation training to be a doctor, and the two suffragette sisters in Cat and Mouse are fighting against what they see as male oppression and hypocrisy.

My two other historical novels – The Monmouth Summer and Nobody’s Slave – are about incidents in the history of the West Country, where I spent much of my childhood. I’ve written quite long blog posts to explain why I wrote each of those, which you can find here.

You are working as an independent author now, and publishing these novels as e-books. Why is that?

Well, my story is a little bit like yours, I think, Helen. When my first two historical novels were published by Simon & Shuster, I thought Yippee! I’ve made it! But then my editor was sacked, the books went out of print, and I got discouraged. I wrote a couple of textbooks and was approached by Oxford University Press to write short books - some fact, some fiction - for foreign learners of English. 
Working for OUP was wonderful – quite different from the cut-throat world of trade publishing. The books were thoroughly edited, carefully produced, sold all over the world, and stayed in print for years – what more could you want? 

So then I had a teaching job at the university, a family to bring up, and I thought, maybe that’s enough. But I still wanted to write fiction so a few years ago I tried again, and signed a contract with a different publisher for a two-book deal to write legal thrillers under the pseudonym Megan Stark. The first one, A Game of Proof, was published, and I eagerly wrote the second, which was accepted too. Then, when I was halfway through the third, blow me! It all happened again! The publisher went back on the deal and refused to publish the second book. So I was left with a 3-book series and no publisher!

So that was that, I thought. Life is tough, get used to it. Then along came Amazon, the Big Friendly Giant. You don’t need an agent and a publisher, I discovered, you can do it all yourself. I found Cathy Helms at Avalon Graphics, who designs much better covers than any of those the publishers had made, and here I am – working very hard, in charge of my own publicity, and selling, I am glad to say, more books online than the publishers ever managed. The second book, A Fatal Verdict (the one the publishers refused to publish) won a B.R.A.G. Medallion 2012.
So hey for the revolution, I say! 

As an author, what do you think makes a good story?
Real characters in believable situations. I think that’s what makes historical fiction so interesting. If you enjoy the research you find really extraordinary, interesting situations which it would be hard to dream up, but which actually happened. For instance the extraordinary actions of the suffragettes, and the way they were tortured – there’s no other word for it – as a result of those protests. So then the challenge is to put your characters in those situations, and try to imagine how they would feel, and what would motivate them to do these extraordinary things.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I still have a teaching job at the university, which is quite enjoyable.  I try to keep fit, by swimming, cycling and riding my horse (less than I used to, I’m embarrassed to say) I live in the country, with my wife and two very energetic dogs, who demand hours of exercise every day. My children are grown up now, but we have pre-school age grandchildren, whose visits are delightful and totally exhausting. After they’ve gone, I sleep!

Tim's Dinner Guests

Well, I see you have one big table set for ten, but my dining table is smaller than that, so if you’ll permit me I’d like to have four smaller dinner parties.

The first would be quite explosive. Just two guests: Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I. 
Wow! The ultimate catfight, the meeting that never took place.
Mary repeatedly requested it, Elizabeth always refused. 

Mary was suspected of murdering her husband, Darnley, and of plotting to murder Elizabeth too. 
Each queen was certain she was anointed by God, and that hers was the only true religion. Imagine the tension! I won’t dare say a word!

For the second I’d have Margaret Thatcher, with Emmeline Pankurst and her second daughter Sylvia. I think Emmeline and Maggie might get along quite well; after all the first female Prime Minister is the ultimate victory of the suffragettes. And Emmeline was quite conservative. 

But Sylvia was a socialist, and that was less to Maggie’s taste.

The third would be King Charles II, his brother James, and Charles’s illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth. This would be fascinating, I think, because Charles had no legitimate children, so his stubborn, awkward brother James was his heir. 

Monmouth claimed there was a secret letter which proved that his mother Lucy Waters was Charles’s first wife – so he should be Charles’s heir, not his uncle James! I’ll quiz them like Jeremy Paxman over the prawn cocktails!

The fourth dinner party would, I think, be the most delightful. I would invite my heroine, Catherine O’Connell-Gort, to meet her contemporary, Lady Sybil, from Downton Abbey. They are both beautiful young women with strong opinions – rather like my daughters, really - but with even better manners, since they have been brought up in polite society. 

And since they are both fictional characters, I should be able to control the conversation!  

You can read more about Tim’s books 
on his website
on his historical novel Blog
And on his legal thriller Blog

Tim's Books on