I’m pleased to welcome Irish author David Lawlor to my blog today. For anyone with an interest in historical fiction, WWI, and action/adventure stories, this will be a treat. Lawlor’s just-released novel THE GOLDEN GRAVE continues the story of Liam Mannion, an Irishman who fought valiantly in WWI but now is trying to outrun his past. Mannion finds himself back in France with his war buddies reviving the horrors of trench warfare as they pursue a treasure buried during the war.
Though THE GOLDEN GRAVE can be read as a stand-alone story, you’ll be missing a bet if you don’t go back and pick up TAN, too.
What’s the most interesting thing to you about writing historical fiction?
I’m intrigued by those times when people were really tested and wonder how I would have fared. Questions like that inspire my writing and my delving into the past. With my first book, TAN, I delved into the world of the frontline soldier and also into the textile industry of Manchester. These things intrigued me.
What kinds of research did you do to ground yourself in the WWI era?
Some of the technical research was tedious. I nearly went mad trying to understand and describe the workings of a textile mill, but I felt it was worth it to give a sense of what my main character, Liam, was going through.
With TAN’s sequel, THE GOLDEN GRAVE, I found the research easier. I had already got a feel for the times – the clothes, the songs, etc., in the first book. I studied photographs and more accounts of trench life. I also researched tunneling techniques and bunker making.
One thing that drove me nuts was trying to figure out how long it would take to pump a water-filled bunker clear using 1920s equipment. Eventually, I contacted the Imperial War Museum and they gave me an approximate answer. It was little questions like those that held me up, not the bigger ones like how the battlefield looked. The other useful tool I had was a documentary about a WWI bunker. It was this documentary that inspired the story.
The research you did really made the time, place and experiences in your books incredibly real. In TAN, you wrote about the burning of Balbriggan, an historical fact. Where does fact end and fiction begin with your writing?
This historic event is the skeleton upon which I interweave my story. For TAN, I studied photos of Balbriggan and walked its streets, talking to locals. One of their anecdotes about the Tans actually made it into the book. The rest of TAN was fairly loose. Sometimes you can get too caught up in the historic detail to the detriment of the story.
You’ve struck the right balance between historical accuracy and characters with a good story, David. How do you go about creating your characters? Are they based on people you know? Is Liam autobiographical?
I suppose I would like to think there is some of me in Liam. The femme fatale, Sabine, was based on a woman I know, (the less said about that the better 😉 ) Ben Sweetman came easily – he’s a gentle giant, like the Death Row character in The Green Mile.
I’m impressed with your portrayal of female characters. What informed how you write about women – in general – and with regard to the war?
I approach female characters the same way as male ones. I wonder how I’d react in their situations. Sabine had to be clever and manipulative to survive and successfully run a bar catering to aggressive, battle-scarred soldiers, so I tried to show that side of her. Equally, I felt Kate, from TAN, was bound to be smart and feisty, given that her father was a successful businessman and she was living through the whole suffragette movement. Women had played an important part during the 1916 Easter Rising. I felt it was natural that their role would have impacted on Kate.
The women are right in the action, that’s for sure. Pacing is a strength in your writing. The story grabs readers and doesn’t let go. What advice do you have for writers (like me) who’d like to improve pacing?
I don’t think I can give much advice to anyone, but I try to see the story as you would a film. I leave little cliff-hangers at the end of sections and I like to flip between scenes quite quickly. I think that can be used to inject pace or to slow things down when events get too frenetic.
When you have a story idea, how do you go about building the story?
I build a clear plot before writing but leave enough room for the characters to take me on tangents. In a new book I’m working on I have one character whose basic role is clear but who I know will be intriguing; how exactly that will be revealed, I’m unsure.
If you’d like more info about David’s take on history, he celebrates the bit players of history on his blog: History With A Twist http://historywithatwist.wordpress.com/
And here are more ways to find him and his books.
Tan (US site) http://goo.gl/HMUKS
Tan (UK site) http://goo.gl/nK1li
The Golden Grave (US site) http://goo.gl/MwZtJ
The Golden Grave (UK site) http://goo.gl/XcMuv