Meet the Author: R L Bartram ** Whippoorwill Extract and Author Interview**
I am delighted to welcome author R L Bartram to Books, Life and Everything to talk about his life as an author. We also have an extract from his latest book, Whippoorwill.
Hello Robert, it's great to meet you today. Would you like to start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started as a writer?
My name is Robert Bartram. I live in a comfortable house, with a large secluded garden, in Hertfordshire, where I live and write. I was first bitten by the writing bug at age 17. I began with short stories, experimenting with all sorts of styles and genres, including fantasy and science fiction.
I continued this way, on and off, for several years, with no real success. It wasn’t until I sent some of my science fiction shorts to agent Marie Griffiths. By then she was already retired and had only handled romance genres. She must have seen a spark of merit in my work because she suggested I try writing short romantic fiction for women’s magazines. After several tries, she finally accepted some of my stories, which she managed to place with various magazines. I cannot begin to describe the feeling when I saw my first story in print. I still get a buzz out of it today.
Working with Marie allowed me to hone my skills and come to terms with what a highly disciplined process writing is. Finally, I graduated to novels. I decided to stay with romance, whilst integrating it with another favorite genre of mine, history. With history, you can travel back in time, meet amazing people and be present at great events, whilst also making your characters, and yourself, a part of it. Historical facts are a great way to anchor a novel, they give it a spirit of place and a sense of authenticity.
In 2011, I published my debut novel “Dance the Moon Down.” It was an historical romance set against the First World War. As with all my books, I prefer a strong female protagonist as my main character. I found that so many novels about the First World War tended to concentrate on the men it affected. I felt it would be a new slant to depict how the women dealt with it. It was well received, gaining 35 five-star reviews, as well as being voted book of the month on “Wall to Wall Books”.
Even before “Dance the Moon Down” was published, I had already decided that my next book would be an historical romance set against the American Civil War, but more about that later.
When did you first realize you were going to be a writer?
I don’t think I ever realized it as such. It’s a bit like living and growing. It just happens, without your really noticing it. Occasionally you pause and think, so that’s the way things are now.
What are you interests apart from writing?
I’ve always been fond of history, in all its forms. I’m a great collector of antiques; well, more like bric-a-brac really. I like to haunt antiques markets and boot sales. It’s amazing what you can find sometimes. Although, it’s not the value of a thing that interests me, only the history. Another great passion of mine is Natural history. I’ve been a life long naturalist. I’m what you’d call an ‘old school’ naturalist. That means I pick it up, check it out, bones and all. I also like going to the theatre and eating out with friends.
What is your favorite childhood book?
“String lug the Fox” by Stephen David. It’s about the life of a young fox cub as it grows and discovers the world, written from the fox’s prospective. It’s an animal adventure, where he struggles to survive, meeting friends and enemies alike. One of the latter being a huge tomcat that shredded his ear in a fight over food. I must have read it a dozen times.
Where were you when you heard your first book was going to be published? How did you celebrate?
Of course, I had prior knowledge of the publication date, so it wasn’t an outright surprise. I was at home when the news came through. I opened a bottle of vintage wine and shared it with my sister, who happened to be there at the time.
Tell us about your latest book without giving the plot away.
My latest book “Whippoorwill” is also an historical romance. This time it’s set against the American Civil War.
Barely fourteen, Ceci Prejean is a tomboy running wild in the hot Louisiana summer. After breaking the nose of a local boy, her father decides to enlist the aid of Hecubah, a beautiful creole woman, with a secret past, who takes her in hand and turns her into a lady.
Now eighteen, Ceci meets and falls passionately in love with handsome young northerner, Trent Sinclaire. Trent is a cadet at the West Point military academy. They begin a torrid affair, even as the southern states begin to secede from the Union.
Only weeks before their wedding, the civil war begins. Trent is called to active service in the north, leaving Ceci heartbroken in the south.
Swearing vengeance on the Union, after the death of her family at the fall of New Orleans, Ceci meets with infamous spy master, Henry Doucet. He initiates her into the shadowy world of espionage.
After infiltrating the White House, Ceci comes face to face with Abraham Lincoln, a man she’s sworn to kill. Forming a reckless alliance with the actor John Wilkes Booth, she is drawn deeper into the plot to assassinate the President of the United States. A Confederate spy in love with a Union officer, her next decision will determine whether she lives or dies.
What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?
I prefer to write at my dining room table. I tend to write from 11pm to 3am. It’s quite then and you can hear yourself think. When I’m fully engaged on a book, I write every day, seven days a week. I always write in longhand first. Nothing goes into the computer until the final hand-written draft is finished and corrected. With “Whippoorwill” that took six months. I never write from beginning to end. I generally concentrate on the sections that interest me most at the time, until I have a pile of disembodied chapters. Then it’s a case of marrying them together.
How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?
I have a personal rule about historical accuracy. Every fact must be correct. To do less would let the book and the reader down. I rely heavily on the internet for information, but all the facts are cross checked from a second source, just to make sure. When it comes to historical Fiction, research is ninety per cent of writing the book. It was more than eighteen months before I put pen to paper.
How difficult was writing your second book- did having one published change how you went about it?
When I wrote my first book “Dance the Moon Down” It was hard work, but worthwhile, I enjoyed it. At the time, I felt I had to write within certain parameters, which, in hindsight, was somewhat restrictive. When it came to “Whippoorwill” I wrote just what I wanted. It made all the difference. I enjoyed every minute of it. Every day writing was like a holiday. When I wrote the last line of the last page, it was like losing an old friend. If I hadn’t exercised an author’s restraint the book might have ended up ten thousand pages long. Hopefully less is more.
How do you select the names of your characters? Are they based on anyone you know?
Many of the characters in “Whippoorwill” are from the deep south. It was important to make the names authentic, whilst at the same time entirely appropriate for each one. I cross referenced hundreds of typical southern names, taking a Christian name here and adding it to a surname there, until I had the combination that looked right and sounded interesting. All my characters are based in part on people I’ve known or met. They tend to be a pastiche of various individuals, all with their own little quirks and peccadillos.
Do you have any guilty pleasures which stop/ help you write?
Smoking I’m afraid. A bad habit I know, but it helps me concentrate. Also, black tea, which I drink from a pint mug. In a typical session I usually get through about eight.
I find writing exhilarating in every sense. I only feel exhausted when I stop.
Do you or have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym?
I‘ve only every used a pseudonym once, when I was writing short stories for women’s magazines. My agent advised me to use a female pseudonym because, in her words, it would cut down resistance to a male writer in a predominantly female province. Since then I’ve always used my own name. I like to get the credit for my own work.
If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?
Be patient. Just give it time and it’ll come.
Do you believe in writer’s block? What do you do to break its spell?
I don’t usually suffer from this, because I’m always writing something I like. That’s the reason why I write in random sections instead of beginning to end. On the rare occasions it does occur, I stop for the day and do something completely different to relieve the pressure, after a while the way forward usually becomes apparent.
I’ve heard it said that if you constantly suffer from writer’s block, you’re probably writing the wrong book.
Can you give any hints about any upcoming books you have planned?
Nothing at the moment. I’m still too busy promoting “Whippoorwill.” Nevertheless, Ideas are constantly coming to mind, who knows what the future holds? Whatever it is, it’s bound to be another historical romance.
Do you have any unfinished or unpublished books hidden away?
Yes, I do. I suppose every writer, who’s been writing for any length of time, does. I have thirteen, none of them, I admit, good enough to publish. Then again, no piece of writing is ever wasted. It’s all good experience. We learn by our mistakes.
Thank you for all those insights, Robert. I am thrilled that you have got an extract from Whippoorwill for us to read. Here goes...
Trent was lucky. The Confederate musket ball that was intended to kill him merely grazed his brow. He lurched violently back in his saddle. His horse reared wildly, throwing him, unconscious to the ground, directly into the path of his own cavalry advancing only yards behind him.
At the far end of the field, Sergeant Nathanial Pike and his men, engaged in the hasty formation of a skirmish line, watched helplessly as the scene unfolded. As Trent hit the ground, a Confederate soldier appeared out of the shadows. Small and slight, little more than a boy, he lunged forwards, grabbed the officer by the lapels of his coat and dragged him out of the path of the galloping horses. Throwing himself across the man’s prone body, he shielded him from the pounding hooves. The cavalry thundered past oblivious, in the half-light, to the fate of their captain.
As the danger passed, the rebel rose to his knees and appeared to search the unconscious man.
“God damn thieving rebs,” Pike snatched his pistol from its holster, his thumb wrenching back the hammer. Before he could take aim, the rebel stopped searching. He leaned forwards and, cradling the officer’s face in his hands, bent down and kissed him, full on the lips, long and hard. Pike’s pistol, arm and jaw dropped simultaneously.
Something, some noise, some movement, made the rebel look up and glance furtively around. He jumped to his feet and, with a final backwards glance at the fallen man, melted into the shadows, like a wraith.
It was some moments before Pike’s jaw snapped shut, his teeth meeting with an audible click. He rounded on his men. “Did you see what I just saw?” he demanded.
His question was answered with shrugs and scowls. Not one man there could swear he hadn’t dreamed it. Then suddenly, they heard it, far off, plaintive and eerie, the cry of a whippoorwill.
About the Author
With Historical Romance as his preferred genre, R L Bartram has continued to write for several years. Many of his short stories have appeared in various national periodicals and magazines.
His debut novel “Dance the Moon Down”, a story of love against adversity during the First World War, gained him considerable critical praise, being voted book of the month by “Wall to Wall books”
His second novel “Whippoorwill” tells of a passionate affair between a young southern woman and a northern man at the beginning of the American Civil War.
He is single and lives and works in Hertfordshire.
Good luck with your writing, Robert.