Morning all! Today on Meet the Author we’re talking to Tom Williams about the question he’d love to ask Hitler, tango & street skating and his series based on real-life spy James Burke……
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I’ve always wanted to write fiction. After a lifetime of writing marketing reports and business books I’ve retired to write the things that I want to write. When I’m not writing I travel to places that I think would be interesting to write about, and I street skate, and tango, sometimes all on the same holiday – sorry, I meant ‘research trip’.
What inspired you to start writing?
I won a writing competition when I was 11. I can’t remember my motivation that far back, but whatever it was it was carried on for several decades since.
How many books have you written and published?
Six fiction, one non-fiction (now out of print) and a lot of boring things that don’t have my name on the cover.
Which book, out of all the books you have written, is your favourite and why?
My favourite is Cawnpore (mybook.to/Cawnpore). It looks at the colonial experience in 19thcentury India and sees both the good and the bad things about it. It’s set in the middle of the Indian Mutiny and tries not to take sides. Both the British and the Indians behaved terribly. The book makes a lot of people cry, so I must be doing something right.
How do you choose the names of your characters?
A lot of them are real people, so that makes life a bit easier. I have a lot of Spanish characters and their names are almost always taken from the names of tango dancers (the given name of one and the family name of another). One character was named for a relative of my editor at the time as a reward for putting up with me.
Which of your characters would you want to be stranded on an island with, and why?
Burke and the Bedouin features a woman called Bernadita. She’s a brilliant rider, speaks two languages fluently, can handle herself in a fight, knows how to sail a small boat, and is very beautiful.
Who is your favourite author and which of their books is your favourite, and why?
I struggle with the idea of a favourite author. It depends on the mood I’m in and the sort of book I’m looking to read. I do like thrillers and I was enjoying Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books before he was quite so well known, so it could be him. There isn’t a lot to choose between the books but if I had to pick one, I guess it would be A Wanted Man. When it comes to historical novels there are so many to choose from, including some by less well-known authors like Deborah Swift and Jennifer Macaire. I’d recommend both of them. Start with Pleasing Mr Pepys by Deborah Swift and the first of Macaire’s series about Alexander the Great, The Road to Alexander.
What is the first thing you can remember writing?
The story that won the competition when I was 11, but I can’t remember anything about it.
What other jobs have you done other than being an author?
Mainly market and commercial research. Most of it’s quite dull, but some has been really interesting and exciting. The trouble is that the really interesting and exciting ones, I’m not allowed to talk about.
Nowadays I do a little bit of tango teaching, which hardly qualifies as a job but gives me a lot of satisfaction.
If you could get in a time machine and had one chance to travel, where would you go? (Backwards or forwards!)
Backwards, definitely. Probably to mid-19thcentury London, which I have written about (in Back Home). It was a terribly exciting time – the transition between the end of the long 18th-century and an England that I would definitely recognise as the beginnings of the country I grew up in.
If you could have one conversation with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
They say you should never meet your heroes and I think they’re right. And there’s not much point in meeting the villains, because they are unlikely to tell you the truth about historical events. Otherwise I’d like to ask Hitler why he didn’t invade England – there are so many theories and it would be fascinating to know which one was correct. So, given all that, I’d like to talk to my father. He was quite old – he fought in the First World War – and died when I was 21. Of course, when I was young I didn’t really pay attention to his stories, but he had some amazing ones and he was also a really nice guy. It would be nice to catch up.
What are your favourite things to do?
Dancing tango and street skating – not at the same time!
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?
I went with my wife to a show in Buenos Aires which took place in a bar quite a long way from the centre. The cast played characters in the bar and there were quite a lot of them. It gradually dawned on us that we were the only people in the audience: everyone else in the bar was a character in the play. It was an utterly surreal evening.
If you could give your younger writing self any advice what would it be?
Don’t start writing until they invent the word processor.
Name one book you think everyone should read?!
Nothing destroys people’s pleasure in a book like being told they have to read it, so I would avoid naming one unless I secretly hated it.
And finally, tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it?
I’m working on new books for the series based on the real-life spy James Burke. There are three published already. They are all stand-alone novels, but you might like to start with the first one, Burke in the Land of Silver. (mybook.to/LandofSilver)
Massive thanks to Tom for his great interview! I’d never thought about why Hitler didn’t invade England so if you do ever go back in time and get to talk to him I’d love to know!! The show in Buenos Aires sounds bizarre! It must have felt so strange when you learnt that you were the only ones not in it!!
If you have any questions/comments for Tom, then give him a shout.
Enjoy your day my lovelies!