To support Richard's debut, the WRAP Team have interviewed him about his research into the era and his writing practices, so read on for this unique chance to peer into the mind of an historical fiction writer.
Freya and Barry's reviews of Forever the Colours are now available here, and Tony is also writing a supporting podcast on the first and second Anglo-Afghan wars to whet your whistle for the book that will go up later in the week. Enjoy!
When Tommy Evans regains consciousness after being injured on the battlefield of modern-day Afghanistan, the world around him is not the same. Filled with cannon smoke, gunfire and the whinnying of horses, Tommy inexplicably finds himself transported back to 1880 – back to the eve of one of the British army’s worst defeats in the second Anglo-Afghan war: the Battle of Maiwand. Now he must find his way back home or face the very real possibility of perishing along with most of the soldiers of the 66th Foot, the Berkshires.
My name is Richard Thomas, I am 44 years old, married with four children and reside in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. I am an ex Prison Officer as of July 2013, with 9 years service. Previous to this I worked for the Mirror Newspaper Group in Coventry. My hobbies are writing, walking, gardening and playing sport with my sons. I am also bullied into playing war games on the XBOX with my two youngest - honest.
Forever the Colours is my debut novel. I had always wanted to write a book but never got around to doing it. In 2012 I was off work with a Femoral hernia and awaiting a repair; I could do nothing remotely physical and found myself at a loss of what to do with my time. I came up with the idea to write a book. I decided it had to be historical fiction because that is what I enjoy reading most. Researching history is another great pastime for me, not just military, all sorts from ancient Rome, to the Celts - to Tudor England and politics - I also like science fiction, but not the really heavy stuff.
My idea was to come up with a book that was different from what I had read before. I decided on a science fiction/historical fiction cross over, combining the British army in modern day Afghanistan, and in the Victorian period. I have an interest in Britain's involvement in Afghanistan today and I have had a family member actually serving out there. I researched the UK's previous forays into that country and had the choice of the 1st, 2nd or 3rd Anglo Afghan wars. I decided against the first, not because I don't think it merits writing about, but because I read the accounts of the battle of Maiwand in the 2nd war and that made up my mind.
I researched the period via the internet and downloaded books from Amazon on everything I could absorb about this war and in particular the battle itself. It took quite some time and some rather late nights to gather enough information with jottings on plots and sub plots. Characters to use and how to portray those particular characters without besmirching their names. I researched everything from weapons, rifles, cannon, clothing and food, to Indian names, local accents and slang of the period, medical supplies and alcohol. And much more. Although I believed in having everything historically correct, I also had to concentrate on the story, and made sure that it evolved smoothly alongside the "historic" bits. One thing that did make it difficult though, was the amount of different accounts on the battle. I had to look at many different versions of events, and then find some middle ground. In the end I decided all that mattered was how the battle was perceived through the eyes of my main character, a 21st century soldier.
I do have a sequel for Forever the Colours, it's called Flying the Colours. It is basically set 39 years in the future during the 3rd Anglo/Afghan conflict of 1919. My character, Tommy Evans, goes on to meet some very interesting characters from the North West Frontier, and experience the RAF's first involvement in Afghanistan. He will also meet a young officer named Arthur Harris. I also have a book I started about a year ago but decided to put it down in favour of my Colours sequel. It is about a young lad from a farming background name Michael Crowhurst. The narrative explores his failed relationships with his older brother, and the girl he has been in love with since he was a boy. In anger he goes on to join the RAMC during WW1 and goes on to serve in France. During a lull in fighting he tends to the wounded on the battlefield, but he finds himself caught out in no mans land when the battle starts to rage again. He then has an encounter in the middle of all that death and mud that will live with him for the rest of his life. It's called The Stretcher Bearer, and I hope to finish it this year.
The thing I enjoy most about writing historical fiction is bringing people back to life and giving them personalities of my choosing - as long as you keep them in the best light possible if they actually existed. The thing I dislike the most about writing historical fiction is being 6000 words into a chapter, and then realising you have made an historical mistake and have to do it all again! That is not a good feeling.