I’m really excited to be hosting Tom Williams on my blog today. Despite the fact that we’ve never met, I feel we have a number of things in common. He writes about India, which is a passion of mine, partly because I was born there. He used to pen commercial articles (moi ditto). And he loves to tango. Well there, I suppose, I simply can’t keep up, but I love dancing and if he wants to give me a lesson sometime, I’d be more than happy to oblige. Welcome Tom.
Hi Tom. Please will you tell us about your new novel?
This is my sixth novel and the third (and final book) about John Williamson. Williamson is a fictional character, but his two previous adventures (in The White Rajah and Cawnpore) are based around actual historical events. This one is entirely fictional, although the world of Victorian London is based on a reasonable amount of research. The book does feature an appearance by Karl Marx, who was much as he is shown in the story.
The John Williamson books are quite political in their way and this is the most political so far. England in 1859 was surprisingly similar to England now. There was concern about national security and left-wing terrorists, people were worried about another war, the government was spying on its citizens and all this was happening against the background of both extreme wealth and terrible poverty. I thought it was a fascinating background for John Williamson’s last adventure.
Have you written other books as well?
Yes. My other books are about James Burke, a spy during the wars with France. They’re pretty well pure escapism (though historically realistic), so they don’t have a lot in common with the ones about John Williamson.
I’m guessing as your books are historical, you have to do a fair bit of research?
Yes, that’s true. The most fun was the research for Burke in the Land of Silver. The story is set around the British invasion of Buenos Aires in 1806. I spent a lot of time in Buenos Aires looking at buildings of the period and finding things like captured British flags from the invasion. My hero spends time on a cattle ranch, so I went to a ranch and rode out with the gauchos as they checked the cattle. That was an unforgettable experience. Even more amazing was my attempt to replicate my hero’s
crossing of the Andes on horseback at the wrong time of year, when there was snow on the ground. In the end, we couldn’t make it to the top, but I got a good idea of what it must have been like: mainly very, very cold.
That sounds like the fun part! So now for the hard work – social media. Do you do it? Do you enjoy it?
I have a blog which I post in about once a week. I really enjoy the blog: it’s an opportunity to talk about the history behind my books; thoughts about writing and writers; and completely random stuff. I quite often post about dancing tango and, for some reason, these posts seem particularly popular.
I spend some time on Facebook, which is fine, but a lot of time on Twitter. I don’t enjoy Twitter. I don’t think you can really relate to people in 140 characters and you have to tweet so often, because people don’t generally look back through tweets. If they don’t see it in the first few minutes after you post, they won’t ever see it. So an awful lot of Twitter is the same stuff being posted over and over again and I’m afraid I do that too. If you don’t like it, follow me on Facebook instead.
So now you’ve finished the John Williamson series – have you stopped writing? Or are you still bitten by the writing bug?
Sure! I’m getting started on the next book about James Burke. It will be set in the Peninsular War, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading. I may visit central Spain to get a better idea of the countryside. It’s early days yet, but the story is shaping up nicely.
It sounds as if you are a busy man. Are you a writing obsessive or do you have hobbies too?
I dance tango a lot: hence the Buenos Aires connection. I street skate all year round and I try to get some skiing in in the winter. I’m not really sure how I fit in the writing, really.
Tips for writers?
Write. Read it over. Re-write. Repeat until a hollow wreck of a human being and then write it again.
And the nicest thing anyone has ever said about you?
I came across this on a random blog and I was completely blown away by it:
“It’s ages since I’ve started reading a book and then been 100% annoyed at the world that it won’t let me just sit there and finish it all in one go, but The White Rajah by Tom Williams has totally been that book!”
Someone on Goodreads compared me to Sarah Waters, which was also pretty amazing.
It’s these boosts that keep us going! Thanks for being my guest today Tom.
In 1859, John Williamson returns from India, broken by his experiences in the Mutiny. England has become a country he hardly recognises. Industrialisation at home and military expansion abroad have made Britain into a dynamic political and economic power that dominates the world. Yet, in London, he finds the same divide between the poor and the rich that he saw in the Far East. Once again, is caught between the machinations of the powerful and the resistance of the powerless. But now that he is back home, can he escape the cycle of violence that has dogged his life?
And here are the stories about James Burke:
Tom Williams used to write about boring things for money. If you wanted an analysis of complaints volumes in legal services or attitudes to diversity at the BBC, then he was your man. Now he writes much more interesting books about historical characters and earns in a year about what he could make in a day back then. (This, unfortunately, is absolutely true.) He also writes a blog which is widely read all over the world and generates no income at all.
Besides making no money from writing, Tom makes no money out of occasionally teaching people to tango and then spends all the money he hasn’t made on going to dance in Argentina.
Tom has a wife who, fortunately, has a well-paid job, and a grown-up son who has resolved that he is never, ever, going to write anything.