I’ve never met Tom Williams, but we do have some things in common. He has a keen interest in India (ditto). He used to ‘write about boring things for money’ (ditto). Now he writes ‘more interesting books … and earns in a year about what he could make in a day before’ (ditto). There the commonality stops – he teaches tango. I don’t. But I’m happy to have a lesson any time, Tom!
Hi Tom, and welcome. Please tell me about your latest novel.
Back Home 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.
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.
And you’re back writing about James Burke again, is that right?
Yes, I’ve started on the next book about 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 though you have to do a lot of research. Is that right?
Yes – my books are all historical novels and I do a fair bit of research. 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.
Just look at your picture makes me shiver! So – the research is amazing. What’s the social media stuff like for you?
I have a blog in which I post 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.
Have you got time for any hobbies?
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.
What’s the nice thing anyone has said about your writing?
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.
Well, I’d be happy! So – what’s your top tip for other writers?
Write. Read it over. Re-write. Repeat until a hollow wreck of a human being and then write it again.
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?
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. He 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.