Today I’m welcoming Richard Anderton to my series of author interviews. Richard is the author of The Devil’s Band and The Devil’s Lance, which are the first two books of The Devilstone Chronicles. The third installment, The Devil’s Pearl, is due out later this year.
Elizabeth: Welcome, Richard.
Richard: Thank you and thank you for inviting me to take part.
Elizabeth: Can you tell us about your series?
Richard: The Devilstone Chronicles are set in the early 16th Century, during the reign of Henry VIII, and tell the story of Thomas Devilstone, a disgraced alchemist and astrologer who escapes abroad after being sentenced to death for practicing witchcraft. Whilst in exile, he becomes a soldier of fortune, in the hope he can use his wits and his sword to win back both the king’s favour and his family’s lost estates. To help him in this ambition, he forms an unlikely alliance with three other mercenaries namely a Lutheran convert, a Portuguese adventurer and an escaped African galley slave.
At one level the stories are meant to be fun adventures, not to be taken too seriously, but I hope readers will be intrigued by the subtext which is the conflict between the superstition of the medieval world and the beginnings of modern science during the Renaissance. Thomas’ name is a deliberate reference to the biblical ‘Doubting Thomas’ because, after his constant failure to perform spells successfully, this onetime sorcerer has come to doubt his own, once unshakeable, belief in the supernatural. Thomas now understands that much of what appears to be magic can be produced by purely natural means and this knowledge allows him to dupe his enemies and thwart his rivals as he struggles to revive his fortunes.
Elizabeth: Do you and Thomas Devilstone have any of the same personality traits?
Richard: I think Thomas is the exact opposite of me but he is the sort of person I wish I was; he is much more of a swashbuckling hero than I am and much better looking! Thomas is also far more ready to embrace modernity whereas I struggle to cope with the 21st Century. To take just one example, I have passionate loathing of smart phones, because my huge sausage-shaped fingers are far too big for touch screens.
Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into your story?
Richard: A lot! As an avid reader and fan of historical novels, especially Bernard Cornwell and George MacDonald Fraser, I love it when an author constructs their plots around actual events so I’ve tried to include as much historical fact as I can without slowing down the action or turning the stories into textbooks. Thomas is entirely fictional but he is closely modeled on a genuine Renaissance alchemist, named Cornelius Agrippa, who publicly renounced magic and became a doctor. He also meets plenty of genuine historical figures which range from the last Yorkist prince to challenge Henry VIII (The Devil’s Band) to the actual grandson of Vlad the Impaler ‘the real Dracula’ (The Devil’s Lance).
I also believe the whole point of reading historical novels is broaden one’s knowledge of history so Thomas fights in the pivotal battles which took place at this period (Pavia 1525 and Mohacs 1526) and the machines he constructs, which are important plot devices, follow real designs produced by Leonardo de Vinci. Similarly, the ineffectual spells he casts to confound his superstitious enemies are all taken from a popular medieval spellbook called The Munich Handbook of Demonic Magic.
Elizabeth: What drew you to this time period?
Richard: As a writer I’m always looking to tell ‘the untold story’ but most publishers want books about popular periods so there is a large existing audience for the title. As a compromise, I chose to write about the early Tudor Age because Henry VIII and his six wives are perennially popular but at the same time I moved the focus away from England to the rest of Europe in search of stories that will introduce readers to different, and lesser known, aspects of this period.
Apart from the origins of The Reformation, the history of the rest of Europe during the 16th Century is rarely taught in UK schools so few people on this side of The Channel have heard of Charles V (b.1500 d.1558) despite the fact that he was one of the most powerful monarchs ever to have lived. Whilst Henry VIII ruled England, this Hapsburg Emperor simultaneously ruled Spain, Germany, Italy, the Low Countries and most of Central Europe as well as the vast Spanish territories in the New World, but as far as we Brits are concerned Charles was nothing more than Catherine of Aragon’s nephew! Moreover, Charles V’s wars with the French King Francis and the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent created many of the fault lines which still divide Europe today so I thought his reign would be the perfect backdrop for Thomas’ journey from the medieval to the modern world.
Elizabeth: What is your writing process?
Richard: To construct the plots of The Devil’s Band, The Devil’s Lance and the forthcoming The Devil’s Pearl, I chose a genuine historical battle to be the climax of each story and worked backwards. Why would an Englishman be here? What would be his motivation to fight for a foreign king? Would he benefit from the outcome? And so on. I then try and weave my answers to these questions around known historical facts and my golden rule is that any historical figure who appears in the story has to act in accordance with these facts. I do allow myself a some license with fictional characters but Thomas and his companions’ thoughts and actions always have to remain true to the period.
Once I have a rough chapter plan, I write down everything in my head then edit and rewrite it again and again. I reckon each chapter is rewritten at least fifty times before I’m happy, so my method of writing is not very efficient but it does mean I have (mercifully) never suffered from writer’s block!
Elizabeth: What have you read recently that you feel passionate about?
Richard: Whilst researching the use of slaves in Mediterranean galleys for Volume III of The Devilstone Chronicles (incidentally one of my favourite films, Ben Hur, got it completely wrong!) I read the only autobiography of a real galley slave known to exist. It is the story of Jean Marteilhe, a French Protestant who tried to flee religious persecution in his homeland. He crossed into what he thought was the Protestant Netherlands but in fact he’d arrived in a French enclave just a few miles inside Dutch territory. He was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. Later, he was transferred to the galleys and spent 6 years chained to an oar before he was rescued by an English fleet. All this did not happen in 16th or even the 17th Century but in the 18th Century, the so called Age of Enlightenment, so whenever I think my life is miserable I think of that poor Frenchman!
Elizabeth: Can you tell us more about yourself?
Richard: I am 52 years old, married with four children and I’ve lived all my life in the north of England. Though I always wanted to be a writer, I didn’t put pen to paper until I was nearly 40. Before that I failed at a wide variety of careers including lawyer, police officer, cartoonist and book illustrator…
We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?
Richard: Coffee first thing in the morning then tea, lots and lots of tea, for the rest of the day.
Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?
Richard: Tricky, I love both. Fortunately in England you are never more than 70 miles from the sea but as I live in the hills, and my favourite view is of the Cumbrian Mountains from the top of Hartside pass, I guess mountains have the edge.
Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?
Richard: I’m a complete and unrepentant couch potato but as I simply can’t abide shopping I’d choose hiking – provided there’s a cosy pub at the end of the trail.
Elizabeth: Violin or piano?
Richard: actually neither. For some reason I don’t really like music. I never play records or CDs and my iPod is full of audiobooks! Perhaps it’s because my younger brother is an accomplished (amateur) musician and I was forced to listen to him practice when we were children…
Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?
Richard: Having spent ten years as a police officer I find it hard to take murder mysteries or any crime fiction seriously, however well written such books might be, so I’d always choose fantasy.
Elizabeth: Scarlett O’Hara or Jane Eyre?
Richard: Scarlett without a doubt, probably because I am secretly in love with Vivien Leigh and we did too much Jane Austen at school!
Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?
Richard: I prefer to experience the former and write about the latter…
The Devil’s Band and The Devil’s Lance are available as paperbacks (UK £8.99/£9.99 US $17.99) and eBooks (UK £0.99 US$1.22) via Amazon and Richard’s website.
To learn more about Richard and his books, you can find him at:
Facebook Page: The Devil’s Band