Author Interview: David Chadwick
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW BOOK?
Itâ€™s set in Liverpool during the American Civil War and revolves around the conflict between Trinity, an escaped slave girl, and Jubal, a battle-fatigued Confederate general.
After escaping from a South Carolina cotton plantation, Trinity is recruited by wealthy British liberals to support Abraham Lincolnâ€™s Union.
At the same time, Jubal has been relieved of his front-line command after publicly denouncing slavery. To remove him from the controversy, he is sent to Liverpool to promote a Grand Liberty Bazaar in aid of Southern widows and orphans.
Trinity discovers a high-level conspiracy that could win the war for the South, but her attempts to persuade the British authorities to take action lands her in a snake-pit of subterfuge.
Jubal also starts to question who he can trust when he realises he is being manipulated by powerful individuals whose motives threaten to destroy him and his family.
As the stakes get higher, the pair realise they must work together if they are to survive.
HOW AND WHY DID YOU START WRITING FICTION?
Without creative writing I might well be dead. I began doing it on medical advice, as part of a successful strategy to overcome alcoholism. The introduction to the movie Trainspotting is spot on: fuelling a chemical dependency is serious hard work. When you stop doing it, thereâ€™s an enormous void in your life and the doctors told me it was vital to find a replacement activity if I wanted to stay sober.
Almost 25 years later, itâ€™s still working â€“ but there have been major complications. Three years after I had my last drink I developed oral cancer in 1992, probably as a result of drinking and smoking. Major surgery and radiotherapy cured the cancer â€“ and did nothing to dent my resolve to carry on writing. Twenty years later, in 2012, I developed another oral cancer, this time caused by the radiotherapy Iâ€™d had for the first one. This was a devastating blow after all those years living a healthy lifestyle. Nonetheless, the cancer was successfully removed and my prognosis is encouraging. Again, creative writing proved a crucial therapy. Not only did writing a novel demand time and focus that would otherwise have been wasted on worrying, but it also gave me a long term goal to aim for.
So in a very real sense, I owe a great deal to writing fiction
HAVE YOU VISITED THE PLACES YOU WRITE ABOUT IN THE BOOK?
I have visited Liverpool often, as well as working in the city for a number of organisations over many years. Liverpoolâ€™s historic dock complex remains a captivating monument to the high tide of empire, while St Georgeâ€™s Hall â€“ which hosted the real Liberty Bazaar as well as my fictionalised version â€“ is among the most impressive civic buildings in the world. I have also interviewed company chiefs at Cammell Laird, the corporate descendent ship building company that built ironclad warships for the Confederacy â€“ another key theme of the novel.
HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA/COME TO WRITE THE BOOK?
I conceived Liberty Bazaar as part of an MA in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, for which it received a distinction. The decision to write a historical novel sprang from my undergraduate days, when I studied history and politics at Queen Mary, University of London. This gave me an enduring fascination for the â€˜what ifsâ€™ of history.
I chose the American Civil War because it has captivated me since childhood when I collected bubblegum packs that also contained picture cards portraying explicitly gory battle scenes, and replica Confederate currency that was sufficiently authentic to prompt a federal investigation.
The civil war gave me my broad canvas but I still needed a specific aspect or event that might have produced a different historical outcome. As I looked more closely into diplomatic aspects of the conflict, I became increasingly intrigued by the efforts of both the North and South to court British public opinion. Nowhere was this activity more intense than Liverpool, the scene of illicit ship-building ventures, espionage and public relations campaigns such as the real Liberty Bazaar, which raised Â£20,000 for destitute Confederate families. It was fascinating to imagine how this huge amount of money might have been subverted by rogue Confederates and this became the fulcrum of my narrative.
IS THIS BOOK A DEPARTURE FROM YOUR OTHER WORK?
Very much so. I had always written in the third person, usually through the eyes of four main characters. Liberty Bazaar started out this way, but writing in the first person was appealing because it allows you to get under the skin of your characters and develop them more compellingly.
The creation of different voices for the two narrators (Trinity Giddings and Jubal de Brooke) produced a substantial shift of focus: the big dramatic question of winning the civil war in Liverpool receded as Trinity and Jubal came alive with personality and purpose. Liberty Bazaar was becoming less a story about political conspiracy and more about the moral struggle between these two central characters. Soon after I started writing, I could hear their voices in my head, which is often the point at which a character really comes alive for the author.
HOW DO YOU WRITE? DO YOU HAVE A SPECIAL PLACE OR ROUTINE?
â€™m a night owl and usually write after 9pm, often until well past midnight. I aim to set aside three to five nights a week, but some weeks I get nothing done and others Iâ€™m at it every night â€“ and during the day.
Iâ€™m a control freak which makes me a member of the â€˜organised school of writingâ€™, rather than the â€˜organic schoolâ€™. I do a lot of research and work out a fairly detailed chapter-by-chapter plot summary before I start writing. Producing the summary is a chore, but also a great route map. I rarely stick to the detail and sometimes discard big chunks of plot. Some relatively minor characters evolve into major players, while others are left out altogether. Having said that, knowing the general direction of the narrative is essential because, although I often end up on side-streets, I can always return to the main road.
I write, edit and polish one chapter at a time, rather than producing a first draft of the novel and reworking it â€“ though I still sometimes have to go back and make major structural changes to a completed manuscript. Sometimes I write chapters in numeric order, and at others Iâ€™ll do a strand of narrative thatâ€™s out of sequence and involves many chapters, for example from the point of view of one character.
But thereâ€™s no right or wrong way of writing a novel â€“ itâ€™s whatever works for you.
WHO READS YOUR WORK? GIVES YOU FEEDBACK?
A group of friends that includes many people from my MA course. I value honest feedback above all else. If something isnâ€™t working, I need to be told and Iâ€™m lucky to know people who tell it like it is â€“ good or bad.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO TEACH WRITING?
You can learn about the nuts and bolts of creative writing, and there are lots of useful exercises that help to develop technique. Talent can certainly be nurtured and refined, but you canâ€™t create a natural ability to tell a tale if it isnâ€™t there to start with.
WHAT ADVICE TO YOU HAVE FOR PEOPLE TRYING TO GET PUBLISHED?
Never lose faith but always try to hone and develop your craft. Asking for honest, critical feedback is a great way to do this and creative writing workshops are an enormous help. Academic courses usually include critiquing groups, but there are many community-based writing workshop groups in most areas.
You should also try writing short stories. They are much easier to get published and a great way of experimenting with different techniques. Also, short stories give you instant gratification, without having to put in the many months â€“ or even years â€“ of hard work that a novel demands.
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See photo hi res below of author at Liverpool Docks.