Monday, 30 June 2014

Apples and oranges

Graham Greene divided his work into 'entertainments' and 'novels'. Some people find this an unsatisfactory split. All fiction, they say, should entertain. Suggesting that some have a higher purpose and are 'novels' and not mere 'entertainment' is presumptious and unhelpful.

I think the separation can be useful. If we sit down to read a book by John Grisham, we have different expectations from if we are tackling John Updike. It helps to know what we might have coming. At the end of a long day, more people will want to turn to Wilbur Smith than Salman Rushdie. The problem comes when the same author writes two different kinds of books. Some use a pseudonym to separate the two sides of their output but, as J.K. Rowling has discovered, that doesn't always work.

I must declare a personal interest. Accent are now publishing a new edition of The White Rajah to follow Burke in the Land of Silver and I wish I had some way to warn people not to expect the second book to be anything like the first. [Since I wrote this, there have been two more books about James Burke and two more in the John Williamson series that started with The White Rajah, but these comments are, if anything, even more valid now than then.] The White Rajah was the first book I wrote. Like all first novels, it has its flaws but, like, I suspect, many first novels, it was trying very hard to be a serious book. It's based on the life of James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak and the model for Conrad's Lord Jim. Like Conrad's protagonist, Brooke was a flawed hero. I've tried to use him and his personal relationships to say something about British colonial rule. Nowadays, we generally like heroes to be basically good people and we think colonialism was essentially bad. What I try to do in The White Rajah is to suggest that life is a bit more complicated than that. The result is a book that I hope people will find reasonably exciting (there's battles and pirates and evil plots) but which is, I have to admit, hardly a bundle of laughs. I hope it's entertaining but I don't think of it as primarily an entertainment. Graham Greene might not have thought it a particularly good novel, but I think he would accept that a novel is what it set out to be.

I hope that by now you might have read Burke in the Land of Silver, so you can judge for yourself how far it succeeds in its primary intention, which was simply to entertain. James Burke (an unfortunately similar name to the Rajah's) was also a real person, but his adventures are just that: intrigue and derring-do set in exciting places with wicked foes and beautiful women. I hope that the story is not without some more serious content, but my main aim was to send you away entertained.

There is, I hope, room for both kinds of book in the world. Indeed, I fervently hope that there's room for both on your bookshelves (or, more likely, your Kindle). Please buy both, read them and, I hope, enjoy them. Just don't expect them to be the same.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Meet my main character.

This is part of a continuing series called, “Meet My Main Character.” It is the brain child of Debra Brown who is the Administrator of English Historical Fiction Authors, a really worthwhile website for anyone interested in obscure bits of British history. (Debra’s an American, so the whole England/Scotland/Wales bit tends to pass her by.)  The main website, despite the name, doesn’t have so much to do with fiction. This does. 

1) What is the name of your character? Is he fictional or a historic person?

James Burke was a spy for the British during the Napoleonic Wars. He was a real person and the story is based around real events in his life. That said, he was a very good spy, so there’s a lot we don’t know about him. This means that I get the chance to tell a good story without too much fear of being told I’m definitely wrong.

2) When and where is the story set?

It starts in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) in 1792, but the story pivots on the British invasion of Buenos Aires in 1806. It takes in Spain and Brazil as well, though. People in those days travelled around much more than most of us realise.

3) What should we know about him?

James’ father is an impoverished gentleman in Ireland, living off the rents of tenant farmers. Although this gives him the status of ‘gentleman’, there is no money to enable him to live the lifestyle that James wants. James is desperate to get away from Ireland and make a success of himself in Society. He decides his best bet is to join the army but, to his horror, he finds himself caught in intelligence work. He’s a snob and a social climber and hates being a spy, but he’s good at the work. He’s also never slow to take advantage of any opportunities to make money or influential friends that may come his way in his adventures.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?

He realises that there are more important things than personal advancement and he risks a lot for a cause he has come to believe in. More immediately, people keep threatening to kill him.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?
He starts out by wanting to make a lot of money and move in the highest levels of Society. On a day-to-day level, he cares about completing his mission for Britain and surviving in the conflicts between England, Spain, France, and South American rebels. Later, he gets caught up in the politics of South American independence and realises that there is more to life than his personal advancement. Unsurprisingly, there’s a girl involved.

6) Is there a title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

It’s called His Majesty’s Confidential Agent. There’s more about it HERE. There’s a sequel on the way, provisionally called Burke in Egypt. Yes, he gets around!

7) When can we expect the book to be published?
It was published by Accent Press at the beginning of May. Burke in Egypt should be published later this year.

Thanks for visiting the post. The next ‘Meet My Main Character’ post will be by Jane Pollard  in two days’ time (on Wednesday).

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The Cover

So here it is: the new cover for 'The White Rajah'.

The background picture is a contemporary picture of Kuching in Borneo, where the story is set. The sword featured is a kris. I'll be posting more about those soon.

'The White Rajah' is officially republished next month, but it looks like it should be available on Amazon in the next day or two. I'll let you know.