Thursday, June 23, 2011

Interview Hal Thompson -

Here are the questions. Which Yorktown? Janet

That Yorktown, the one in Virginia. The first book I sold to Zumaya was a fictional account of the siege told from the POV of several characters, historical and fictional. When the publisher wanted me to create a Yahoo email account, I tried to use halthompson as my username. But it was already taken. So halthompsonyorktown it was.

1. What's your genre or do you write in more than one?

I write in several genres, including historical, fantasy, science fiction, and non-fiction, but so far I’ve only had publishing success with the historicals. I placed four novels with Zumaya Publications, all of them historical, and I’ve had one short screenplay produced by a film director other than myself, and that was also an historical.

I should mention too that the novels are also military adventures. That makes them cross genre, I suppose.

2. Did you choose your genre or did it choose you?

I made a very conscious decision to try my hand at an historical novel after having written four awful fantasy novels and one bad novel about law students. It was about 1994, and as my interest in fantasy literature began to wane I started reading C. S. Forester, Bernard Cornwell, and Patrick O’Brian, all great writers of historical military and naval adventure. I’d been working summers at the Halifax Citadel National Historic Site, a Victorian era British fort in Canada, and had both a wealth of historical information at my fingertips and a passion for history. Somewhat discouraged by my previous failures, I decided to take a crack at a novel set during the Crimean War, just as an experiment. After all, I thought, history and fantasy have a great deal in common, fantasy being - in some ways - a type of mythical history. There was the added bonus of having the skeleton of a plot laid out for me. All I had to do was choose point A in history as my beginning and point B as my ending. I would fill in the rest with my characters and their dilemmas.

3. Is there any genre you'd like to try? Or is there one you wouldn't?

I’d still like to try fantasy, though in the young adult category. I have a first draft of a YA fantasy novel finished, but it needs a lot of work. I’m not sure there’s a genre I wouldn’t try. If I have an idea I like, it doesn’t necessarily matter what genre it falls into. I tried romance once, though my idea fizzled. I can go through periods of leaping from subject to subject, sometimes finding it hard to concentrate or focus until I finally land on something sticky.

4. What fiction do you read for pleasure?

I read tons and tons of historical novels, most of them with a military theme. I’ll probably read one science fiction, fantasy, or straight literary novel for every five historical novels. I also read a lot of non-fiction, history and science mostly.

5. Tell me a bit about yourself and how long you've been writing.

I’m really a very ordinary person. I have a family, a house in the suburbs, a garage, two cars, and a full time job during the day with Parks Canada (the Canadian equivalent to the US National Parks Service). I develop visitor programming at the Halifax Citadel, which is really another form of storytelling. I often think of myself as a storyteller more so than a writer, since I dabble in several forms of media, including film and graphic novels (there’s that leaping from thing to thing again). I started writing for my own amusement as soon as I could read, when I was five. I wrote comic books and strip cartoons for fun when I was a kid, but the ambition to write a real novel didn’t strike me until junior high school. By grade twelve I’d finally managed to finish something, the first of those four lousy fantasy novels.

6. Which of your characters is your favorite?

I have two favourite characters. The first is William Dudley, the star of the For Empire and Honor series. Dudley is a Victorian era British officer, a naïve idealist who believes in the glory of the British Empire. I know Dudley well after taking him through three books so far, and I look forward to writing his fourth adventure. I love his optimism and enthusiasm, even though some of that gets beaten out of him after his part in two savage wars.

My other favourite character is my fictional version of George Washington from my upcoming novelization of the siege of Yorktown during the American Revolution. Although I’m Canadian, I’m a big fan of Washington, who turns out to be quite a misunderstood figure. I enjoyed reading about him during the research phase, and enjoyed portraying him on paper even more.

7. Are there villains in your books and how were they created?

The first William Dudley book, Dudley’s Fusiliers, has a villain of sorts, but he reforms by the end and the main antagonist is really injustice. Guns of Sevastopol, the second Dudley book, has a clear villain named Captain David Neville, but the third book, The Sword of the Mogul, again doesn’t really have a clear villain. Some characters do villainous things, but ignorance is the real bad guy. That was just the story I preferred to tell, the one that suited the historical period best, and after the selfish villainy of David Neville, I didn’t want to repeat the same plot points.

Neville was actually based on true stories of bad British army officers, an amalgam of several real people. He represents the negative side of the British officer corps in the Victorian period. He seemed an obvious and necessary character for a series based within the Victorian British Army, and I wanted to introduce him early in the series to just get that ball rolling.

8. What are you working on now?

I have several projects on the go, and am having a difficult time deciding on which I should devote the most time. One is a science fiction screenplay with the working title of Into the Stars. The other is an historical graphic novel about General James Wolfe at Quebec in 1759. The third is the YA fantasy novel I mentioned earlier, which I really should try to fix.

9. What's your latest release and how did the idea arrive?

I currently have only one book in print, which is Dudley’s Fusiliers. Guns of Sevastopol should be out soon. It was actually published in an earlier edition in 1998, but I suspect the new edition will contain revisions. It’s the natural sequel to Dudley’s Fusiliers and picks up right after the first book ends, finding William Dudley recovering in hospital after having been wounded at the Battle of Inkerman. It answers the question, “So what happened next?”

10. Tell me about your latest book and how it came about. Enclose the opening of the book around 400 words.

Well I guess that would be a sequel to question 9. Here’s the raw, uncut and uncorrected opening to Guns of Sevastopol.

Chapter One

March, 1855

Ensign William Dudley stepped through a side door of the colossal Barracks Hospital. The March sun bathed him in its rich light, and he drew in a deep breath. Winter was over, and the air smelled of spring, a season that came early to the Turkish empire. It was now almost as warm as a summer day in Hampshire, Dudley's native county in England.

He clapped a wide-brimmed straw hat onto his blond and curly head. As he adjusted the hat, he studied a batch of feathery clouds hanging low in the north. Somewhere beneath those clouds a war was raging. The British army would be preparing a new offensive, and Dudley would join it just in time. In four days he would return to the front, to the ongoing siege of Sevastopol, a siege that was five months old now.

Four days. Four days before he returned to the blood and carnage, the mud and the sleepless nights, and the endless crashing of the guns.

The prospect should have disturbed him, but it did not. He wanted to rejoin his men, and it would be a relief to leave Scutari, to be free of the Barracks Hospital. So grand from a distance, the cavernous building had meant certain death for many a wounded man. For Dudley it had meant sickness and misery. He would not miss it. There was only one thing about Scutari that he would be sad to leave.

Movement caught his eye, and he turned to see a slight female figure approaching from his left. Quickly snatching off his straw hat, he said, "Good morning, Miss Montague."

The nurse who had saved him returned his greeting with a suppressed smile. "Good morning, Ensign Dudley," she said. She did not pause to chat, but continued on her way, following the outside perimeter of the huge building.

Dudley watched her receding form, fingering his hat.

A hired caique took Dudley across the smooth surface of the Bosporus Strait. Other caiques plied the water, their slender hulls gliding between the pleasure yachts, fishing boats, and larger European vessels. Dudley watched a trio of British men-of-war on his left, solid and dominating where they lay at anchor. A flock of white birds swooped in amongst the tangle of masts and spars, rising and falling but never coming to rest. The French called the birds corps damne, for the Turks believed them to be the souls of unfaithful wives, condemned to perpetual motion for their sins. Angry husbands often bound such women into sacks and cast them into the strait to drown. To the Turks, it was reasonable to assume that the unworthy souls of those women would remain here in some form.

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