Author Interview with Michael Ward
June 2nd 2021
A huge congratulations on the publication of The Wrecking Storm, the second book in the Thomas Tallant Mysteries. Could you tell us a little about your protagonist, Thomas Tallant?
Tom is a spice merchant who, at the start of ‘Rags of Time’ – the first book in the Tallant series – is headstrong, a little naïve and prone to impatience. However he is also honest, loyal and brave. But is still young and my hope is that, as readers share his adventures to come, they will see how they shape his character, and come to know Thomas the man.
I can’t talk about Tom without mentioning Elizabeth Seymour, who captures his heart in ‘Rags’ and becomes his constant ally, sharing his adventures and solving the mysteries they contain. Elizabeth’s love of science and discovery is only matched by her compulsion for smoking and gambling. Her questioning nature is the perfect foil to Tom’s apparent innocence. Together they have a lot to discover and learn about the world, and each other.
Your series is set during a very turbulent time in English history with the country on the brink of civil war. What is it about the period of history that made you feel compelled to write about it?
The adult life of Tom and Elizabeth coincides with over 30 year of enormous and dramatic change. Readers will be familiar with the political and religious ferment – the Civil War and the overthrowing of monarchy. But the country, and London in particular, also witnessed rapid developments in scientific and medical knowledge, technological advances and the growth of London as an international trading centre.
Add to that the Fire of London and the Great Plague and I discovered that this period of Stuart history is a richly textured tapestry within which I can interweave the story threads of my fictional characters. This, for me, is the essence of compelling historical fiction.
So, do you find it a challenge to balance the history of the era with the story that you want to tell?
If you wish to place your characters within a real historical scenario you must try to stay as true as you can to the events: the what, why, when and where of their happening. That is the challenge. For example, in ‘The Wrecking Storm’ Tom witnesses a historically important encounter in the House of Commons, and I use quotes from the original account as part of the dialogue.
I like to have several real people mingling with the fictional characters. It gives me a chance to flesh out these historical figures, show them talking, laughing, crying, hoping, wishing; and, again, I try to stay true to accounts of their actual character and temperament when I do this.
I find one of the biggest challenges when using historical events as a framework is keeping to the original timeline. Real events typically don’t unfold at the pace a historical thriller demands. So sometimes I have to compress the time scale a little, but I always aim to keep them in the same order, however tempting it might be to shuffle the pack!
You mention, in your blurb, the Apprentice Boys. Who were the Apprentice Boys and what role do they play in your story?
Many trades and craftsmen in 17th century London employed apprentices. These were sought-after positions particularly among the rural populations surrounding London who continued to pour into booming London, seeking employment.
Apprentices were indentured to their master for up to seven years. In return they receive board and lodging and training in the master’s craft or trade. When not working, they would gather together usually at alehouses, then let off steam by rampaging through the streets, looking for trouble. Some could be identified by the badges of their particular craft guild on their caps.
It was believed in the run up to the Civil War that some Puritan leaders used the Apprentice Boys to stoke up tensions on the streets and put pressure on the King, although there was a limit to how well they could be controlled, a factor that emerges in ‘The Wrecking Storm’.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Be patient. It’s worth waiting.
I’ve written professionally my whole working life, as a journalist, an academic and latterly a copywriter. I wanted to write fiction for many years but I didn’t have the time until five years ago. Then I started ‘Rags of Time’, and realised I couldn’t have written it 20 years ago. I needed more experience of life, and other people’s writing, to be able to tackle the multiple demands of compelling fictional creation.
So, I’m glad I had to wait although, of course, I now wish I had started earlier!