Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Interview with Simon Fairfax, Author of A Knight and a Spy

16 December 2020

Special Guest Interview with Simon Fairfax, Author of A Knight and a Spy

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

January 1410, and King Henry IV is brought down with an unknown illness. Despite his 10 year reign the kingdom is far from secure: he is at odds with his son Prince Hal who vies for a new Council; Owen Glyndower threatens his Welsh border, whilst the Scots are ever in revolt seeking secret alliances with France.

I'm pleased to welcome author Simon Fairfax to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My latest book is entitled A Knight and A Spy 1410 and is the first in a planned five book series set in the early £15th C. It is set in a time of turmoil in England with the old King Henry IV very ill and prince Henry his son trying to take over the crown. It is very exciting as it is set against the back drop of the 100 Years war, rebellion from the Welsh under Owain ap Glyndower, the Scots liaising with the French and wars in France to take back Calais-all in one year!

It is also very interesting as one of the main characters is Sir Richard Whittington, whom many think of as just a pantomime figure-Dick Whittington. Yet he was real, one of the first Lord Mayors of London, financier, merchant, political influencer, and spy master! He served three kings in all, a fascinating character. 

Into this story I insert my three heroes, the lead of which is Jamie de Grispere, squire in training, merchant’s son and soon to be a knight and a spy for Sir Richard and the crown. The other two comrades he falls in with are Cristoforo Corio, an Italian assassin who saves Jamie’s father’s life; and Mark of Cornwall, a Cornish wrestler who comes to court after he kills a man in a wrestling match.

These three become friends and serve to thwart the siege on Calais stop the Scots linking with the Welsh and cause Glyndower’s final raid into England to fail. The great thing about history is there are always gaps, where someone has written… ‘oh a fire started but we don’t know by whom’... Or the Welsh raid was ambushed somewhere near the border but we don’t know how. Or the Scots sent envoys to the Welsh, but we’re not sure how or when or what was said. All these points leave wonderful opportunities for great stories and my protagonists to shine, with battles, intrigue and conflict.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I am very lucky because I can just sit down and write any time, any place and anywhere. The words just come to me. This is of course after tons of meticulous research and I have a huge time line map up on my wall together with a list of all eth characters and how they fit in.

But as to my day typical day, I either run with the dogs or swim first thing then back to my study and lock myself away and write the in the afternoon usually advertising and checking things.
Then in the late afternoon/evening I’ll bring my lap top down and bash away on writing for a little longer in front of the fire.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I speak to quite a few people who ask me this question and a large proportion, admit they haven’t written the book yet, but have really good ideas. First Rule: write the book. It doesn’t matter how bad it is, just get it all out there on paper, because unless you are a genius, there will a lot of changes to your first draft anyway.

But before the above research is key: places, procedures, language, social mores, memes, and if period, please, please get the language correct. So often I start reading a period book and the language is so modern or wrong, (the same with manners) using words that did not exist at that time. It is like walking with a pebble in your shoe. To show you how easy it is to get this wrong, in my first draft a BETA reader picked up that I had used icing confection in my narrative, not even direct speech. She said, quite rightly, that icing did not exist until the 17thC. That is how meticulous you must be.

Also, if you intend to write a series, write the second book before you even consider writing the first. You will want to publish shortly after so as readers like your first they will want to binge read and not lose momentum. Very important is that you read as much as possible, not just your genre, but others as well, you must read, read, read. So important.

Finally, on production use a good cover designer, proof reader and Developmental editor these are essential parts of the publishing process. Remember it is a very competitive market and you need to be the best that can to stand out.
What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

Primarily it is through advertising on Amazon using their ad system. Some on Facebook but this is rather trickier to use. I also give talks to all sorts of groups like the WI, MENSA, Probus, etc., and these are a fabulous way to get known as an author. It also gives me an opportunity to sell signed copies where I give talks.

Occasionally I have attended book fairs but did not do well there. However, I do show at one or two prestigious Christmas fairs and do very well there. I also do special promos on BookFunnel and Book Bub which have proved very profitable.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

There were so many different things that came up which surprised me from the construction of a huge siege engine in the cathedral at Saint Omer in north France to the treatment of Prince Henry’s arrow wound at the battle of Shrewsbury, which was extraordinary. 

However, something that always sticks in my mind is how London was at that time. It was the only city in the world with a sewage system, (put in place by Sir Richard Whittington in a huge philanthropic gesture) in parts at least. But perhaps more impressively it had piped water running through the streets in much of the city. Then when the king was crowned they arranged for wine to fed into the pipes for that day in celebration of the coronation. Amazing really, we couldn’t even do that now!

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Without doubt dialogue is the hardest in a period novel. As an author you have to get it right so that it sounds authentic without being as unintelligible as Chaucer! You know what you want to say than have to ‘translate’ it as you write. Two scenes stick in my mind one is a long talk between Whittington and Jamie where he outlines the courtly situation and really sets out the premise for the whole book. It was a great scene to write but very involved.

The second was between Cristoforo the Italian assassin and the Contessa. It was full of flowery courtly love and very lovely to write. A bit like the courtly scene from the ballet Romeo and Juliet when they dance back and forth in rows.  

What are you planning to write next?

I have already started the next in the A Knight and a Spy, this time 1411. I thought 1410 was busy, but so much happened in 1411 I don’t how they fitted it all in let alone me. Rebellion by knights of the shires; piracy on the Channel, the Flemish Treaty, Civil war in France, proposals of marriage for Prince Henry, coups against the King, changing allegiance, King’s brothers for and against him; Lollardy and a new Rule when king Henry makes a comeback. So much to fit in and all has a bearing upon the future of the realm.
 What is even more exciting is that there is loads of room for my characters to play a part alongside the real figures of the time and inter-act with events that occurred and play their part.

Simon Fairfax

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About the Author

As a lover of crime thrillers and mystery, I turned what is seen by others as a dull 9 – 5 job into something that is exciting, as close to real life as possible, with Rupert Brett, my international man of mystery whose day job is that of a Chartered Surveyor. Rupert is an ordinary man thrown into extraordinary circumstances who uses his wit, guile and training to survive. Each book is written from my own experiences, as close to the truth as possible, set against world events that really happened. I go out and experience all the weapons, visit the places Rupert travels to, speak to the technical experts and ensure that it as realistic, as possible allowing you to delve deep in to the mystery, losing yourself in it for a few hours. Find out more at Simon's website and find him on Facebook

1 comment:

  1. Great interview! Thanks so much for hosting Simon today!

    HF Virtual Book Tours


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