Mastodon The Writing Desk: Blog Tour Interview with Richard Buxton, Author of Tigers In Blue: The Constant Promise: 3 (Shire's Union)

5 June 2024

Blog Tour Interview with Richard Buxton, Author of Tigers In Blue: The Constant Promise: 3 (Shire's Union)

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Two brutal years in America’s civil war have made a veteran of Shire; his younger English self buried beneath scars and unwanted memories. Unable to help, he watches as Tuck – his Union brother-in-arms – retreats from reality. Both the war and Shire’s heart relentlessly circle him back to Clara, his childhood love. He needs to believe they can share a life beyond the war.

I'm pleased to welcome author Richard Buxton to The Writing Desk:

Tell us about your latest book

My latest book is called Tigers in Blue. It’s the final book in the Shire’s Union trilogy set against the backdrop of the US Civil War (1861-1865). The majority of the book is based in Tennessee. I guess it’s a slightly enigmatic title to anyone not familiar with the earlier books. The blue simply refers to the colour of the Union army uniforms, and the Tigers was the nickname for the 125th Ohio Infantry in which my lead character, Shire, is a private.

As with the first two books, Whirligig and The Copper Road, the book has several parallel story arcs. At its core is the relationship between two English characters, Shire and Clara, and whether this will ever come to be more than the deep childhood friendship it once was. Shire is hoping it will and it’s the reason why, in Whirligig, he followed Clara to America and joined the army to try and reach her. 

There’s a class divide. Back in England, he was a young schoolteacher and she a Duke’s daughter, but by the outset of Tigers in Blue, Clara’s fortunes and life in America has decayed so much, and Shire has seen so much pain and death in the army, that they are fundamentally changed people, swept along by the war.

The war is well into its fourth year, the Confederacy is on its heals and making a desperate effort to reconquer Tennessee. Shire, his regiment and his Union army are retreating north towards Nashville, closely pursued by Hood’s southern army. The narrative follows Shire’s small squad, those that have survived books one and two, and in particular Shire’s friendship with his pa’rd (partner) Tuck. Tuck is lost in himself, ground down by the war. Shire is struggling to understand him and to help.

On the southern side we follow Tod Carter, a former lover of Clara’s and now an aide-de-camp in Hood’s Confederate Army. He has a new young Lieutenant under his wing, who’s asking troubling questions about the war that Tod would rather set aside as the armies move ever closer towards his home.

From the moment I understood the true history of the 125th Ohio and knew I would need to write a trilogy, I also knew where the story would end. As the armies converge towards the climactic battle, so do the plot lines and the geographies of the characters. Though the last two years of war has swept them variously across America, it will bring them all together at the end.

What is your preferred writing routine?

When writing the first draft of a novel I like to be pretty full on and have at least half a day without distraction, preferably the morning. I’ll then write pretty much from the hip. It’ll probably take me two or three sessions to get a chapter down. When starting sessions two or three I’ll read and gently edit what I already have on order to get fully immersed and move on from there.

A good dog walk is often useful mid-chapter, which is lucky because I have a very good dog. It’s amazing how some fresh air and just letting your mind wander or settle will create ideas, or resolve some character dialogue that had lost its way. I really still count dog walking as writing, but you have to be alone (dog excepted).

I have a small study and it’s my safe place to write as the family know what I’m up to and will only grab me if they really need to, or they might drop in a coffee and a biscuit. The dog has a bed in there too. When travelling for research, if I have a strong idea, I may free write that evening in the motel and those passages have often found their way into the novel or a short story.

All three novels have taken seven full drafts and I’m very structured in my approach. I’ll have specific objectives for each draft and work through sequentially. I may workshop some early draft chapters and later, after draft five, share the full novel with some trusted beta readers. Draft seven will be the copy edit. For editing I don’t necessarily need such long sessions. I used to do a lot of editing on my forty-five-minute train ride to the office if I was working.

If I’m writing short-stories they tend to have a life and a routine of their own. If it’s a strong idea, there’s often a powerful drive to get the whole thing down beginning to end. I tend to write longer short-stories, five-thousand words or so, so it might take several sessions, but I’ll be on edge until it’s completed, as if it might dissolve into the air unless it’s nailed down.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Top of my list would be to get yourself into a good workshop group. Ideally more than one. Getting your work peer reviewed in a friendly environment with people you trust and who know your writing is invaluable. They’ll see bad habits creeping in before you do. And reviewing other peoples work will re-enforce your own approach to writing. In short, if you’re not workshopping, you’re missing out on the best opportunity to develop.

Write about something that really matters to you. It sounds obvious but I’ve known many writers switch genres to give themselves a better shot commercially. I’m yet to see that work. If you are fully invested in the subject, the plot and the characters, then your own emotions will feed through into the prose and generally that’s a good thing.

Write as often as you can, even if it’s just a little a day. If you don’t have a project, keep a journal. Anything to exercise your writing muscles.

Lastly, think seriously before setting off on a trilogy! It’s my pride and joy, but a novel is a serious investment in time and you are multiplying that by three. The advantages are that you come to love the characters. When you start the second or third book you already understand them well so you can build more depth and take them in new directions.

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

It’s tough out there, as all self-published and even traditionally published authors will tell you. There are so many authors and books competing for sales and social media is such a big investment in time when you often just want to be writing.

I’ve done blog tours for all three of my books and have not only found them to be effective but great fun. Interviews like this one and also writing guest posts are an excellent way to be reflective about your craft.

I’d be a little wary of working with a marketeer. It didn’t pay dividends for me. It can be expensive and obviously you have to give up a certain amount of creative control on the marketing. I’ve actually reverted to my original covers having previously been persuaded to try some new ones. Know your own mind if going down this route.

Competitions have worked for me. More so for short-stories but that also raises your profile. My shorts have won the Exeter Story Prize, the Bedford International Writing Competition and the Nivalis Short Story Award among others. Whirligig was long-listed and shortlisted for some awards and along with The Copper Road has won medals. I’m yet to enter Tigers in Blue anywhere but will do.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research

I have two things. Copper Mines and friendship. When looking for a home for Clara in America, which I knew would be a key setting, I was keen to not set up a stereotypical, Gone with the Wind, plantation. I did a lot of internet trawling in south eastern Tennessee as I needed it to be in that ballpark and found a site dedicated to the Copper Road, a mining road that wound deep into the Appalachians for the sole purpose of getting the copper out from the mines sunk at the wonderfully named Ducktown. 

There was all sorts of moonshine and murder history and I headed out there. No small trip from Sussex in England. I’d set up to meet the curator at the mining museum, Ken Rush, as he’d sent me a bundle of useful material on the Copper Road but also on the mines. After I met him, the mines themselves became an important place in Whirligig and also (obviously) The Copper Road. I subsequently bravely went down a Welsh coal mine just to get the feeling of what it was like to descend under the earth and work in those conditions. Coal mines are very different from copper mines, but it was the psychological experience that I was after.

The other discovery was new friendships. When wandering around a period house or a battlefield with a notebook or a Dictaphone, or writing avid notes while on a period train or paddle-steamer, you sometimes attract attention. Americans are never slow in coming forward and asking what you are up to. I’ve made several friends this way and quite often they’ve turned out to have shared interests as they were also there for the history. Chief amongst these if Jeff Houston, an ex-marine major from Ohio, and now my pa’rd. We’ve since travelled to several battlefields, he’s instructed me on the civil war arms drill, and we’ve even re-enacted together in the mountains of West Virginia. I’m sure you imagine just how valuable that experience is for a writer. So if it’s possible to discover a lifelong friend in your fifties, that’s what I’ve done.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

There are a few that spring to mind, usually involving the death of a character that you have some affection for; some soldiers, others not. But possibly the hardest was a scene involving the hanging of two confederate spies, not main characters at all, in front of a brigade of soldiers in The Copper Road. It was written from Shire’s point of view and based on a true event which was published in Harper’s Weekly, one of the main periodicals of the time. I remember being shocked by the grim details when I read it. I later realised I could use to inform the psychology of one of my characters. But now it was my job as the writer to make it as grim as I could. It wasn’t pleasant to write, especially since it was true.

Conversely, the easiest scenes to write are the emotional or action collisions you’ve been setting up for a while. Sometimes it’s a challenge to write the scenes on route to the collision scenes, but I like to think I’ve done a good job to ensure each chapter has its own arc and a satisfying setting. I’ve been to most places where I’ve set a scene.

Of course, the other tough scene to write was the last chapter of the trilogy. I was saying goodbye to characters I’d spent more than a decade with, some fictional, some not.

What are you planning to write next?

Well, that would be telling and I’m not sure it’s well formed enough yet. It will be Civil War related but much of it after the war in the period called reconstruction, where there was an attempt to build a genuine egalitarian multi-race society. It failed abysmally, certainly in the South. It was a further century before the civil rights movement recovered some ground. I have an historical figure I am researching who was a reporter during the war and the events that followed during reconstruction. He was also an artist and would have a unique perspective, I think. I also want to play with my writing style, which I’ve tried to keep consistent across the trilogy.

Before I start on that as a novel, I may write my way into it with a few short stories. I’ve done that before and it’s been useful. I’d also like to get my short-story collection published so that will be a further project. If anyone knows any short story publishers who like historical fiction, I’m all ears.

Richard Buxton

# # #

About the Author

Richard Buxton lives with his family in the South Downs, Sussex, England. He completed an MA in Creative Writing at Chichester University in 2014. He has an abiding relationship with America, having studied at Syracuse University, New York State, in the late eighties. He travels extensively for research, especially in Tennessee, Georgia and Ohio, and is rarely happier than when setting off from a motel to spend the day wandering a battlefield or imagining the past close beside the churning wheel of a paddle steamer. Richard’s short stories have won the Exeter Story Prize, the Bedford International Writing Competition and the Nivalis Short Story Award. His first novel, Whirligig (2017) was shortlisted for the Rubery International Book Award. It was followed by The Copper Road (2020) and the Shire’s Union trilogy was completed by Tigers in Blue (2023). To learn more about Richard’s writing visit and find him on Facebook and Twitter @richardbuxton65

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting